After Barclays’ title sponsorship ended with the Premier League in 2016, a new opportunity presented itself for teams to sell lucrative advertising space on the sleeve of the club’s playing shirt.
In a competitive market at the time, Premier League club Everton signed a multi-year deal in 2017 with Finnish video game developer Rovio Entertainment, the creator of popular puzzle game Angry Birds.
Angry Birds was released in 2009 and since then has amassed over 3.7 billion game downloads.
By the beginning of the 2017/18 season only eleven of the Premier League clubs had secured a shirt sleeve sponsor.
“At the end of the Barclays deal with the Premier League it was a competitive market,” head of partnership management at Everton, Mark Rollings.
“Every club was going to market at the same time, but it was really important to find the right brand fit for us, one that we could work with and create a great partnership.”
Everton was one of the teams that started the season without a sponsor, however the Angry Birds logo finally debuted on the sleeve of their jersey in a mid-September clash against Manchester United.
Everton is a club that was established in 1878 and has a rich history, however there is an understanding to move with the times and enter innovative partnerships with companies such as Rovio.
“Throughout the process of securing our first sleeve partner we spoke with many brands. When we met with Rovio at their HQ in Espoo it quickly became apparent how exciting and mutually beneficial this opportunity was going to be,” Rollings stated.
“They’re great to work with. Whenever you partner with a brand from a business sector which is new to you, we take learnings from each other. The creative, flexible and can-do approach is definitely something we felt from day one of the partnership.”
Both sides initially faced a big challenge in launching the partnership.
“The leading character of the Angry Birds series is a red bird and it is ironic that this is both a colour and symbol commonly associated with the club’s city rivals.” Rolling explained.
“True to Rovio’s dynamic, bold nature, rather than skirt around it we decided to hit it head on so, in line with the trend around over exaggerated player signing content at the time, we announced the character Red as a Blue.
“Angry Birds created a great video of Red signing a contract with Everton and that gained positive traction for the launch. It was a fantastic way for a partner to tackle a potential issue and also immediately pledge their support to the club.”
Everton and Rovio continued to discuss more unique possibilities between the two organisations.
Eventually, these creative discussions would lead to Everton players Theo Walcott, Cenk Tosun and Gylfi Sigurdsson being re-imagined as playable Angry Bird’s characters.
This occurred at the start of the 2018/19 Premier League season, with the digitisation of these players into the Angry Birds Evolution game.
“It was a world first, there’d never been football talent in a non-football focused mobile game. And that gained a lot of attention with over one hundred pieces of coverage in newspapers and on back pages. It also achieved over five million views across related social media content.”
The integration of the playable Everton characters led to a 60% increase in downloads for the Angry Birds franchise over a two-week period.
It was also important for Everton that the partnership was well received by its fanbase.
Rollings claimed: “What you see with Angry Birds is if you create good activations that fans can see, enjoy and engage with, then you start to earn your place among the fanbase. Angry Birds’ approach was to bring the partnership to life through stories, content and activations that fans would enjoy. People will engage with quality partnership activation that adds value to their experience and the stats prove that.
“Our data and insights team run a regular partner tracking survey and that showed that in the first year of the partnership the opinion of Angry Birds improved by 22% among our fanbase. Angry Birds has been really received and people have understood the mutual value that it has driven for both brands.
“We also commissioned independent research which not only tracked Everton fans, but also Premier League fans, and in that survey awareness of Angry Birds as a partner of a Premier League club was between 60 and 70%, which for the length of deal they’ve had so far is pretty remarkable. So we’re seeing it’s not just Everton fans that are engaging with the partnership, Premier League fans are too.”
On a local front, will we see more of similar partnerships in the A-League now that rules look to be relaxing on a sponsorship front?
Time will tell.