Football’s most valuable teams have generated legions of fans around the world, and those supporter armies are more than happy to boast their loyalties with team uniforms. That in turn has made a team’s jersey its single biggest sponsorship asset, as players and fans alike have become walking billboards that are up for sale to the highest bidder. Those sponsorship deals fall into two categories – kit manufacturers like Nike NKE -0.46% and Adidas , and the corporate partners who simply pay for chest-front advertising real estate.
Uniform deals jumped to the forefront in 2014 when Manchester United signed its seven-year, $559 million contract with Chevrolet . That $80 million-per-year payout more than doubled what the team was getting from its prior jersey sponsorship and blew away the rest of the field. Even two years later the next largest corporate partnership, Chelsea’s $57 million-per-year deal with Yokohama Rubber YORUY +%, is well behind. Kit manufacturers tend to spend a bit more, given that they directly profit from their investment by selling retail versions of team jerseys, but only two kit partnerships have surpassed Manchester United’s blockbuster Chevy deal.
And yet the top spot on our list of the sport’s biggest sponsorship winners belongs to a different team: Real Madrid. Los Blancos had actually lagged behind the leaders as recently as a year ago, but an astounding ten-year, $1.6 billion deal with Adidas swiftly brought that to an end. The team now makes some $192 million from its jerseys each year (and that’s despite an Emirates Airways partnership that seemed undervalued when it was signed in 2013). Toss in a new $28 million-per-year stadium naming rights agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which will rename Santiago Bernabeu once its renovations are completed, and you’ve got the biggest sponsorship haul in the sport.
Yet Manchester United, which makes some $187 million annually from its jersey deals, is hardly out of the race. In fact, the Red Devils could still take the top spot today depending on how the exchange rates move (we’re using rates as of late April). In addition to the Chevy deal the team also has a kit partnership with Adidas, which made headlines by usurping Nike with a ten-year deal that’s currently in its first season; that contract is worth nearly $110 million per year. We also give the Red Devils credit for their $22 million-per-year deal with Aon ; Manchester United’s former jersey partner has the naming rights to the team’s training ground and sponsorship of its practice jerseys.
Rounding out the top three is Bayern Munich at $111 million per year from its jersey and stadium sponsorship deals. This year’s Bundesliga champions have been with Adidas for more than five decades, and the company even holds a minority stake in the team. Last year the two extended their partnership through 2030. Bayern also gets $34 million annually from jersey partner Deutsche Telekom, and two years ago the team extended its stadium naming rights deal with Allianz, which also invested some $150 million to take an 8% stake in the team’s ownership.