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Oct 15, 2008

Money matters: To be sponsored or not to be sponsored

Eagle-eyed armchair fans of the Premier League will perhaps have noticed, and no doubt questioned, why West Bromwich Albion are without a shirt sponsor this season.

Unlike West Ham United whose sponsor, travel group XL, went out of business a few weeks into the season, West Brom are without corporate backing through choice after failing to find a sponsor willing to meet their valuation.

Last season the Baggies won promotion to the Premier League sporting the logo of telecoms company T-Mobile, but that was the final season of a four-year deal, and despite interest from motor companies LDV and Kia, and bookmaker Ladbrokes, the club have yet to find a replacement.

In a frank interview the club's chairman Jeremy Peace told the Birmingham Mail: "There's a price at which we'll do a deal and a price at which we won't. I feel very strongly about that. We had a number of companies who came to us who could pay a certain price, but not an international price.

"What we don't want is a more localised partner who can't afford to pay us the money and doesn't need the international exposure."

Clearly the club are all too aware of the Premier League's global reach and the level of publicity an agreement could mean to a company hoping to hawk its products and services around the globe.

While some might accuse West Brom of delusions of grandeur, Peace points out: "We are in a strong financial position, which means we can pick and choose. If it doesn't happen this year, then fine. We'll go with someone next year.

"We took a conscious decision, back in the summer, that the sponsorship of a Premier League club had access to about 600 million people worldwide" and Peace is sticking to his guns, and refusing to agree a deal unless it fits the club's ambitions.

Peace's bullish attitude is partially explained by the club's impressive start to the season. Were it not for Hull City's extraordinary 3rd place standing in the table West Brom would be getting more plaudits for their achievements; being ninth after seven games is no mean feat for a promoted club.

It also speaks volumes of the club's self confidence - how many other clubs would have been brave enough not to sell themselves short in pre-season negotiations as the opening fixture neared - as well as to the prudent financial management of the club which has afforded West Brom the opportunity to cope without a major shirt sponsor.

Whether West Brom can attract the kind of partner they feel matches their lofty position and international remit remains to be seen. Ninth in the league they maybe, but they remain amongst the bookies favourites to be relegated, just as they were in pre-season, which explains why major firms do not equate West Brom as being a viable long-term global marketing partner.

While one can only admire Peace's ambitious, forward-thinking stance, you can't help but feel perhaps the wiser move would have been to make hay while the sun shone. Relegation could be but seven months away and with it could come the necessity to agree a cut-price sponsorship deal with local used-car dealership.

For now the happy by-product for West Brom's commercial team is that sales of replica kits are ahead of targets, with many fans regarding the unblemished, logo-less shirt as something of a collectors' item.


A week after West Ham United were plunged into financial uncertainty by the collapse of Icelandic bank Landsbanki the Upton Park club have come out fighting in a valiant effort to placate fans and confound scaremongers.

Not only have the Hammers signed 32-year-old Spanish striker Diego Tristan and let it be known they are on the verge of agreeing a new sponsorship deal, they have also stepped up their appeal against Sheffield United over the Tevez affair.

While a club in the last throes would perhaps not be making such moves, the fact remains that West Ham owner Bjorgulfur Gudmundsson, the former chairman and major shareholder in Iceland's second largest bank, has seen the value of his assets fall to such an extent that his ability to bankroll the club is in question.

A sceptical observer could point to the fact that, as a free-agent, Tristan cost the club nothing in transfer fees, that a new £4 million-a-year sponsorship deal is relatively small beer in the grand scheme of things, and that the prospect of paying out as much as £50 million in compensation to the Blades made a speculative approach to the Court of Arbitration for Sport almost inevitable.

This perfect storm of problems facing West Ham means that concerns persist over the club's long-term ownership.

Although Gudmundsson insists his stake in West Ham is a personal investment and therefore not at risk, pressure is growing for all overseas investments held by Icelandic banks to be liquidised and the money sent back to ease the country's economic crisis, which means speculation over an Upton Park takeover is rife.

One group who will not be taking control of West Ham is the Dubai-based Zabeel Investments, who have been linked with the Hammers, despite having lodged a bid to buy Championship club Charlton Athletic last week.

This week the group was forced to allay fears amongst excited Charlton fans that "There is no truth to reports that Zabeel Investments made an approach to West Ham," who added that it was conducting due diligence as part of it bid for Charlton.


Next on the list of clubs hoping to be catapulted into the big time by a billionaire benefactor are Everton, who have turned to the game's new 'go-to' man and financial Mr Fix-it, Keith Harris.

Harris, the former chairman of the Football League, and now chairman of Seymour Pierce, an investment bank that appears to be doing rather well despite the prevailing economic mire, has established himself and his company as the people to talk to if you're looking to sell you Premier League club.

Harris was instrumental in brokering US investor Randy Lerner's successful takeover of Aston Villa in 2006, and more controversially, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra's 2007 acquisition of Manchester City.

As well as being appointed by Mike Ashley to negotiate a deal to offload Newcastle Untied, Harris has also been tasked with finding a deep-pocketed patron who can allow Everton chairman, theatre impresario Bill Kenwright, to hand the club to someone with the financial ability to let the team compete at the highest level.

"Bill is passionately clear it is going to be someone who really does care for Everton in the future," Harris told the BBC. The frontrunner at the moment is Indian businessman Anil Ambani, who with a fortune estimated in the region of £20 billion could fit the bill.

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