The History of Shirt Sponsorship in the Premier League

Although football as we know it today has been around for over 150 years, the sponsorship of football shirts is a relatively new concept. 

Football club’s efforts to introduce shirt sponsorships in the 1970s and early 1980s were mostly thwarted, but by the end of the decade every team in the English Football League had the right to sell kit sponsorship. 

Businesses had understood the importance of football as a marketing platform decades before this, but shirt sponsorship changed the rules entirely, allowing businesses to place their brand alongside the ever-adored clubs and their players, tapping into unrivalled loyalty. 

The creation of the Premier League in the 1990s saw the English game begin on its ascent to the most watched league in the world. In this feature we look at how shirt sponsorships have changed and developed alongside the Premier League on this journey.


1990s

The 1992-93 season kicked off the beginning of the Premier League era with 22 teams competing in the league, which served as successor to the old First Division. 

The inaugural season of the newly formed Premier League saw teams don kits with sponsors that ranged from chemical companies to sportswear manufacturers. 

Shirt sponsors in the 1990s were heavily dominated by companies selling electrical goods, particularly personal computers, as electronics became more and more accessible throughout the decade. 

Eventual champions Manchester United and runners-up Aston Villa both sported sponsors from electrical goods manufacturers, whilst the likes of Liverpool, Blackburn, Nottingham Forest and Spurs were all sponsored by beer brewers, a trend which continued throughout the league’s first decade.      


2000s

10 years on from the Premier League’s first season had seen the league shrink from 22 teams to 20, three different teams win the league, and the average match-day attendances rise from 21,000 to 35,000

With more and more fans watching games, shirt sponsors diversified as different industries saw the benefits of sponsorship in the league. 

The 2000s saw the telecommunications industry take over as the most popular form of shirt sponsorship, as topdogs Arsenal and Manchester United secured deals with giants O2 and Vodafone. 

The decade also saw the Travel, Financial Services, and Betting industries all become shirt sponsors, some for several teams throughout the period. 

Notably, Fulham’s shirt sponsor, Betfair, were the first betting sponsor to feature on the front of a Premier League side’s shirt. 


2010s

As the Premier League entered its third decade, its position as the world’s most watched and wealthiest league was firmly cemented. 

Throughout the 2010s the league’s global viewing figures continued to grow at record pace, which saw broadcasting deals skyrocket from £1.7bn, for the 2010-2013 period, to £5.4bn, for the 2016-2019 period.  

With teams’ capturing audiences from further afield than ever before, more and more organisations looked to shirt sponsorship as a key tool to boost their brand. 

Previous big sponsors from the Electronics and Telecommunications industries were replaced by the growing presence from the Betting and Financial Services industries, as travel providers such as Emirates and Etihad Airways provided long-term sponsorship for Arsenal and Manchester City. 


2020s

The latter stages of the 2010s and the beginning of the 2020s has seen two very clear developments in shirt sponsorship.

The beginning of the 2017/18 season saw teams being allowed to introduce a sleeve sponsor for the first time as more organisations looked to build their brand with the aid of the clubs. 

As the Premier League reached its landmark 30th birthday, it’s clear to see that sponsorships in the league are dominated by the Betting industry, with eight out of the 20 teams sporting kits with betting sponsors. 

Sponsors from the Financial Services sector are also prominent, with banks, payment service platforms and insurance companies relying on teams’ reputation and brand to reach target audiences. 


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