At the end of the 2010/11 season Sheffield United were relegated to the third tier of English football, joining their local rivals Sheffield Wednesday in League One. Both clubs found themselves without shirt sponsors, with local companies airing concerns over sponsoring just one team for fear of being accused of favouring one over the other.
With no deal on the table, Wednesday went ahead and printed its 2011/12 season shirts, sponsor free, holding on to the hope that a company would come on board late in the day. Fans were even told they could bring their shirts back to the club shop to have the sponsor logo added once a deal had been agreed.
However, with no deal on the table, the two clubs joined forces and took the unusual approach of looking to recruit a joint sponsor. Two local companies stepped up to the mark, a local car dealership and a health insurance firm, who combined to offer a reported six figure sum for the 2011/12 season.
The agreement sees Volkswagon dealership Gilders appearing on the front of Wednesday’s shirt when they are at home and United’s when they are away. Westfield Health will appear on United’s home shirts and Wednesday’s away shirts.
Why we like it
Other than Rangers and Celtic who both carry Tennent’s sponsorship on their shirts in Scotland, this deal is the first of its kind between rival teams in an English league.
Of course, some fans will always be against the move. Who wants to have anything in common with their local rival? However, the overall response has been positive. Before the deal was announced, both clubs had uncertain futures, with rumours of a merger and even closure abounding. When those are the alternatives, a joint sponsorship deal becomes much easier to stomach, even for the most diehard of fans.
While both clubs deserve credit for coming up with a savvy financial solution (Sheffield is a city used to having to pick itself up and this deal demonstrates the determination not to lose any more of the city’s icons), the sponsors also come out of the deal rather well.
Local derbies always create hightened emotions for football fans, so bringing together two teams through the sponsorship could have resulted in backlash from the fans. However, Gilders and Westfield Heath are two local companies who know the city and its people and they were confident that the fans would back the partnership for the sake of their team. The announcement was made in a considered manner and the quotes focused on preserving two iconic Sheffield brands and football culture in the city.
This approach resulted in blanket coverage across the sports pages of the UK press, propelling two local brands into the national arena. Coverage was positive and gave both companies a voice with the MD of Gilders quick to note that the deal had “brought together four such quality and iconic Sheffield brands”.
As an ex-Sheffield resident, I’ll be following the future of both clubs closely. It will be interesting to see whether the deal will still remain in place even if the Blades win promotion. In the current financial climate, it feels a fitting approach to a sport that is often (rightly) accused of being frivolous with money. And if it saves two teams steeped in football history and with a huge following, surely it’s a no-brainer.
By Jennifer Mitton on September 1st, 2011