SUNDERLAND’S new major sponsors believe the Invest in Africa initiative will make the Black Cats the most famous Premier League team on the continent.
And that will go a long way to fulfilling former chairman Niall Quinn’s original dream of turning Sunderland into global players and accessing potentially vast revenue streams.
Aidan Heavey of Tullow Oil, who is the lead partner in the two-year sponsorship deal, said: “I think it’s a great move for Sunderland and for ourselves.
“We are trying to change perceptions about Africa and this is the perfect way to get the message across globally that Africa is a place which is not just surviving but in so many cases thriving.
“And when you look at the recession we’ve endured, many of the companies that have ridden it out have been ones that have been investing in Africa, which is full of growth economies.
“It’s a great continent but it’s also a continent that is football mad and this sponsorship deal will capture the imagination over there.
“Mark my words, Sunderland will be the best known club in Africa over the next few years.”
That vision dovetails perfectly with Quinn’s original mission for the club when he first took over from Bob Murray in 2006 – one that has been maintained and pursued by succeeding chairman and owner Ellis Short – of trying to grow the club internationally.
And this deal marks the moment where Sunderland have transitioned from rich and supportive sponsors with local roots, to a one with global reach.
Should the Invest in Africa initiative take off as expected, then Sunderland – already a club with a high profile in Africa – could be at the forefront of a potentially huge market stream in coming years.
The news was welcomed by Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill, who is keen to see the club expand in every way.
He said: “Our vision is to compete with the very best and I think this association with Invest In Africa will help us grow on the international stage.
“It’s something which is really different.
“We want to promote and enhance growth and development in the African continent. It’s something we’ll get benefit out of as well and it will help us with our mission to be a really top club.
“The tradition of this club is fantastic but it’s future is also vitally important and we hope this initiative is going to bring benefits to everyone.”
Sunderland business leader Paul Callaghan added: “Vaux, Vardys, Tombola – Sunderland have had fantastic North East sponsors down the years – but the Invest In Africa sponsorship takes things to a whole new level.
“It puts Sunderland into a different league and as a life-long Sunderland supporter I couldn’t be more pleased. There will be opportunities for businesses in the North East to come from this and opportunities created from it for the people of Africa.”