BT has secured a five-year deal with the FA to become the lead partner of the association's 28 teams. Speaking to The Drum, Pete Jeavons, marketing director for its consumer division said this £50m investment into supporting English football will "reinvigorate the brand".
As exclusive lead partner of the England teams (men’s, women’s, development teams, futsal and disability), a major component of the deal will see the BT logo appear on team training kits.
This will help introduced the freshly-rebranded BT identity to millions. The kits are to be debuted by the England women’s team ahead of the World Cup this week and the England men’s team as they prepare for the Nations League Finals.
However, Jeavons stressed that it's not a simple badging exercise and BT will "play an active and instrumental role" in communities - "rather than just talking at people".
"This is about being a responsible brand and playing an active, positive role in the community. There is a lot our large organization can do," the marketer continued.
"It might be bringing some digital expertise to grassroots teams, to help save volunteers' time, providing better facilities or ensuring good connectivity in clubhouses."
At the moment, Jeavons is unsure how BT will activate the partnership - with the ink still drying on the agreement. It is too soon to talk about the content the partnership will generate and how that will feed into BT's wider marketing.
With the England men's team match rights sitting with Sky and ITV until 2022., there's been speculation that deal seals England involvement without TV rights - or that it lays the groundwork for a bid.
"That's a separate conversation," said Jeavons. "This isn't about BT Sports. This is about playing an active role in the country. That may well be a conversation that we have at some point, but it's certainly not part of parts of this. This is a partnership that helps people think differently about the brand and what we do."
Last year, Danish beer brand Carlsberg ceased its 22-year sponsor of the England national football team. As did Vauxhall. This raised questions about the effectiveness of the FA partnerships at a time when Gareth Southgate's men's team put in a strong performance at the World Cup in Russia. Furthermore, the Lionesses' bid for glory in France this summer provides further appeal.
Jeavons reflected on the importance of the on-pitch performance and the brand uplift that can bring.
"The positive performance of the team and, and the feeling of pride from a nation is a hugely positive factor but it is not the be all and end all."
He noted that while it will activate with the senior teams and their star players, there is an "excitement" to get involved in communities.
"You want your brand to be associated with positive assets. Right now the Lionesses and England Men's team are incredibly positive. But that’s just part the story. How do we continue that positivity through all of the different community, disabled and grassroots football?"
He added: "It won't be a run of the mill branding exercise. Football is important, it's a game that touches millions and millions of people on a daily and weekly basis."
The BT brand
At these touchpoints, BT can alter the perception of the brand.
"BT is a national treasure. It’s been around for over a hundred years. It is something that people grew up around. But it is a misunderstood brand in terms of the role it plays within the country. This is about trying to elevate the BT brand again to get it understood and get people liking it," he said.
In 2015, BT snapped up mobile carrier EE for £12.5bn. Since then, it has been trying to fast-track EE's integration into the wider group.
As part of the deal, EE has renewed its sponsorship deal as Wembley connectivity partner, which will see it deliver an enhanced 4G and 5G mobile experiences wifi for all attendees.
This deal, which predates the merger, laid the foundations for the BT deal.
"The ability to own and create a connected stadium is unique within the UK," said Jeavons. "Being able to have a permanent presence somewhere that people can experience us is hugely important."
BT’s sponsorship will be activated across the national football centre St George’s Park and in Wembley too. Furthermore, BT and EE customers will have access to exclusive England match offers and tickets to FA events.
This will be the first major marketing exercise since the company restructured its marketing operations in April when it reorganised across four customer-facing units: consumer, enterprise, global services and Openreach. It resulted in the chief marketing roles at BT and EE being merged.
Under that "simplified" structure, BT's Pete Oliver became the marketing lead for the two telecoms brands under the title managing director of marketing for consumer.
In 2018, Andy Haworth, managing director of strategy and content, consumer of BT Sport explained how sports rights helped boost the media and telecom company's relevancy to consumers.
He said: "Our investors understand that value that sport brings to BT as a business. It is a core part of our portfoilio. For us, networks are key, fibre and 5G but content drives those networks, how we bring content and networks together is crucially important."
Jeavons was unsure yet how BT will activate with the FA going forward, he hinted: "From a brand and marketing point of view it'll be a brilliant canvas for us to activate from."
BT joins Barclays and Boots as FA partners this year, all of whom have put an unmatched emphasis on the Lionesses. The FA now has 22 commercial partnerships including the likes of Nike, Coca-Cola, Lucozade and Head and Shoulders.
Last month, The Drum explored the growing phenomena of women's football, looking at how sponsors, the media and fans are getting behind what could be the fastest growing sport in the world.