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Best partnership deals of 2021....

After the success of the inaugural 2020 Top 10 partnerships, we welcome back Gary Linke to list his favourite new brand partnerships of the year and provide his own take on why they stood out.

As with 2020, the Top 10 does not cover influencers such as Marcus Rashford and Burberry, or licensing tie-ups like Liverpool FC and the PUBG mobile game, or renewals or extensions eg Cadbury adding Greenfell Athletic to their club portfolio or Zoom expanding their partnership with F1. These are all great deals but not for the Top 10.

Deals are listed in alphabetical order.

1) Chipotle and London Sport - “It started over a Burrito”.

As an introducer, sometimes it is best to let nature take its course. In this scenario, US restaurant giant, Chipotle only have a presence in London and have a US positioning of “Real Food for Real Athletes”. From a lunchtime rendez-vous between London Sport and Chipotle in Baker Street discussions commenced.

London Sport has the mission to help to make London the most physically active city in the world and Chipotle want to be the choice for quick meals for eaters wanting fresh ingredients that are not re-heated or come out a freezer.

The partnership offers Chipotle community sports awards and also the two parties came together to create the “London Sport Bowl” which launched in Chipotle Restaurants. Always good to see an extra benefit of a brand partnership, whereby a new product is added to the range as long as Premier League crisps don’t come back on our shelves again in their previous format.

2) and AEG - 20 -year takeover of The Staples Centre

I must admit this one caught me by surprise. With some cynics in the industry dismissing Crypto company’s business practices and describing the area of NFT’s as the “Wild West” the owners of The Staples Centre agreed a deal until 2042 which is longer than O2 have been sponsoring The O2 (2005).

The credibility that this association has brought Crypto.Com and their category is significant and been a wake- up call to rights owners. Jason Miller, SVP and Head of Property Sales at Excel Management sums up the reaction from a big naming rights deal - ‘Wow that is a company that is here to stay!”

AEG very rarely make “bad calls”. The Staples Centre deal in LA had been going since day one of the venue opening in 1999 and at one point, AEG publicised that it was a “lifetime” deal. Jon Stainer, MD of Nielsen Sport recently reported that in a one-week span in November after the sponsorship was announced, 3,300 articles were written about which reached 371 million impressions, equating to $4 million in discounted media. A reported $700 million investment which represents a $584m dollar increase will change “Downtown LA” from Christmas Day 2021 for the next 2 decades 3) Dettol and the FA - The Covid effect

Several mature brands benefited from sharp sales increases causing mass shortages from April 2020. Some of these were in the health and medicine area e.g. Panadol. Rather than Brand Managers applauding themselves, the Dettol team got to work. The FA partnership was not their only clever bit of product placement as Londoners saw Dettol dispensers in tube stations and Wembley Stadium.

The FA, as still the owners of the national stadium and the national game (grassroots football) provides another outstanding piece of product placement welcomed by players, commuters and spectators alike on England’s playing fields. Lifebuoy quickly followed suit with significant partnerships struck with the RFU and The ECB covering The Hundred.

4) Getir and Tottenham Hotspur Training Kit - Re-enforcing the attraction of the Premier League for “Start Ups”

What appealed here was the post deal interview of Getir’s UK GM, Turancan Salur with Forbes. He highlights exposure, frequency and coverage as the big advantages of sports partnerships.

He told the reporter that “buying an equivalent amount of time on TV Channels around the world, during, for example, the North London Derby would be an astronomical expense. As would the cost of acquiring banner ads on all the UK back pages that a training picture could get.”

This goes against the regular criticism of sponsorship by brand owners and some agencies under themes of “No Logo”, “Badging”, “Slapping” (logos) and “Old Fashioned Rights Owners” etc etc

So, if you are an LED sales person or a CCO and you have significant coverage and exposure to offer, “pick up the phone” and do your research on the start- ups.

5) Green Cuisine and Team GB - Power To The Plants

This partnership was announced 4 months before the actual Tokyo Olympics as Bird’s Eye Green Cuisine became the “official plant -based supporter of Team GB”. As someone that has worked in the food business, I completely get it. The partnership has a perfect association and the activation opportunities to harness the support of both the UK of the consumer and trade customers would drive trial and extend distribution assisting brands in shelf wars.

I am also sure that brands such as Green Cuisine would welcome sports content alongside their product- based advertising content that some users will find unappealing on their social media feeds that are there to entertain.

In food terms with the HFFS regulations, brands that offer healthy alternatives and lack the heavyweight media budgets of established grocery brands will hopefully look at this example and have more conversations with sports rights owners to find the right associations.

6) Nature Valley and Aphetor

Aphetor has been described as the “Olympics for Influencers” and is a new property that openly aims to disrupt the sports ecosystem. It takes a brave marketeer to invest in any new property, let alone something which does not have an equivalent or anything to benchmark against.

Arjoon Bose, Head of culture and brand experience of General Mills, the owner of Nature Valley seems to feature regularly in the marketing press and in webinars/conferences and has won the odd award too.

For a new property, finding commercial partners to help fund the business plan is a major headache without “proof of concept”.

On seeing the Nature Valley case study, I not only wanted to go back to Rhodes and be 30 years younger but now completely understood what Carsten Thode, Founder of Aphetor was explaining on his Unofficial Partner podcast.

As part of the package, Nature Valley were given 25 pieces of exciting content for their own channels, while key influencers posted content featuring Nature Valley on their Insta, YouTube and TikTok channels, (I do like those beach towels) - a much more scalable, authentic and cost-efficient solution than a direct influencer marketing campaign. With Aphetor having launched during a pandemic, I believe new physical event-based formats that appeal to the youtube generation will start to attract what we used to call “Youth Brands” especially in the area of wearable technology and fashion.

7) SKY and FAI Women’s National Teams - Standalone could be the way to go?

With the FAI in the marketplace looking for a replacement for Three Mobile across all their representative teams, this announcement surprised many. SKY became the primary partner of “just” the Women’s National Team.

I applaud this decision for both parties. Whilst BT are the primary partner of the FA home nations and their rights covers every representative team, the FAI and SKY women’s partnership will mean that the FAI can focus on finding a headline sponsor covering the men’s game and their next cycle that will include the 2024 Euros and 2026 FIFA World Cup. The FAI have announced equal pay for both men and women’s international footballers and the women’s team are focused on the 2023 FIFA World Cup. With the qualifiers being shown on RTE, it is a clever move by SKY and also shows purpose.

I anticipate a trend for the Barclays Super League Clubs looking more towards having separate deals for their men’s and women’s teams. At the moment, Etihad, Three and Emirates sponsor the likes of Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal although new partners are coming in that partner with the women’s team only - for example, Chelsea have a new shorts sponsorship with N + 1 Singer which is an investment bank.

8) Sonos and Liverpool - A Sound Partnership

Favourite partnerships are ones where you did not see or “hear” it coming. When a leading brand in a new category for partnership chooses a football club the potential buyers for sponsorship assets multiply further.

It is not unknown for competitors within the category to follow as witnessed in the second - hand car market.

With Liverpool known for music and Anfield still one of those stadiums where singing anthems is part of the experience, the Sonos sound system will have a whole host of global opportunities to amplify the connection between players, fans, stadiums and music.

9) Sony and City Football Group - Out of this World

Just as Facebook went Meta and people started getting their heads around that sport rights owners now potentially have a virtual world to sell, the Man City fans will now be able to enter a virtual version of the Etihad Stadium.

Sony are going to create this virtual reality world of fan engagement to then set up an online community to promote their range of products and to help current customers get their best out of their current TVs and consoles.

No doubt sports clubs are licking their actual lips as the Metaverse will create a new revenue stream of products and experiences also designed for fans to enjoy in the virtual world -think fashion, skins, games, trading, property, land and transport.

Knowing how long these technology- based partnerships take to form even with physical stadiums at the core, the contract itself must be a work of art.

10) Tik Tok and the Euros - Social media gets some skin in the game

I know that when UEFA made this announcement, it caused TikTok’s competitors some anxiety. For years, the likes of FB, Twitter and You Tube adopted a position of “we don’t do sponsorship”.

Yet TikTok partnered with one of the biggest shows on earth to widen and grow their users base and keep some of their younger audience entertained for longer throughout the Euros. Classing itself more of a digital entertainment platform TikTok wanted to break the perception that their app is just for young teens who enjoy doing a dance and some lip syncing.

TikTok also became partners of Burnley FC Women’s Team with live streaming of their matches and then became the main sponsor of Wrexham who are owned by Hollywood stars Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds.

Gary Linke has delivered and/or renewed over 40 properties in his 20 years at the sharp end of the sports business, from naming rights, event and team partnerships and licensing programmes. You can contact him via

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