Philly's Bimbo Problem: Soccer Team Sponsor Faces Uphill Battle

Last Updated Jan 12, 2011 8:00 PM EST

Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union just assigned itself the toughest sports marketing challenge on the planet: Convincing its fans to buy the 2011 season shirt which is sponsored by Bimbo (mockup at right). Grupo Bimbo is a routinely mispronounced Hispanic bakery based in Pennsylvania but best-known as the sponsor of two Mexican football teams, Chivas Guadalajara (red and white stripes, below) and Club America (yellow). The correct way to say the name is "Beembo."

The deal gives Philadelphia $12 million over four years, which is roughly equal to the team's player salary budget. The soccer league is heavily dependent on sponsorship money as its TV audience is small and gate receipts are ticking up only slowly.

Shirt sales are a vital part of any football club's revenue. Shirts sell for about $90 and there's a strong correlation between fans who spend money following a team and those who own a shirt. The Philly Union was founded just last year, however, and its original, sponsorless shirts can still be bought or at least not replaced by fans unwilling to explain the vagaries of the Latino baked goods market to their friends.

Thus the Union's marketing team not only have to convince their own fans of this sponsorship, they'll have some explaining to do to the rest of the league as well.

The misunderstandings are already flowing: ESPNW, the sports site for women, published a piece yesterday titled, "Is the Union's new sponsorship sexist?" Many readers, writing in comments under the article, were not amused:

Here's some shocking news for you: many of the female Union fans you refer to (myself included) are aware of giant international businesses.
Fair enough, but will the Union's female fans feel comfortable wearing a Bimbo shirt? Reaction on the Union's Facebook page ranged from "it's good for the club, just accept it" to outright dismay:
Kevin Obrecht: This is going to hurt in winning over the casual fan who has no idea of Bimbo being a big sponsor of football in Latin America. I will support the U no matter how ugly the jersey is and I don't care who sponsors them but we need to win over the casual fan and the money they bring in and this sponsorship deal hurts that.
It could be worse. AC Milan was once sponsored by Pooh Jeans.

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