It has been reported this week that, from the beginning of the 2017/2018 season, Premier League football clubs will be allowed for the first time to have sponsors on their shirt sleeves.

While details have yet to be finalised, it has been reported that the Premier League badge will remain on the left sleeve of the players’ shirts, leaving the right sleeve open for a sponsorship logo. This leads to the possibility of further advertising income for the Premier League clubs over and above the sums earned from their existing sponsorship deals.

It has been reported that a group of ten clubs are actively looking to sell the new advertising space to one company as part of a package deal. However, it has also been suggested that at least two clubs will miss out on such revenue in the short-term because their current shirt sponsorship deals include clauses that forbid the appearance of other company logos on the shirts.

If this proposal comes to fruition, the new arrangement will necessitate amendments to the applicable FA Rules which contain strict limits on the extent to which advertising on shirts is permitted.

The Regulatory Framework

Rule M.30 of the Premier League Rules states that advertising on shirts is permitted, provided that the content, design and area of advertisement has been approved by the Premier League Board and that such advertising “complies with The Football Association Rules for the time being in force”.

Rule J(2) of the FA Rules states that:

“Advertising on Player’s wearing apparel is permitted provided such advertising complies with relevant regulations as determined by The Association from time to time in force.”

The specific regulations which govern this area are the FA Regulations Relating to Advertising on the Clothing of Players, Club Officials and Match Officials (the “Regulations”). Section C(1) of those Regulations states that:

“No sponsor advertising is permitted anywhere on the clothing of a Player on the field of play during a match except as provided for in this part C.

The following advertising is permitted:

  1. Playing kit

(a) On the clothing of a Player on the field of play, the following areas shall be permitted to be used for advertising

  • One single area not exceeding 200 square centimetres on the front of the shirt
  • One single area not exceeding 100 square centimetres on the back of the shirt; and
  • One single area not exceeding 100 square centimetres on the back of the shorts.
  • Once only on each sock tie-up providing it does not exceed an area of 100 square centimetres.

In the event that a Club or Competition elects to have an area of sponsor advertising only on the front of the shirt, and on no other item of playing kit, that area may be increased to a maximum of 250 square centimetres if approved by the Competition.

One or more company may be advertised and, in respect of any one company, one or more of its products. The same advertising must appear in the same form on the clothing of all Players and Club Officials, wherever such advertising appears, throughout the entirety of the match.

(b) Any advertising under C(1) must be clearly separated from the items described in B above…”

In short, the present position is that advertising is limited to a single area on the front of the players’ shirts, a single area on the back of the shirt, a single area on the back of the shorts and a single area on each sock tie-up. For the new proposal to take effect, the Regulations would need to be amended to allow shirt sleeve sponsorship as well.

Commercial value

It has been suggested that the shirt sleeve space is valued at around 20 per cent of the value of the main shirt sponsorship. If this is correct, the Premier League clubs will no doubt be welcoming the additional income that will come their way. It has been reported that the Premier League clubs presently make a combined total of £233.6 million per season as a result of their shirt sponsorship deals. If the reported figures are correct, the shirt sleeve sponsorship deals could be worth in the region of £50 million per season.

However, that large figure does not mean that all teams will profit equally. Middlesbrough, for example, is reported to make £1 million per season from its deal with Ramsdens. That is significantly lower than the sums commanded by some of its Premier League rivals. Applying the logic set out above, the value of its shirt sleeve sponsorship would be a comparatively measly£250,000. That is small beer when viewed against the sums earned by each club under the new television broadcasting deals (the Premier League sold the rights to show its matches in domestic and overseas markets for a combined total of £10.4 billion).

Yet any additional income, no matter the size, will no doubt be welcomed by all Premier League clubs. In a world where football clubs seek to maximise commercial revenues wherever possible, it is perhaps surprising that this proposal has only just arrived in England. Certainly it is not a new phenomenon. Readers who are familiar with South American football will already be aware of the prevalence of multiple shirt sponsors – Mexican team Puebla FC’s 2009 shirt boasted nine. It is not however a trend specific to South America. Swedish club Mjällby AIF have had as many as thirteen sponsors on the front and sleeves of their shirts alone, while FC Barcelona presently sports Beko, the Turkish domestic appliance brand, on the sleeve of its shirts. That the Premier League clubs have sought to follow suit is not surprising.

Against this background, it remains to be seen whether sleeves are just the beginning.