China’s growing fascination with football has triggered an overhaul in the marketing strategies which European clubs are now employing in an effort to strengthen their revenue streams in a sport which is increasingly shaped by financial muscle. Celtic FC are no different, which is why the club have adopted a new sponsorship strategy in an attempt to keep pace with Europe’s elite, both at home and abroad.
Conscious of the rapidly growing prosperity of the English Premier League as a result of huge broadcast deals, Celtic have changed their sponsorship approach this season by bringing in betting firm Dafabet. The partnership is a strategic attempt to build on the club’s Asian fan base by projecting the Celtic brand into new territories which can yield more commercial opportunities and subsequently help compensate for the gargantuan financial disparity that exists between Scottish football and the England's top flight.
“The financial gap between the EPL and SPFL will remain insurmountable as long as the bulk of the revenue generated by TV media rights goes to the EPL,” says Celtic FC sponsorship manager, Suzanne Reid.
In an effort to offset this disadvantage, Celtic partnered with Dafabet in a deal which Reid describes as a “fantastic opportunity to maximise revenue for the Club which would subsequently be reinvested on the field and connect with new partners”.
Having its main sponsor in Asia is part of the Scottish champions' strategy to promote themselves on a global scale with the help of partners who understand the region and can help with the complexities of engaging with audiences there.
Dafabet have already begun helping Celtic grow and interact with their Asian fanbase through a number of digital innovations.
“They’ve helped us launch our first Chinese language website and we have also seen growth in our Weibo channel,” says Reid. Taken together, these initiatives have helped the club secure a new TV deal with Chinese broadcaster LETV which will see more live Celtic fixtures shown in China than ever before.
Celtic are also trying to grow their brand through the delivery of football-based programmes in key regions of China. This approach familiarises young football fans with the club who in turn will be more likely to engage with the digital platforms and watch the TV broadcasts.
Reid says that a key aspect of this approach however is the progress it makes in helping the club “create important relationships with government bodies and commercial companies that have an interest in helping grow participation levels and improve the standard of coaching across China”.
While bringing in an Asian sponsor, as well as a betting firm, is a first for Celtic, another noticeable aspect of the current commercial model is the fact that it now has two kit sponsors. This season Celtic have begun utilising back of shirt sponsorship, which the Scottish Football Association (SFA) has made available to its clubs, by continuing their relationship with Magners.
The partnership with Magners has proven successful for both parties and the agreement to extend the relationship will help Celtic’s commercial pursuits closer to home, where the strategy focuses more on strengthening ties with fans.
“You have to do your due diligence and evaluation in terms of how successful the sponsorship has been and how to ensure success,” says George Kyle, head of sponsorship at Magners
Sponsorships can be a waste of time for both club and brand if not activated properly, and a key approach in winning round a modern day football fan is to illustrate an understanding of their club and contribute something worthwhile.
“The challenge for us will be to always make the sponsorship mean something to the fans and show that we understand the ethos and history of the club.”
Celtic Football Club was founded as a means of raising money to alleviate extreme poverty in Glasgow's East End parishes and the club’s charitable roots are something which it continues to promote. Magners has focused on this aspect of the Glasgow club in an attempt to show fans that it has a coherent understanding of the DNA of Celtic FC.
“Charity is obviously something which is very important to Celtic and we have tried to enhance that with the sponsorship over the last few seasons,” says Kyle.
Part of this strategy led Magners to free up its space on Celtic’s jersey for the club’s charity - the Celtic Foundation - over a number of matches.
Kyle says Magners worked with Celtic to enhance the club’s charitable efforts.
“We also helped deliver charity programs such as the employability programme we ran last year in partnership with the Celtic FC Foundation and the Tennent’s Training Academy. It was a huge success and every one of the participants went on to secure fulltime work.”
With Celtic on the brink of a return to the Champions League following a three-year absence, the club will once again rub shoulders with Europe’s elite on a stage which will spotlight the financial disparity that exists in modern day football. The commercial opportunities which China’s growing interest in football have yielded may not shift the balance of power, but it is providing clubs with opportunities which may allow them to keep pace.