Last month Premier League football club Everton secured mobile gaming company Rovio as its sleeve partner, cracking open a multitude of unique marketing opportunities in stadium and in the smartphone space for both companies.
Since launching in 2009, Angry Birds developer Rovio has grown to become one of the world’s most substantial players in the lucrative mobile gaming space, and as such the company is now valued at $1bn. Meanwhile Everton, a seasoned Premier League club, helps place Rovio in front of the competition’s reported global audience of 1.5 billion viewers – a sizeable extension to its presence in the NBA and NFL.
Speaking to The Drum, Mark Rollings, head of partnership management at Everton, underlined some of the ways the club could theoretically activate the partnership, although it is worth noting these conversations are in preliminary stages. Rovio boasts products across the merchandising and media space, largely thanks to the success of its Angry Birds IP, which could equate to new paths of commerce and exposure for Everton. “This provides the club with a different angle and point of difference at retail and we are already exploring the ways we can work together," saID Rollings. "Fans of Angry Birds and Everton can expect collaboration here soon.”
Whether the collaboration spawns Everton-themed Angry Birds plushies at the superstore or something entirely different remains to be seen, but it is clear that a whole new space for Everton to play in is mobile apps. Rovio, a bespoke gaming giant, could easily generate content, in-game features or even standalone games around the team.
“We have started the planning work around in-game content. When working with Rovio’s innovative team, there is always something new in the works. It is a bit too early to say what kind of in-game content there will be, but the plans are to offer something unique for Everton and Angry Birds fans," said Rollings.
Rollings added: “Clearly without a partner like Rovio we would never have been able to be part of this space. Likewise the partnership gives Rovio a chance to bring some authentic football themed content in to some of Rovio’s games.”
On the unveiling of the partnership, Ville Heijari, Rovio Entertainment's chief marketing officer, said: “We have a history of doing Angry Bird homages of real-life characters so obviously now we are in collaboration (with Everton) we can work together to bring interesting characters and profiles into the games.”
Naturally, this is a rather telling clue as to what the publisher plans to do with the Everton IP, and its players. Will there be a special-edition Wayne Rooney Angry Bird, immortalising England’s top goalscorer in cartoon form? The club couldn’t give away any details on this notion but it did speculate. “The players have their own traits and trademarks and we think it would be an interesting way of bringing the partnership to life," said Rollings. "These are globally recognised stars and people engage with them on a personal level. Certainly in Asia I know certain players almost transcend the leagues and teams they play in profile wise.”
As the partnership matures, such ideas could see the light of day, but there’s still some work going into where the relationship will lead, according to Rollings. “Quite often the first few weeks of a partnership are spent working out a plan of action and a strategy for building up the profile, while this partnership exploded onto the scene. We haven’t stopped discussing the exciting ways we can bring this to life and it’s almost a case of trying to work out what we do first, rather than what we do next.”
In particular, Rovio’s ability to monesite to such a grand valuation, in a congested gaming space, in such a short space of time, is something the club may want to build upon. “Everton are experiencing an exciting period of rapid growth and we now have a partner who probably grew quicker than anyone else out there," said Rollings. "Their range of products exploded rapidly, as did their ways of monetising them and they now sit as one of the most recognised brands in the world.”
Tom McCormack, head of football at Nielsen Sports, pointed out how unique the partnership was: “It’s not often a rights holder will have such a unique opportunity to leverage a partner’s own platforms, especially one with such scale and activity as the Angry Birds channels, to engage a different demographic and grow the fan base.”
The Premier League granted clubs the opportunity to pursue sleeve sponsorship at the start of the 17/18 season, and Everton joined the likes of Manchester City, Watford and Liverpool in taking up the option.
Alan McTavish, head of commercial at Everton, said: “The marketplace for shirt sleeve sponsorship has been really competitive and there have been deals done across the league at different levels, but we are confident we have done the best of them all.”
As well as Everton, Rovio now boasts internationals partnerships with the likes of Nasa, Apple, NBA, NFL, McDonald's, Star Wars, Sony and Lego.