Commentary

Of money and morals

Photo courtesy of The Miami Herald

League debutants Inter Miami CF signed a massive sponsorship agreement over the weekend.

For a reportedly $180 million dollars (stretched over an unreported length of time), the country of Qatar (and its various Airways, Foundations, and Investment groups, all government owned) will see its name on the Floridians’ stadium as well as adorning the team’s inaugural jerseys (and perhaps more). If true, the sum represents the largest single sponsorship in league history.

For context on how $180 million dollars compares to other MLS figures:

  • The league’s total current TV deal is worth about $90 million per year
  • Adidas’s deal with all of MLS is worth about $80 million per year
  • Charlotte paid $325 million in 2019 to be a 2021 expansion side
  • The Union were awarded a franchise for a cool $30 million in 2008

Soccer fans will recognize the Qatar brand, as the group was famous club FC Barcelona’s first shirt sponsor in 2010 (at $25 million per year for 5 years) and currently sponsors many other international sides, including this blazing shirt from Italian giants AS Roma.

The size

The first thing that leaps off the page about this deal is its massive size.

It’s worth putting in more specific context relating to the Union, particularly in light of Tuesday’s announcement that Subaru will be the team’s new stadium and charitable partner.

Though details are sparse, for the sake of argument consider the agreement to be one spread across 10 years. That was the length of PPL Energy’s formative deal with the Union. If the same is true of Qatar and Miami, it means this fledgling club has inflows of cash Year 1 (before anything the league doles out, ticket or merchandise sales, TV rights, etc…) of $18 million per year.

As referenced above, that’s a lot of money in MLS.

Back to 2010, the Union’s initial partnership with PPL Energy was worth about $2 million per year, while their partnership with Bimbo Bakeries has hovered around $2 million per year since 2011 (the new Subaru deal is likely higher than either of these numbers). So, an odd $4 million in sponsorship money any given year for the Boys in Blue.

Author’s note: obviously other sponsorships have existed over the years, from Musselman’s Applesauce to Continental Tires. The value of these deals is peripheral to a primary jersey sponsor or stadium naming rights.

Some back of the napkin math says Miami will start with 450% more total sponsorship money in Year 1 than the Union have ever had in any of the 10 years of their existence.

Should Inter dump all of that money into player salaries, they will have what would have been last year’s third highest payroll in Major League Soccer. To contrast again, in 2019 the Union spent $9.1 million on player salaries, their largest payroll bill ever.

Though this is a substantial sum, fans across the league have largely ignored the headline about the size of the deal and have focused instead more directly on its weight.

After all, putting a country like Qatar on one’s shirt comes with some heft.

The weight

Shirt sponsors are so common in soccer as to almost disappear from the eyes of many fans. The brands themselves might be meaningless to many onlookers, but in reality they carry with them some long-echoing resonance.

When the reader thinks of Carlsberg beer, likely only one team in Red comes to mind (and the Danish beer hasn’t been a shirt sponsor there for a decade). Same goes for Sharp, JVC, and Pirelli tires historically, and probably Herbalife and Advocare more regionally.

Union fans aren’t entirely convinced Bimbo Bakeries is the right sponsor for the team, and because of that don’t adore the idea of tying the team’s identity to a brand they didn’t choose. Any cursory glance through Union Twitter while searching for the term “Bimbo” will give the reader the necessary sentiments.

(For those convinced the word “bimbo” isn’t in use any longer as a derogatory term, simply Google the term with Safe Search turned off and see what shows up next to bread and bears. Spoiler, it is not pictures relating to gender positivity.)

As local companies go, though, it’s not the only one with an unintentionally offensive alternate meaning.

There’s Pittsburgh’s Dick’s Sporting Goods, New York’s Dyke’s Lumber Company, assuming Ernst Tanner tapped his German connections for a shirt sponsor, there’s Fuchs Lube, and for another local option, Chester County’s Butt’s Ticket Company.

Maybe one of these options would go over better with the balance of Union fans, but they would each pose roughly the same conundrum of misinterpretation.

Qatar as a sponsor is different.

The country isn’t offensive in a pub-snickering, childish kind of way. No, Qatar is offensive because of their record as a country as cheaters, abusers, bigots, and enslavers. These aren’t new accusations or unfounded criticisms, but merely the aggregate of negatives that come with consolidated power and zero-sum regional jockeying.

But if the thesis is that a jersey sponsor doesn’t matter, that it blends in over time and becomes almost invisible, does Qatar matter?

Inter Miami fans are reportedly “indignant” over the partnership, some suggesting they’ll rescind their season tickets in the wake of the deal. Barcelona’s experience with Qatar suggests that moral ambiguity alone, “the bastard child of creativity and cowardice,” wasn’t enough for fans to turn away: the team doubled revenues during the sponsorship period and saw no meaningful change in attendance at the Nou Camp.

The question isn’t whether fans will care about the partnership. Of course they’ll care, filling Twitter and message boards with their outrage and disdain. The question becomes whether that outrage will be enough to turn them away, with their dollars or their eye balls.

The answer, just like Union fans who buy jerseys and jackets with Bimbo on them even in the case they dislike the idea of being a bread billboard, is likely not.

Money and morals

Sponsorships are ever-present in global sports, soccer is no different.

The value of these deals is crucial to team’s bottom lines, but often gets forgotten by fans as time goes on.

Did Union fans remember that Bimbo and Talen Energy footed nearly half the team’s salary bill last season? They certainly didn’t think about it when Marco Fabian arrived or when Ilsinho was dancing through defenders toward another goal.

Perhaps they should have: each player was here in part because of these dollars.

The question here is whether Inter Miami fans will maintain their outrage when one of their high-priced Designated Players does something special. Rodolfo Pizarro, their most notable gem, scored a goal before he was even announced by the team (against the beloved Union), and the $12 million buyout clause Inter paid to get him to Florida didn’t grow on a tree.

That money came from somewhere, and sometimes that “somewhere” isn’t somewhere most fans want to acknowledge.

Does the sponsor matter? Certainly to some, but not to enough for anything to change.

22 Comments

  1. *heavy sigh*
    :
    :
    :
    I would like to posit that fan influence is real though. I don’t think Artesano Comic Sans Logo comes into being without the push from fans. (Now we just need enough outrage out there for them to change their font!)

    • That Artesano font is truly cringy. Why on earth couldn’t they picked one of the other bread brands? Boboli pizza crusts? Entenmann’s or Thomas’? BeefSteak would have been great. AS would have Ball Park. The thing I never got about BIMBO is that it’s not a brand anyone can buy. It likely confuses nearly everyone who sees it. Subaru would be a great jersey sponsor.

  2. John O'Donnell Jr says:

    Fair article. Strange there is never a call for getting rid of the sponsor for the chance to pay substantially higher ticket prices.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Interesting. I suspect that doesn’t happen because one is fixed and the other is variable. You and I wouldn’t commit to 10 years of tickets up front.

      • John P. O'Donnell Jr. says:

        My point is ten years of fixed income is part of how they decide to price tickets and what they can put towards variable expenses for the club. You can’t deny that sponsorship helps keep tickets at a reasonable price. No one is advocating doubling the price of tickets to maintain the status quo while eliminating teams of sponsors they like to cancel. It’s easy to tell teams how to spend their money but few want to reach into their pocket to fix a problem is my point.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        Agreed

  3. I agree with one point in your article, but note that there are some issues. First, Qatar is a questionable nation with which to enter partnership, for precisely the issues that you raise, as well as the religious persecution and misogyny that comes with their brand of governance. However, Barcelona’s first shirt sponsorship was with Unicef, not Qatar. The Club caught grief, rightly, from its membership for going from the one extreme of demonstrating a positive role model by using their shirt for a charity, to the other extreme of endorsing an arm of a government that engaged in exactly the abuses that you have identified. Second, the absence of a bounce in attendance at the Camp Nou was due to the sellout that, without regard to shirt sponsorship, had existed there for something like twenty years. There was no loss to the Club; seats were still impossible to get, even with Qatar on the shirts. I do not want to see sponsors of questionable social utility, like Qatar, on shirts either (Tobacco companies, anybody? How about private prison managers?) Nevertheless, Barcelona took its lumps, not because of Qatar, but because that Club had an eighty year history of resisting any name being put onto the shirt until they chase a philanthropic sponsorship arrangement, and then cashed out to go with Qatar once the arrangement with Unicef expired. The Club members and fans felt that they had been used, with Unicef being a trial balloon, and then the real cash source stepping in to fill the void, commercializing what had been thought to be a national, Catalan symbol. Money continues to be the issue, and back to my agreement with you, that money has an effect on the filed and in the stands. I had hoped that Bimbo was part of the past, and think that the Artesano is a positive step. That is not, however, the same thing as making a deal with Qatar. I can deal with the derision attendant on “Bimbo”, when it is intentionally misused, but Qatar is a different level of iniquity, and shouldn’t be an idea, but a lesson of what not to do.

  4. Totally agree Tim. Will be interesting to hear the stories that will come out of the World Cup! With regard to the Bimbo sponsorship. Much like player names from Latin speaking countries, why is it so different with the name Bimbo. If Javier has a J that sounds like an h and an I that sounds like ee…why cant we seem to apply to same thought process Bimbo being Beembo. I wonder how the U fan base would react to Qatar on the Union jerseys? Welcome arms because of the huge amount of money? I’ll buy a Bimbo enblazen jersey any day over one tith Qatar on it. Just my choice.

    • I agree it shouldn’t be that hard to pronounce Bimbo, Beembo. But you can’t really be surprised by this unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past four years, and had no knowledge of Philadelphia history.
      .
      I also would buy a Bimbo jersey before a Qatar one, and honestly I would stop supporting the club if that ever happened.

      • John P. O'Donnell Jr. says:

        Are you boycotting the 2022 World Cup?

      • Not boycotting. But most likely not paying a lot of attention either. It’s not like one guy not watching will make much difference.

      • Good question John. I’m not sure. I haven’t given it much thought considering it’s still 2 years away. Part of me still hopes FIFA does the right thing (yeah that’s wishful thinking). I don’t even know what time the games will be broadcast and if I’d even be able to watch and it would be disingenuous to say I won’t watch just because I can’t watch. Would watching a match on DVR still be considered giving one’s consent? (Not sure how Nielsen ratings work, or how the viewership numbers work out) Can the World Cup and an MLS season even be considered on the same level? A once every four year tournament vs a League season that happens every year. I’ll be honest here and say my initial reaction is to say no, no they aren’t. I can easily go find another MLS team to follow. I can’t just go find another World Soccer tournament to watch. Let’s also consider that Qatar has already made their money off selling tv rights and add revenue. Whether or not someone in America boycott the WC really makes little difference. Also would those who’ve lost their lives building stadia and infrastructure for the WC, have their memories honored by us watching the tournament, or not watching? That’s a thorny one there.
        .
        John if you were looking to find out if I’m a hypocrite or not, I’ll honestly answer that I am. I believe we all are to a certain extent or at one time or another. Whether or not one can admit it to one’s self. I will also say I won’t eat at Chick-fil-a because of their anti-gay agenda. I will eat it if someone else paid for it. I’m not going to let it go to waste. I won’t open an account at Wells Fargo no matter how many times they ask me when I cash one of their checks there. Not going to support a bank that funds gun companies. I won’t accept checks from TD bank because of their predatory check cashing policies. So am I a hypocrite? Honestly I don’t care. I’ve been called much worse. I’m still living. I just try and do what’s right for me at the time something happens. You (any of you) can do what is right for you. I don’t expect anyone at all to think the way I do or see things the same way.

  5. I’m frustrated that people will continue to complain about Qatar involving themselves in soccer while simultaneously ignoring other sponsors like Leidos who is partially responsible for the creation of the NSA surveillance system and is involved in the continued occupation of Iraq. Yes, Qatar is a problematic state that does a number of shitty things, yet people are happy to ignore another sponsor involved in shady practices. Is it fine then when it is our country involved in “consolidated power and zero-sum regional jockeying?” Where is the PSP article criticizing Leidos, Etihad, or BHP?

    I don’t see the point of picking and choosing which sponsors to target while simultaneously ignoring other toxic sponsorships. If the question is one of morality, shouldn’t we be taking a stand against all immoral sponsors rather than simply selecting a single easy target?

    • Ah, Sure?
      .
      We are talking about this because of Miami, who just got Qatar as a sponsor. It’s not really picking and choosing. That should be obvious.

    • kids, this is known as “Whataboutism”

      • Is there anyone who hasn’t seen ten seconds of Fox news or met a republican?

      • John P. O'Donnell Jr. says:

        I always like the whataboutism because it seems to dismiss a valid point just to save face. Hmm

      • It’s actually not. I’m not deflecting criticism, and I agree that Qatar does some terrible shit. My point is that we don’t hold any other sponsors to similar standards.

    • seriously, Brandon, if you write an article about Leidos, Etihad, or BHP, I am quite certain that PSP would publish it (and I would read it)

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Brandon, you caught my subtly on that “consolidated power…” quote, thank you. There is an article to be written about a dozen companies, for sure, and I know nothing about Leidos (who I figured was a paper company because of their logo) but it sound like one could start there. Qatar was timely because of their Miami sponsorship, and I suspect will forever be a “bad” name in American soccer circles for having stolen a World Cup from the US.

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