The synergy between football and commercial enterprise has not always been as seamless as it is today.
In today’s game, everything from the stadium to the players themselves are sponsored by brands, with bigger clubs garnering much of that sponsorship spotlight.
People often associate brand deals with football giants, such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, but the birth of sponsorships in football actually happened at Kettering Town.
Kettering Town agreed to a revolutionary deal in 1976, which saw a local company, Kettering Tyres, have its name appear on the front of the club’s shirts in what was reported as a four figure deal.
It may also come as a surprise to know that the FA demanded that the sponsorship be removed from the team’s kit, citing a 1972 ban on sponsorship.
However, Kettering pointed out that they had never added it to the written rules of football. Together, alongside Bolton Wanderers and Derby County, the club lobbied the FA to lift the ban on shirt sponsorship and in June 1977 they were successful.
Fast forward to the modern game, if a team was without a kit sponsor it would make national news, like Chelsea at the beginning of the 2023/24 season, with money naturally at the forefront. To compete in any league, sponsorships and brand deals are vital to raise investment, getting the job done off the pitch so it can be done on the pitch.
However, there’s more to the relationship between brands and football and one person who understands that is, Queenie Porter, Managing Director of WOW HYDRATE & Vice President of West Ham United women’s team, who aims to “show female footballers that there’s a commercial side of the game, so they can get individual sponsorship deals and they can make a living off the pitch, not just on it”.
Porter has worked with a wide range of athletes and teams, such as British boxer Tyson Fury, MMA fighter Leon Edwards and Manchester United, in her role at WOW Hydrate. Porter explained that there are several reasons her brand chose these athletes.
Firstly, these high profile ambassadors capture eyes, but most importantly, they capture the eyes of people that the brand believes would be potential customers. Relating to football, this is the reason that most advertisements fans will see during a game are geared towards men, with brands in the betting industry, car industry and men’s health care saturating the sector.
Without a doubt men’s football has benefited massively from these types of activations, but could the mancentric concept prove to be a barrier when it comes to growing the game further. Porter believes exactly that, and for this reason alone, she believes the women’s game has potential to become bigger than its counterpart.
Porter explained: “So let’s take a theme park like Alton Towers for example, it would never want to sponsor a male football club because it’s such a captive thing. But there’s opportunities for theme parks, holidays and airlines to capture the women’s game.
“If you go to a men’s Premier League game, you just go there to watch the match, don’t you? At the men’s game you’re not really that engaged to go buy a scarf or anything like that.”
Over the pond, sporting events take brand deals to a whole new level and one aspect that really stands out is the range of brands that a spectator can see, which is largely due to the type of crowds that gather.
Porter said: The American games aren’t loyalty led like men’s football, when you go to a game there, it’s about enjoying the experience.
“Aspects like, the lunchtime packages you get with popcorn and nachos like you’re at the cinema and actually engaging in the experience as well as enjoying buying merch like you’re at a concert. It’s about making it the whole experience.”
Over recent years, the men’s game has shifted towards more of a family day out, however, Porter’s viewpoint on loyalty is true. She explained that at West Ham women’s games there are fans in a range of kits, alluding to the idea that most supporters are there for the experience and not just the result.
This completely revolutionises football for brands, opening the door to sponsorship deals that you would never see in the men’s game. Porter said: “I think that commercial sponsorships in the women’s game are untapped.”
“The women’s game is totally different. It attracts a different audience. It requires a different sense of sponsorship.”
Following the success of the women’s Euros and World Cup, which recorded record attendances across both competitions and record viewing figures, as well as the Deloitte Football Money League reporting a 61% YoY growth in women’s revenue, there are huge signs that the sport is on the rise and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Porter added: “The game is at a point at the moment where it doesn’t demand these crazy sponsorship prices either. So I’d say as a business, if you’re looking to get into football, I would get into women’s now.”
The growth of the women’s game doesn’t just affect brands and teams but it also increases opportunities for young women to be a part of the game, which sadly wasn’t the case when Porter was growing up.
Leaving school at just 16 to pursue a career in fashion, Porter has excelled in the world of branding, but it wasn’t easy.
“I’m 34 now but 17 years ago it just wasn’t an option for a woman to get into the commercial side of football,” she revealed.
“I grew up playing football and loving the sport. But I always knew that I wasn’t probably at a level where I could play professionally, so I wanted to have opportunities in the commercial side of it, however, there weren’t any roles.”
The difficult path into the roles that Porter holds today has spurred her on to open the doors that nobody opened for her.
Porter said: “I really want to be the ground-breaking, trailblazer and disturber from a commercial brand point of view to really pave the way of sponsoring women’s teams outside of the men’s entity.”
West Ham United are trailblazers in their own right, with different commercial departments managing the women’s commercial side and men’s. She explained: “The reason why I was so attracted to West Ham is that I deal with one commercial team, if I’m talking men’s and one commercial team, if I’m talking females.”
In addition to the club’s unique management style, there is also another reason that Porter was attracted to the deal.
“Karen Brady has been an absolute heroine of mine and she’s a complete trailblazer in female sport, not just in football. So I know that if I was going to endorse any female football club, it would be the one that Karen’s involved in,” said Porter.
With the sport’s continued growth and with people like Queenie Porter doing their part, there is no predicting what levels it can reach, but in order to do so Porter believes that it needs to grow its own identity.
“I really want to see more women willing to get involved in the commercial element of football and just really celebrating the fact that the men’s game is incredible and they’ve learned from that, but they need to treat it as a separate entity and not just bolt onto the men’s,” said Porter.