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Leicester City FC Sponsorship Sports Marketing

Why Leicester FC’s Premier League stunner sets the stage perfectly for football’s dealmakers

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By Seb Joseph, News editor

May 2, 2016 | 5 min read

Leicester FC have defied the odds to be crowned this season’s Premier League champions, an unexpected feat that encapsulates why the tournament’s dealmakers are now redoubling efforts to get brands to buy into that uncertainty, write Tony Connelly and Seb Joseph.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Leicester’s will they/won’t they tussle for the league has been rooted in the impossible and yet it is now the reality. It’s an ending befitting of a Hollywood underdog story, one that couldn’t haven’t come at a better time for the league’s commercial team.

For the last 16 years, Barclays’ presence as title sponsor of the league has limited how much commercial revenue it earned from additional partners. That will change from next season, when the bank will no longer be the league’s main sponsor, instead replaced by several brands, four of which have already been announced. The most recent being watchmaker Tag Heuer earlier this week (26 April), which alongside Barclays (in a smaller capacity), EA and Nike, have bought into what the league believes is a more progressive way of managing media rights.

The evolved model provides the Premier League with a ‘clean brand’, much like the NBA and NFL, to secure and activate category partnerships. This approach will unlock more opportunities for Premier League clubs, with banking being a priority focus for many clubs now the exclusivity with Barclays has been removed.

Marketers are encouraged to buy into the league’s brand now rather than just see it as a media buy, a tactic in part compounded by the fact that it now has less inventory to broker. A big chunk of the media Barclays owned will be handed back to the clubs next season, meaning there’s more onus on the rights owner to be more flexible when working with partners. It’s why the league is being rebranded, channelling more of its marketing around its players, communities and clubs both on and off the pitch.

An exciting league with a powerful brand voice played a key role in convincing Tag Heuer to sign off on a deal that was two years in the making. Like others, the watchmaker is in the early stages a more nuanced sponsorship strategy that is capable of fulfilling multiple business objectives. Part of those objectives will be in China where the brand is keen to gain market share following its work around with Chinese Super League.

“There’s no point having a sponsorship now if you’re just going to sit on it,” explained UK managing director Rob Driver. “There’s a media aspect to the deal that we’ll be very visible from but there’s also a lot of activity we will do behind it. Half of that has already been arranged and 50 per cent is still to be developed and signed off.”

That work is the by-product of tighter relationship between rights holder and sponsor, one league organisers are hopeful will help them secure the two remaining commercial slots by the time next season starts.

Next season is a perfect storm for a sponsor being involved in the league, according to sponsorship experts. There’s the drama of whether Leicester City FC will defend its league crown, the exalted arrival of Pep Guardiola as well as the promise of live-streaming, all of which will swell the value of the brand as it continues to bolster its global appeal.

“You have an underdog success story, the best manager in the world arriving, multi-channel consumption, biggest-ever TV deal in place and a league which will be contested by up to eight teams, meaning every game matters,” said Paul McCormick, business development director at Pitch.

Leicester City has been a dream story. Not just for their fans and neutrals, but also for the league's brand.

Antony Marcou, chief executive of Sports Revolution, built on this point, observing that the league's brand is at an all time high.

"With a new commercial model to sell into sponsors, it now has maximum excitement and goodwill to trade on," he added.

"Leicester’s win - and also the success of teams like Spurs and West Ham - who also exceeded pre-season expectations – has created a halo around the Premier League itself. In the past, with the usual big teams winning every season, the halo was around the brands of the big clubs. It suits the league for success to be shared more evenly – not only does it make it more exciting for fans and sponsors, but it also means the biggest clubs don’t carry all the power.”

Leicester City FC Sponsorship Sports Marketing

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