A History of Economics from the English Premiere League

The most beautiful game’s team sponsors show the rise and fall of industries over time.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Since the English Premiere League relaunched in the 1992-1993 season, corporate sponsorships and advertisements have decorated the players’ uniforms (some so prominent that they are larger than the team’s crest or name).

West Ham United is currently experiencing bad luck in the corporate sponsorship department, as its main backer, foreign exchange dealer Alpari, collapsed last week according to the Guardian. This is the second time the EPL team has been directly affected by the on goings of the global economy, the first occurred when previous sponsor XL Airways folded in 2008 during the financial crisis.

Looking broadly at the new history of the Premiere League, the evolution of shirt sponsors reflects the change in the league and the world economy. A Guardian article details how Japanese electronics and gaming companies made up a huge component of total sponsors in the late 1980s, and in the 1992-1993 relaunch season. When the Japanese bubble burst and their economy declined, China and other emerging markets began to dominate team sponsorships, starting with LG, the South Korean electronics manufacturer, and Emirates, the flag carrier airline of the United Arab Emirates, signing a deal with Chelsea.

Over time, foreign companies would invest more in the Premiere League than U.K.-based companies, reflecting the globalization of the league, and the new fan bases emerging in other countries. Sponsors also saw an opportunity in this development; for example, Chevrolet started backing Manchester United since the team had a strong presence in Asia and the car manufacturer wanted to increase its brand recognition in that continent.

The time period of 2007 to 2009, when the world was experiencing a financial crisis, was also reflected in the players’ jerseys. Prior to this, AIG, the giant U.S. insurance company, was backing Manchester United, and Northern Rock, the mortgage bank, was backing Newcastle United. Both Northern Rock and AIG were nationalized in 2008 to avoid bankruptcy, resulting in U.S.-owned Manchester United playing against the U.K.-owned Newcastle United. While AIG is gone as a shirt sponsor but its Asian arm, spun off in 2012, now sponsors Tottenham Hotspur.

Alpari’s collapse illustrates the renewed uncertainty in global markets and worries that many countries, including previously strong China, may be in for less-than-rosy economic projections.

To get the full history lesson of global economics as told by Premiere League team jerseys, check out the full Guardian article here.

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