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.

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”

Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai


Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.