The Premier League’s ‘clean’ brand strategy to strengthen its value beyond TV

The Premier League unveiled its new brand today (9 February), kicking off a sponsorship strategy that will lean harder on the commercial clout of its clubs to swell its own value beyond TV.

Football bosses have wanted to do this for a long time; Barclays' exit after 15 years and a lack of interest from major domestic brands are understood to have quickened that reappraisal, which should now make it easier to sell sponsorships worldwide. The presence of a title sponsor can suffocate the value from smaller deals, an issue that has limited the league’s appeal to either brands interested in its global reach or online gaming firms.

But with a revamped structure built on seven sponsors instead of one there’s an opportunity to have “interesting conversations” with a breadth of partners according to managing director Richard Masters. Speaking at the launch of the league’s strategy, he said he wanted those conversations to foster more brand activations and commercial deals, which could theoretically allow it to pocket more revenue than it would from Barclays.

What’s interesting about this approach is that like the NBA and the NFL before it, the league’s ‘clean’ brand strategy frees clubs to strike more of their own commercial deals in the absence of a title sponsor. Clubs receive a far greater income from TV broadcast tie-ups than they did from the Barclays sponsorship. Indeed, Barclays’ sponsorship revenue for clubs wasn’t much when divided among 20 and they don’t want to be constrained for what is not a huge return.

When Barclays made the decision not to renew it gave the league the opportunity to build its own brand. The reality is that with £5.14bn coming from domestic broadcasters, the league could afford to give up the £40m it would earn annually from a title sponsor.

“Up to this point, any association a brand had with the Premier League was actually with the Barclays Premier League,” said Jamie Wynne-Morgan, managing director at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment.

“The big US sports don’t have this problem so can attract greater numbers of Tier 2 sponsors, which is something I expect the Premier League to do moving forward. It allows clubs to sign up their own financial partners now and the league to grow by attracting more secondary sponsors. Financially they will probably be stronger without a title sponsor with this approach and can focus their efforts on building their brand to compete with the likes of the NBA & NFL.”

A strategy like this also means the league’s commercial team won’t sell sponsors so much camera-facing media, as the clubs will be selling it themselves. To make that licensing model work, Antony Marcou, chief executive of Sports Revolution said the league will need to “invest massively” in its brand and build its global profile.

Barclays did a good job of doing that for the EPL, so who's going to do it now?,” he added. “A licensing model works for the IOC because the Olympic Rings are known all over the world. The EPL can't achieve that same level of recognition without serious long term brand building and investment.”

It's not just the American sports league chiefs who will be watching with bated breath now that China is in the midst of a revolution to become a football powerhouse. No longer is it where veterans go for a final pay cheque, the Chinese Super League is attracting some of the most coveted players in world football thanks to heaps of state and private investment. While the sheer aggression of China’s plan has caught many observers off guard, it won’t be much of a threat to the league in the immediate future because of its dominance.

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