Show Me The Money
Look back at old photos or videos and think of the great names of our Beautiful game from the early-to-mid twentieth century, and one thing immediately strikes you: the plainness of the kits. We have the club’s colours, their crest, the player’s number… and that’s all.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the first thing you notice on a football kit is the advertising. It’s everywhere. There’s the massive advert on the front, which dominates the clubs crest in terms of size. There’s the manufacturer’s logo. As of the 2017/18 season, there are now also shirt sleeve sponsors.
So where does this link with Wolverhampton Wanders come in you’re asking yourself, and for some you may already know.
Where it began
Derek Dougan was a brilliant footballer for both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Northern Ireland, and never took kindly to being told what to do.
Which is probably just as well, because it was his tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness that started the process that saw English football dragged out of the dark ages, thereby opening it up to previously un-heard of marketing opportunities.
Setting the record straight
It’s a common misconception that Liverpool was the first English club to take the national game along this path, when it signed a shirt sponsorship deal with Hitachi in 1979, paving the way for the current 2010/11 season in which the 20 Premier League clubs enjoy brokered shirt deals worth almost £100 million.
This is not in fact the case, the first such deal took place many miles from Liverpool’s Anfield stadium, in the far more quiet surroundings of Kettering at Rockingham Road, the stadium of which has since been demolished back in 2017.
On 24 January 1976, Southern League Kettering Town became the first British club to play with a sponsor’s name on its shirts, after signing a deal with Kettering Tyres, when its players turned out against Bath City.
The “four-figure” agreement had been brokered by Dougan within a month of his appointment as the club’s chief executive. The FA immediately ruled the move offside and ordered the slogans to be removed, despite the Doog’s claim that the game’s national rulers had never put their 1972 ban on sponsorship in writing.
“The Doog said that he found it inconceivable that petty-minded bureaucrats have only this to bother about,” he stated at the time.
In response, Dougan tried convincing his opponents, by changing the wording on the shirts to “Kettering T”, and claimed that the T stood for “Town”. But the FA was having none of it, and ordered the club to do what it was told. Faced with the prospect of a £1,000 fine, Kettering relented.
But the FA’s victory was a Pyrrhic one. Kettering, backed by Bolton Wanderers and Derby County, subsequently lobbied the FA to allow shirt sponsorship, and in June 1977 the ban was lifted.
However, the Football League initially limited the size of sponsors’ names in order to placate fans, and not to fall foul of the BBC’s rules about advertising messages appearing during its broadcasts.
Alas, in the end it was of little comfort to Kettering, which failed to find a shirt sponsor for the following season.
By the dawn of the Premier League era in 1992, almost every major club had a sponsorship deal in place (Wimbledon were the sole exception in the top flight). Many of the companies involved were still local businesses, however Norwich City, who finished third that season, were sponsored by the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society. Southampton had a deal with a family-run business in the area, Draper Tools.
Even then, of course, some sponsors were bigger than others. Arsenal were memorably sponsored by Japanese consumer electronics giant JVC. Manchester United had a deal with rival company Sharp. Still, there remained a solid mix between British-based and international sponsors. In the modern day, that mix has now long gone.
Today’s Premier League clubs earn a record £313.6m from shirt deals for the 2018/19 season, the improved figure, which only accounts for the main sponsor on the front of each team’s playing tops, is up £31.8 million from last year, and has more than trebled since the 2010/11 campaign, when clubs in English soccer’s top flight netted a cumulative £100.45 million from their shirt deals.
Sleeve sponsors are thought to be paying an additional £46 million to the 20 clubs combined this year, taking the overall shirt sponsor spend to £359.6 million.
Things you need to know
The current Premier League club front of shirt deals are worth over £313.6 million, the majority of the split is between Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal.
Wolves two-year deal with online gaming company W88 covers the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. W88 benefits from front-of-shirt brand exposure as part of the agreement. Although we have had several sponsors over the years, this partnership is the largest in the club’s history.
A 1995 Premier League survey found that three out of ten fans thought products associated with their club to be “more attractive”.
Times change quickly in football. Less than 50 years ago, football shirts were completely bare. Now, every Premier League club has a multi-year, multi-million-pound sponsorship deal, all for a couple of patches on their shirts. The nature of those sponsorships has changed too over the years, but one thing looks certain, these deals are only going to grow in size, year on year.
The final words go to our very own Derek Dougan
The very man that spearheaded and revolutionised sponsorship in this country was also the very man that played for none other than Wolves. A player and Chief Executive in the 80’s who was and is recognised and respected for his service and contribution to the club, yet how many of us actually knew that it was his tenacity and stubbornness that shone the light for every other club going forward and assisted in making the Premiership what it is today, without sponsors we would not see the improvements in the standards and merchandise that we all buy and value today.
Dougan made 323 first team appearances for Wolves in just over eight seasons at Molineux after joining from Leicester City. He helped them regain top flight status in 1967 and played when they beat Manchester City in the 1974 League Cup final. His 12 goals in European competition are a club record.
On leaving Kettering Town, Dougan returned to his former club, Wolves, but was unable to halt its decline at the time. He wrote several books and was planning another when unfortunately he died, aged 69, of a suspected heart attack in June 2007.
The memory of the Doog lives on today in the hall of fame and he would be proud to see the way that the club has grown and the improvements that have been made since his time at Wolves.
The Doog leaves a lasting memory with me and I will always remember the day of his testimonial as will many others and him being hoisted aloft after the game in 1975.
“I can still hear the chants today ‘Tara rar Dougan’ & Dougan superstar how many goals have you scored so far” to the tune of Jesus Christ Superstar.
“Wolves Ay We”