Aston Villa’s decision to give away almost £2?million in shirt sponsorship to West Midlands children’s charity Acorns could be worth a lot more to the cause, the club’s head of merchandising has revealed.
The Acorns Children’s Hospice Trust will be the official shirt partner for Aston Villa for the forthcoming season and the news immediately generated a flood of interest and debate. This is the first time a British club has made a gesture comparable with that of Spanish giants Barcelona who have a deal with Unicef.
With up to 20 per cent of supporters who do not normally buy a replica shirt bombarding fanzines and the club’s official website to say they would now be more than happy to shell out on one, it appears Acorns’ dreams of one being able to care for all 1,600 children in the region who have life-limiting conditions will move a step nearer to reality.
That is fantastic news for John Greenfield, head of merchandising sales at Villa, who is now predicting up to 100,000 Villa shirts will be sold throughout the world next season – getting the Acorns’ name spread across the globe.
While the charity won’t benefit directly from shirt sales, the pubicity with games being televised all over the world and plastered over sports pages will provide it with a profile of the like it can only have ever dreamed.
Greenfield said: “There is no doubt that the shirts will be extremely popular this year now that they are promoting a charity which is an incredible cause and close to the hearts of many of us.
“We are already hearing from fans who do not normally buy a football shirt but who will be considering doing so this time because they are proud of this association between the club and a charity which does such incredible work with sick children and their families.
“But it is not just this gesture which has seen shirt sales rise. The biggest denominator is success on the pitch as can be reflected in sales over the last two seasons.
“In the 2005-6 season we sold 32,000 shirts throughout our Villa Village stores and last season we sold 41,000. We do not have figures back from our manufacturer Nike on overall shirt sales from outlets worldwide but we estimate some 79,000 Villa home and away shirts were sold over all and that does not include training kits, tracksuits and so on.
“This year we predict that will be nearer 100,000 which is great news because it means Acorns will be getting the publicity it deserves and of course that does not include the fact its logo will be on our television screens, billboards and sports pages.”
Villa’s shirt sales have in previous years been prone to manufacturing delays but Greenfield is confident with Nike at the helm the new home shirt will be launched on July 24 and the away one on August 21 giving those fans who traditionally pick up a replica shirt for their summer holidays the chance to fly the Villa flag with pride.
The announcement of the partnership with Acorns, which will provide the charity with free publicity for 12 months, was warmly welcomed this week with many urging other Premier League clubs to follow suit.
Villa’s shirt sponsorship deals however are still comparative bargains compared with those of some of their rivals. The biggest shirt sponsorship deal in the Premier League is AIG’s association with Manchester United which is worth £14?million while Chelsea are sponsored to the tune of £10?million by Samsung.
Arsenal’s relationship with Emirates is next at £9?million while Tottenham Hotspur’s online poker sponsor Mansion is worth £8?million. Liverpool have a £7?million deal with Carlsberg.
Cynics have suggested Villa’s stance came after the lack of companies prepared to invest in football in the current climate, added to the fact that the Villa chairman was reluctant to renew a deal with a gambling company – gambling is banned from being promoted on sports shirts in the United States.
But for the families of young patients at Acorns’ three hospices in Birmingham, Walsall and Worcester the move is extremely welcome news.
Acorns’ chief executive David Strudley has already admitted the charity is “over the moon” as such an “amazing and extraordinary gesture”.