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Beyond football: The importance of a sports brand and strategic partnerships

A strong brand is of interest to all trading entities, but it’s even more important for sports teams because, in the modern era of sport, there’s as much money to be made from exploiting a brand successfully as there is from winning games. Matthew Lingard and John-Joe Massey, from Walker Morris’ Intellectual Property, Trade Marks & Designs team, explore this new approach to sports brand and strategic partnerships and give their practical advice.

Sports brand and strategic partnerships

Sports brand and strategic partnerships- What’s it all about?

Long gone are the days when a sports team was just a sports playing team that generated revenue by selling tickets and shirts to fans. Hollywood stars, streaming deals and unprecedented access to players and athletes has taken the world of sport to a new level. Social media in particular has driven the requirement for content but has also given sporting brands a far wider reach than ever before, and with it far more opportunities.

According to the Deloitte Football Money League 2023 (DMFL), commercial deals made up on average 47.6% of the revenue of clubs ranked 1-5 in the DFML. The remaining 52.4% was made up of broadcasting rights and matchday revenue. For those 5 teams this was an average revenue increase of 38.2 million euros purely from commercial deals, most of which centre around the respective team’s brand.

The drive to maximise brand utilisation has resulted in some seemingly odd partnerships over the years, in particular Manchester United having an official paint partner in Kansai Paint based in Japan. But scratch the surface and you begin to understand the level of popularity Manchester United enjoys in Japan; soon to be increased if the rumours of a new signing from Japan ultimately come to fruition. Clearly, understanding your markets, whether this is specific for a region or product, is key to maximising the expansion of your brand.

Platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus have a worldwide reach with their streaming services. These platforms have been exploited by Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City in Amazon’s “All or Nothing” series, the Netflix “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” series, and by Wrexham AFC in the Hollywood story of “Welcome to Wrexham” on Disney Plus; affording these teams the ability to give a worldwide push to their brands.

Wrexham in particular is rewriting the book on what a brand can do for a football club. Through its Hollywood owners’ personal and business brands, more eyes have been drawn to a non-league club than ever before. The owners’ brands and the club have become intricately woven together to maximise partnerships in a way that hasn’t been seen at top clubs, never mind those that weren’t even in the football league.

Clever use of partnerships can do incredible things for a sporting brand. It opens new eyes to your brand. Since the Disney Plus series, Wrexham has had FA Cup games shown on ESPN2 at the same time as MLS games. 103,000 households in the US tuned in to watch, at the time, fifth tier Wrexham take on sixth tier Blythe Spartans, whilst only 54,000 tuned into the US topflight clash between Orlando City SC and Columbus Crew, two well established MLS teams.

The eyes on the Vanarama conference spurred the league to partner with StreamAMG to set up their own National League TV which now gives fans around the world the opportunity to watch their non-league clubs. This has, in turn, afforded more funds to the non-league teams. Wrexham in particular has benefitted from £225,000 worth of investment for the club to have matches shown on the streaming platform.

What practical advice arises?

All of this clearly shows that clever partnerships can afford great opportunities, not just for the sports brand, but for other athletes and teams; with more eyes being drawn to the sport, this ultimately leads to more investment all round.

Whilst exploring partnerships, you should always consider your brand ethos and make sure that any partnerships wouldn’t result in major uproar from fans and the public alike. Ulster’s sponsorship from Kingspan has caused numerous issues for the club and its reputation, due to the association between Kingspan and the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Understanding your brand and how to exploit it can create new revenue streams that are relatively passive. Choosing key commercial partnerships can be difficult and have negative results, and so time should be taken to make sure the partnerships match your ethos.

Sports brand and strategic partnerships – How we can help

We can help protect your brand through trade mark registrations in the UK or worldwide and assist with protecting your brand in partnership agreements or licences. We’ve helped guide numerous clubs through the licensing process and have deep expertise in this area. This allows us to get the best possible deals for our clients. If you want to enquire about options for better utilising your brand, please get in touch with Matthew or John-Joe for more information and advice.



Intellectual Property, Trade Marks & Designs

Matthew's contact details

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Intellectual Property, Trade Marks & Designs

John-Joe's contact details

Email me