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Shirt Sponsorship: Partnerships and Pitfalls

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Ciao is out for 2015 as a shirt sponsor. If you had your dream sponsor, who would it be?

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

All of us were so excited when the Colorado Rapids *finally* became MLS' last team to have a kit sponsor in 2014. That's the British word for jersey, for those of us who fear that creeping Euro-snobbery is ruining the game. Then Ciao, uh, forgot to pay the Rapids after that first down payment of $75,000. Probably because they were barely a viable company to begin with.

It is worth noting that shirt sponsorship doesn't begin in soccer until the 1970's, and many teams resisted taking a sponsor for the same reason we hear today in MLB, NFL, and NBA: ‘tradition', ‘the aesthetics of historic jerseys', etc. Which, if you look at an FC Barcelona Unicef kit from a few years ago seems ridiculous. It might in some cases make a kit more iconic.

With that in might, here are some examples of ideal and not-so-ideal kit sponsors.

Good:

Manchester United - Chevy
It's an automotive brand that says muscular and speedy, what with it's dominant car lines being pickup trucks and muscle cars. It's a global corporate giant that says ‘my club is so good, sponsors will lineup 50 deep to throw money at us'. This is pretty much as good as it gets.

AC Milan - Pirelli
Pirelli has been Inter Milan's sponsor since 1995, so that's good. Pirelli tires are also made in Milan; in fact the company was one of the cornerstones of the post-war industrial boom in Northeast Italy that made Milan the city it is. So local plus historic equals good sponsor.

Columbus Crew - Barbasol
I had forgotten about Barbasol in the era of fancy-pants neon blue shaving gels. Once Barbasol put it's money behind an MLS side, I switched. Maybe because of the novelty, maybe because I am an idiot who is highly influenced by marketing. Either way, it works.

Philadelphia Union - Bimbo
Bimbo, a big baked-goods corporation, has been on Liga MX kits for years. Sponsoring an MLS side seems like a crafty way for a team to attract Mexican fans. I don't know that it actually works out that way, but the logic seems solid.

Not-so-good:

Atletico Madrid - Azerbajian
I get really confused whenever Atletico play. Is that Atletico, or the Azerbaijiani national team? I can't be the only one with this problem.

Red Bull, both Salzburg and NY
This is sort of good because it's a big company, and because linking two teams on two continents in some loose corporate structure seems to align Red Bull with soccer fans, not just one team. On the other hand, taking over the actual identity mascot and team name is pretty aggressive, and ties you to that teams fate in a much bigger way than just sponsoring the kit. RBNY's corporate overlords are in Austria, and own scads of teams in various sports all over the world. Owning a team as an extension of a brand of hyper-caffeinated drink is probably inherently problematic. And I sense a lot of Red Bull fans don't love the corporate office, or its drink.

LA Galaxy - Herbalife
Herbalife was the first team to sponsor an MLS jersey. They signed a 10 year extension in 2011 worth $44 million. They also invest in youth soccer and children's nutrition. All that is good! On the other hand, they are currently being investigated for essentially operating as a giant pyramid scheme. They've been accused and sued on these grounds repeatedly since 2004. Their products have been criticized for making false claims of medical benefits. So, less good.

Bad:

FC Barcelona - Qatar
I'm sure Qatar gives ungodly sums of money to FC Barcelona to be on their kits. So that's good, because I'm sure Barcelona isn't making enough money selling Messi and Neymar jerseys to seemingly billions of people. However, Qatar is under fire for A) getting 2022 World Cup through shady dealings, B) Using unpaid slave labor to build the stadiums, which also have a reputation of getting a lot of them killed in the process, and C) being a state sponsor of terrorism. Barcelona is planning not to renew. That's probably wise.

Stoke City FC - Bet365
It seems like an inherent conflict of interest to have a company that lets you bet on soccer games sponsor a soccer team that you can then bet on. It also sends a bad message to the kiddies about the legitimacy of betting.

So, agree? Disagee? Who would your *dream* kit sponsor be for the Rapids?