To say that I was somewhat shocked a few weeks back when I saw the Chelsea FC logo painted onto Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber Formula One car during the Monaco Grand Prix would be an understatement. I thought that it was only the biggest global brands and not football clubs that sponsored F1 teams in a sport that symbolises money, glamour and exclusivity. After all, I had become accustomed to seeing multi-national corporations such as Shell, Santander and Vodafone appearing on the Ferraris, Mclarens and Mercedes. That is not to belittle Chelsea FC – they are one of the biggest English clubs and this year’s Champions League winner – but I assumed that even Abramovich’s purchasing power wouldn’t compete with the extortionate sponsorship costs of F1.
I was wrong, and this new (and slightly bizarre) partnership between an F1 team and a Premiership football club made me realise just how far professional football has come in terms of shifting towards becoming a global brand. It’s amazing how football has also left other sports in its wake with this ambitious commercial perspective - could you ever imagine a rugby club, a tennis player or cricket team painted on the side of an F1 car? I very much doubt it!
Chelsea FC’ Chief Executive Ron Gourlay positioned the partnership as a match meant to be, in a year ‘when Chelsea celebrates 20 seasons as a Premier League team [and] Sauber does so as a Formula 1 team.’ He also highlighted the many philosophies the two organisations share. What I believed most, however, was Gourlay’s emphasis on the commercial benefits of this partnership for both organisations. For me, this move undoubtedly indicated Chelsea’s motivation to establish itself as a global brand with a very clear commercial purpose.
In fact, similar to Chelsea FC, many other modern day Premiership football clubs have become obsessed with increasing their global presence and increasing the size of their fan base in order to sell more shirts, thus making bigger profits.
Fearing the loss of focus on football itself, such partnerships have, however, attracted some criticism. After Manchester United recently signed Japanese player Shinji Kagawa, their commercial director Richard Arnold approached the media straight away to categorically deny that the signing was made merely to boost profits and United’s presence in Asia. He said: “We don't sign players to sell shirts. We are reliant on 25 players and they are all massive stars. We have 25 George Clooneys.”
While I understand the commercial reasoning behind these kinds of lucrative partnerships and transfers, I cannot help but also be annoyed when they are of little worth to fans. Many of these deals are making clubs incredibly wealthy and contributing to the outrageous salaries that professional players receive when we are supposedly in the midst of recession – without providing any benefits to the sport itself.
For me, it’s a great shame that football seems to be losing both its core identity and its connection with the fans in its quest to become a global corporate entity. Therefore, I hate to admit it, but the answer to my question above is a resounding ‘yes’.