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Football sponsorship: how far should clubs be allowed to go?

By 04 Aug 2015

Rayo Vallecano have just returned from China where the Madrid side met Real Sociedad in the ‘QBAO Cup’; a pre-season challenge in Nanjing organised by the electronics giants who currently sponsor both clubs. 

We’ve seen a huge increase in fixtures of this type with the emerging influence of Far Eastern sponsors; and although these companies have put a lot of money into the clubs they are becoming associated with, it would appear that they are now starting to exert some influence on the field as well as off it.

Paco Jemez, in his role as head coach of Rayo Vallecano, is not impressed by the latest events in Vallecas, where it appears that Rayo’s signing of Chinese international Zhang Chengdong from Beijing Guoan was instigated by the club’s sponsors as opposed to the football management. Never shy about speaking his mind, Paco Jemez was reported in the Spanish sports daily ‘’ as saying that “a sponsor should never impose a player on a club”. 

By his own admission, the whole affair hasn’t gone down too well with him and I’m sure that there are likely to be words spoken behind the scenes in addition to the public comments Paco has made so far.

Paco had been speaking the other night on the Spanish radio show El Larguera, stating that he felt the deal hadn’t been made purely with sporting issues in mind, and questioned the interference by the club’s sponsors. 

He went on to clarify that this was no reflection on the player himself, since Zhang is a Chinese international and a player with experience of European football both in Portugal and in the German Bundesliga. 

However, the Rayo Vallecano coach also openly discussed the long trip his club had just made to China as part of their involvement with QBAO; explaining that not surprisingly his own preference as a coach would have been to stay in Spain for the remainder of the pre-season period after returning from Germany. 

Although Rayo Vallecano began their pre-season preparations in Germany where the club faced Hertha Berlin and Hamburg side St. Pauli, the club returned to Madrid just in time to get themselves organised for the long haul flight to China where the match with Real Sociedad had been arranged as part of the sponsorship deal arranged by QBAO. 

In between the two organised games in Germany, Rayo Vallecano had stood in at the last minute to provide opposition for Eintracht Braunschweig, who had been left without a game when English side Watford withdrew from a pre-arranged friendly at short notice. 

Having then gone back to Madrid for a couple of days after the German trip, it was soon off to China to meet Real Sociedad in addition to attending various events organised by the sponsors of both clubs. 

Tours like this are becoming more frequent nowadays as club sponsors are looking for much more than a name on a the front of a kit; they’re now looking for as much of an involvement as they can get with the clubs they help to finance. 

Sponsorship from major companies can certainly help the clubs these companies are involved with in a financial sense, but the real price of such an involvement may need to be measured in terms what the sponsors want in return for their investment.

The similarities are striking between the opinions of the Rayo Vallecano coach and those of the recently-installed coaching staff at Real Madrid. Rayo’s neighbours from across the city were none too enamoured when they discovered that their own pre-season schedule involved a trip to Australia and China; a schedule inherited when Rafa Benitez et al took over at the Bernabeu in the close season. 

Such long trips often disrupt what can be a difficult enough time anyway in football; and for a club of Rayo Vallecano’s stature to fly to China, coaches and management appreciate that sacrifices in terms of pre-season planning and preparation have to be made.

As a smaller club and one lacking the resources of Real Madrid, Rayo Vallecano may have felt that by accepting such a sponsorship in the first place, far-eastern travel would inevitably be part and parcel of the deal at some point. 

With a limited number of players available, Paco Jemez would have felt that the priorities lay at home but would have been quick to acknowledge that the Chinese rightly expected some kind of return for their money; at least in terms of Rayo Vallecano and / or Real Sociedad making a token appearance in China at some stage. 

However, when the sponsors then start becoming involved in organising the signing of new players, then the whole nature of sponsorship begins to take on a different meaning. At what point, though, does the involvement of the sponsors begin and end? 

If we are looking at the term ‘sponsorship’ being used as just being another name for advertising, then the deal simply involves paying for the brand to be publicised via the football club and promoted accordingly on the kits and via advertising media / billboards and pitch-side surrounds etc. 

Such an agreement will be a business arrangement where limitations start and finish with the sponsor’s financial contribution to the club; an obvious return for their money in terms of the clubs being associated with the sponsors’ products, and clear lines set as to what both parties are expected to gain from the deal.

With the signing of Zhang Chengdong, those lines have now become blurred. If sponsors are now going to have a say in player recruitment, we wonder what the next stage will be. 

There’s no doubt that the news of the young Chinese international joining Rayo Vallecano will give additional publicity to QBAO; however if it transpires that the electronics company played a major part in Zhang signing for the club, then a dangerous precedent will have been set. 

Although it’s clear that QBAO are by no means anywhere near calling the tune at Rayo Vallecano, their influence will have been noted. Other clubs in similar situations to the Madrid club might well be tempted to concede more control to potential sponsors in exchange for a greater financial contribution in return. 

Taken from

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