Narrative is not enough for adidas and Chelsea

Narrative is not enough for adidas and Chelsea

Is it the best of times or worst of times for apparel in sports sponsorship?

It is rare that you can link the English author Charles Dickens with sports sponsorship. However, a recent end to a jersey sponsorship deal for one of the English Premiere League’s most hallowed clubs demonstrates how it could be the best of times and the worst of times for apparel partnerships in sports.

Throughout the sporting world, jersey sponsorships will or already have driven significant incremental revenue growth. NBA teams are going to sell sponsorship logos on their uniforms starting in the 2017-18 season. Under Armour signed a record $86 million deal with the University of California, Berkeley for the next ten years.

At the same time, large jersey sponsorship deals are more frequently coming under scrutiny. A famous recent example entails a senior executive at General Motors reportedly being fired from his job for “not properly vetting and reporting the financial details about Chevrolet’s sponsorship of Manchester United.” The sponsorship’s most prominent feature was having a Chevrolet logo on the front of the English Premiere League team’s jersey.

Adidas currently sits at an interesting intersection of sports sponsorship. It recently paid $750 million to be the Official Kit (jersey) Supplier of Manchester United. At the same time, the company yesterday announced that it was ending its sponsorship of English Premier League team Chelsea six years early after paying a reported $300 million for the deal in 2013.

Why would adidas pay $350 million more to sponsor Manchester United than Chelsea? Adidas primarily focuses on selling apparel to customers for a number of sports throughout the world. Chelsea claims to have close to 400 million global fans across the world. Manchester United has almost that number of fans in Asia alone with 110 million in China and 659 million globally. A relationship with Manchester United enables adidas to reach more customers in more of its target markets that will more likely facilitate incremental revenue growth for the company.

This is a salient example of a larger trend happening in the industry. Companies are more frequently making decisions based on weighing economic and financial factors than ever before when making sponsorship decisions. In the past, teams could rely on their on-field narratives to generate interest from corporate sponsors.

Adidas’ actions with Chelsea and Manchester United, however, show that there is a problem with relying on just the emotional connection with fans to generate dollars for jersey sponsorship. While Manchester United is arguably the most successful team in Premier League history, Chelsea is usually considered second by having won 17 major championships since 1997. In fact, Manchester United was having one of its least successful on-field runs in recent history when it signed its new adidas deal. Even though Chelsea struggled during the 2015-16 season, the team won the Premiere League last season – after its most recent deal with adidas was signed.

Ending its deal with Chelsea early and signing a larger deal with Manchester United makes the most sense for adidas using an economic lens. Manchester United will likely enable adidas to reach more of its customers and sell more products, particularly in the Asian market.

Adidas is not alone in transitioning to a more economically-oriented type of decision making process when it comes to sports sponsorship. Corporate partners of all sizes need to understand the economic value of sponsoring a sports organization. Teams, leagues, athletes, and events need to present a demonstrable ROI to their partners or risk losing corporate sponsors. The sports properties that can effectively show and communicate value based on economic metrics will have the best of times presenting a compelling economic story and retaining corporate partners.

Adam is the CEO and Founder of the sports sponsorship and analytics firm Block Six Analytics. He is also lecturer for Northwestern University's Masters of Sports Administration. In addition, he is the co-author of The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders For A High-Performance Industry. His work has been featured in publications including Forbes, Comcast SportsNet Chicago The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and Oxford University Press.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason


Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.