Last Updated May 10, 2010 7:09 AM EDT
Most major sports are sponsored, but it is not corporate charity -- even if companies see their reputations rise even higher because innocent fans assume these companies are more interested in supporting the sport than promoting themselves.
It is a good medium for marketing because, while an advert on the touchline may be fleetingly caught on camera, the eye and the lens follow the players who have the brand name emblazoned on their chests. So everyone watching Chelsea view the Samsung name and people seeing Portsmouth cannot miss the Jobsite recruitment firm's logo.
And for products with a close association with football fans, the sponsorship is neatly targeted. By backing Chelsea, Adidas is getting directly to sports followers, as is Umbro in backing the FA Cup or Nike in helping finance Manchester United. Fans are typically male and young, so sponsorship appeals to brewers â€"- Heineken for Chelsea, Carlsberg for Portsmouth and the FA, Budweiser for ManU.
Quite what AIG, an American insurance company rescued by the US government, gets from putting its name on ManU's shirts, who knows, but does the fact that Portsmouth has been put into administration detract from its sponsors' marketing efforts? Do off-pitch scandals taint corporate backers?
It is easy to see why clubs accept sponsors' money but are there risks for companies in paying it? Chelsea's and Portsmouth's sponsors may be pleased their teams are generating the extra publicity and prestige of reaching the cup final, but does failure reflect badly on the firms that backed teams defeated in earlier rounds or who are being relegated from the league? Symmetry suggests the downside must equal the upside.
And more importantly, sponsoring local teams is divisive. Backing a national team can reach everyone in a market and E.On's sponsorship of the tournament, makes the power group a winner whoever takes the cup. However, when fans cheer one team they boo the other. Samsung may sell better in Chelsea because of its support, but are sales suffering in Portsmouth? If Stamford Bridge fans are more likely to book Thomas Cook holidays because it is a sponsor, does rival Thomson lose business in London because it backs Pompey?
If there is no loss from backing an opposition team, then maybe there is no gain from sponsorship either? It can work when local firms are backing local teams but the marketing model falls apart if it alienates consumers in the majority of the country. Perhaps offering finance to inflate the funds of football clubs is not a rational exercise in purchasing promotion, but a whim of marketing managers or chairmen more interested in using company funds to pursue private interests?