The current longest running shirt sponsorships
The evolution of the football shirt is quite extraordinary. Not just in regard to material, production quantity and detail, but its journey through societal change.
Starting off as a sporting uniform, only to be worn during games, football shirts have since risen to become both a fashion and sporting statement, worn everywhere, from the training grounds to the streets.
Seeing football evolve from a sport to a lifestyle, businesses have learnt to understand how fans, football and business can live side-by-side and have since utilised the power of shirt sponsorships to build their brand.
In this feature, we take a closer look at some of these special partnerships as we analyse the current longest running shirt sponsorships in Europe’s top five leagues.
Published on April 26th, 2023
In this Insight:
Wolfsburg & Volkswagen
1991 - present
With Volkswagen featuring on Wolfsburg’s shirts for over 30 years, the car manufacturer’s relationship with the German giants is the longest current shirt sponsorship in any of Europe’s top five leagues.
Although Volkswagen have been the club’s official shirt sponsor since 1991, their relationship with the club stretches back to its foundation.
First established in 1945, VfL Wolfsburg was founded as a sports club for Volkswagen workers in the city of Wolfsburg.
The club has since gone on to establish itself as a mainstay of the German top division, with ‘The Wolves’ remaining in the Bundesliga since their promotion in 1997.
In addition to the club cementing themselves as a top-tier team, Wolfsburg’s consistent relationship with Volkswagen has seen the side crowned Bundesliga champions in 2009, as well as DFB-Pokal and DFB-Supercup winners in 2015.
The women’s team have seen even greater successes, with Wolfsburg widely regarded as one of the best teams in Europe, winning 19 major trophies since 2013, including two UEFA Women’s Champions League titles.
Wolfsburg and Volkswagen’s long lasting relationship is a perfect example of how businesses can employ different sporting strategies to achieve success, and with both the club and Volkswagen continuing to see great results, both parties can look forward to another 30 years of successful shirt sponsorship.
Nantes & Synergie
1996 - present
The second longest current shirt sponsorship in Europe’s top five leagues is between Ligue 1 side FC Nantes and Synergie.
Having partnered with Nantes since 1972, the human resources company has been the official shirt sponsor of the club since 1996.
Throughout the majority of this period, the club has been a regular in France’s top division and has seen some incredible highs such as winning Ligue 1 in 2001, Coupe de France in 1999, 2000 and 2022 and clinching the Trophee des Champions in 1999 and 2001.
Having signed a new three-year deal in 2023, the French partnership looks set to extend beyond the 30 year mark, with both parties looking ahead to a continued future together.
Napoli & Lete
2005 - present
Fashion and Italy go hand in hand, and Italian football clubs have carried their nation’s love affair with the fashion industry into the sporting sphere.
One club which has brought fashion to the field is Napoli. ‘Gli Azzurri’ are one of Italy’s most famous clubs and have seen iconic players such Diego Maradona and Gianfranco Zola pull on the striking sky blue shirts.
Emblazoned across Napoli’s famous shirt is Italian water company Acqua Lete. First featuring on the side’s shirts in 2005, whilst playing in the third division of Italian football, Lete have continued their partnership with Napoli for almost 20 years.
The club has since risen to become one of European football’s ever-present teams, consistently competing in both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, whilst showcasing Neapolitan passion, style and the Lete brand to the world.
Arsenal & Emirates
2006 - present
As the world’s most watched sports league, the Premier League attracts a cumulative TV audience of over three billion fans each season (Nielsen).
Wanting to share their brand with this truly global audience, Dubai-based airline company Emirates became the official shirt sponsor of Arsenal in 2006.
Behind only Liverpool and Manchester United, Arsenal are the third most successful club in English football history and with the club looking to enter a new era in the early 2000s, Emirates sought out a long-term partnership, which included the sponsorship of Arsenal’s new stadium.
Almost 20 years later, the Emirates brand is now synonymous with Arsenal, with the airline sponsoring both the club’s shirt and stadium since 2006 and a whole generation of fans growing up only knowing the ‘Emirates Era’.
As well as the transition to the new stadium, the ‘Emirates Era’, has seen silverware successes, with the men’s team clinching eight trophies and the women’s team 25.
Real Madrid & Emirates and Villarreal & Pamesa
2013 - present
Two iconic Spanish teams celebrated new partnerships ahead of the 2013/14 season, as both the famous all yellow kit of Villarreal and the all white kit of Real Madrid featured new sponsors.
Whilst Villarreal welcomed local ceramics company Pamesa Ceramica as their new shirt sponsor, Real Madrid signed a lucrative deal with Emirates, seeing the airline feature on the famous ‘Los Blanco’s’ shirt.
Football clubs in Spain’s top flight have seen more frequent changes to shirt sponsorships than some of their continental counterparts, but the legacy which these sponsors have after their first 10 years with the clubs shows how beneficial long-term partnerships can be.
In 2021, Pamesa’s logo was forever etched into Villarreal history, as the club won their first ever major European trophy as they beat Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League final, an impressive feat for a club from a city of roughly 50,000 inhabitants.
Real Madrid are on the other hand accustomed to winning silverware and their fans have not been disappointed as they’ve seen the Emirates sponsor front and centre as the club has won 20 major titles, including five UEFA Champions League trophies in the first 10 years of the sponsorship.
Shirt sponsorship - a lasting legacy
Football, and sport as a whole, has a greater impact on our everyday lives than many of us care to admit.
Some of our greatest moments in life are given to us by sport and it’s one of the few things that often remains constant throughout our lives.
Many businesses have understood the importance of being a small part of this ever-present experience and by sponsoring sports teams, have reaped the rewards for their investment, both on and off the pitch.
As football continues to grow and become even more accessible to people all over the world, the opportunities for businesses to etch their name in sporting history become even greater.