Retrocon 2024

UK Soccer Sponsorships in the 80s

Throughout the last three decades, sponsorship in soccer has grown. In the '90s most teams had sponsors on the front of their shirts but as the 2000s progressed and moved into the 2010s, teams filled free space on their shirts with companies from all sorts of industries, from technology to noodle producers. The shirt sponsorship trend only really began in the 1980s as clubs began to see it as a viable way to make money. In this article, we're going to take a look at which industries were the first to capitalize.


Coventry City, a club who graced the top-flight of English soccer for much of the '90s, were the first club to have a sponsor on their shirt in 1974. When shirt sponsorship took off in the '80s they were one of the few clubs sponsored by a gambling firm. Coventry partnered with a well-known bingo hall company with locations around the country. This partnership paved the way for what we see today where the majority of English soccer clubs have connections to gambling firms. These firms offer products like online games or bingo apps which give gamers the chance to play a range of themed bingo and gambling games. Not just matchday-worn shirts but training shirts from clubs all around the country are emblazoned with the names of gambling firms.

Since the '80s, gambling sponsorship has transformed soccer in the UK. At one point in the last decade, over half of the teams in the Premier League had front-of-shirt gambling sponsors. This number was much larger in the lower divisions where the leagues themselves are still sponsored by a gambling firm.


Some of the very first movers in the shirt sponsorship market in the '80s were electronics companies, Hitachi and Sharp. Both hailing from Japan, the multinationals realized the potential for marketing opportunities from soccer and created partnerships with two of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Liverpool were the first club in the top flight to have a sponsor when they allowed Hitachi to put their logo on their shirts. More clubs followed suit in the years to follow when Manchester United and Sharp struck up a partnership, one which ran through the '90s and into the early 2000s. The Japanese connection didn’t stop there. Across Merseyside, Liverpool’s rivals Everton were also sponsored by an electronics company from east Asia, NEC. While on the back of the success of these partnerships, JVC entered the market and sponsored the North London club Arsenal for much of the '90s. 


In the '80s, soccer tournaments began to get in on the act too. The Football Association now realized that they too could make more money by auctioning the naming rights to their tournaments. There was the General Motors Charity Shield, a showpiece game at the beginning of each season for the country's two best teams. While Freight Rover and Sherpa Van sponsored the EFL Cup, a competition for teams in the lower leagues of the soccer pyramid. General Motors also sponsored the highest rung of semi-professional soccer. By the end of the decade, every club in the top division had a sponsor. The years leading up to this had been littered with some small time sponsorship controversy. The Football Association struggled to map out their laws regarding shirt sponsorship which led to fines for some clubs who refused to play in sponsorless shirts for televised FA Cup matches. It's safe to say times have changed since the '80s. The front, the back and the sleeves of shirts are now usually covered with a sponsor's logo and shirt sponsorship is a huge part of any club's income and long-term survival.

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