SUNDERLAND AFC owner Ellis Short says the new sponsorship deal is “critical” to the club’s long-term success.
The chairman broke his long-term silence to speak to the media, showing how seriously the Black Cats were taking the announcement that the pioneering Invest in Africa initiative will become the club’s principal partner and shirt sponsor from the 2012/13 season onwards.
The not-for-profit scheme aims to promote the continent as an investment destination and challenge misconceptions about doing business in Africa.
UEFA’s new financial fairplay rules made finding new sources of funding imperative, said the Irish-American.
The changes, phased in over several years, aim to put an end to the overspending which has proved disastrous for the likes of Portsmouth and Leeds and force clubs to live within their means.
That meant finding new sources of income, said Mr Short.
“We don’t ever want to get relegated again and we want to do well, but this club can only spend what it takes in – that is just the reality of the rules,” he added.
Doing well on the pitch meant finding the money to pay for top players, he said.
“The reality is, there is a relationship between player salaries paid and league position.
“In an individual season, you could have a better manager than other teams, you could have a bit of luck, and end up in a better position than player salaries would normally dictate.
“But over the long-term, if you have the 10th highest player salaries, you are going to be around 10th place.”
The days of Russian oligarchs, Arabian princes – and even American businessmen – taking over Premier League sides and using their own cash to buy success on the pitch were numbered, said Mr Short.
“Financial fairplay takes away the possibility of a Roman Abramovich, a Sheikh Mansour, even what I have done here,” he said. “It is on a smaller scale but it has still been significant.”
The temptation had been to spend more than the club could really afford in order to avert the disaster of relegation.
“In past seasons, the team had the luxury of me funding it,” said Mr Short.
“We weren’t willing to gamble with our Premier League status, so we maybe overspent to try to make sure we did not get related.
“Even if we could not get a player in a certain position out, we would buy a new player anyway and just carry the salary of the person we did not want any more.
“That caused shortfalls which I funded because we knew the consequences of relegation were so bad we considered it necessary, but it certainly did not guarantee a relegation worry-free ride
“In the future, we won’t have that luxury of me funding extra expenditure to float the team up, to improve it.
“We can only rely on our own business model. That makes the revenue generated by the club all important.”
As well as looking for new revenue streams through sponsorship, the club has been exploiting new sources of income, such as this summer’s highly successful Stadium of Light concerts.
Sporting the Invest in Africa logo on its shirts next season will massively raise the club’s profile in one of the game’s fastest-growing markets and allow it to continue to compete with other Premier League clubs, which are already exploiting overseas markets.
“Already, the dominant revenue stream is the TV rights, much of which is global, so why shouldn’t the sponsor be?” said Mr Short.
“If you watch a Manchester United game, there is writing on the electronic scoreboard not just in other languages, but in other alphabets.”
SUNDERLAND wheeled out the big guns as the club unveiled its biggest ever sponsorship deal.
As well as chairman and owner Ellis Short, vice-chairman David Milband MP and Leighton Group chairman Paul Callaghan CBE were also on hand, while even manager Martin O’Neill put in an appearance on video.
Invest in Africa will take pride of place on the club’s shirts for the foreseeable future.
Mr Callaghan, a life-long Sunderland fan, said the move was a sign of the club’s ambition to be a major force in English football.
“This is a different league,” he said.
“This steps us up and show the ambition of this club to be on a global stage, to reach a global market.”
It was a chance to build new links between the North East and Africa and open up new markets for Wearside businesses.
“This is not about not investing in Sunderland but investing in Africa instead - rather, it is about doing both,” he said.
“It is about developing the North East economy through exports in what is a fantastic, growing market.
“It will be great for the club, it will be great for the North East and it will be great for Africa.”
Invest in Africa is being driven by independent Tullow Oil and chief executive Aidan Heavey was also at the Stadium of Light for yesterday’s announcement.
“We’ve known for years that Africa is a thriving and great place to do business,” he said.
“But potential foreign investors are still missing out because of outdated perceptions of what it’s like to work in Africa.
“We’re delighted to be partnering with Sunderland AFC who share Invest in Africa’s ambitions and desire to reach a global audience.”
Former Foreign Secretary Mr Miliband played down his role in the deal.
“I want to give a lot of credit to Niall Quinn, to Ellis Short and to Aidan Heavey,” he said. “I am very happy to add what expertise I have.
“The Sunderland brand has a lot to offer globally and this is our first real chance to offer it.”