The Long, Strange History Of Video Games Sponsoring Football Teams

Summer pre-season trips are underway, the transfer market is in full swing and Wayne Rooney is back once again on the cover of a FIFA game. Yes, it’s time for another season of European football.

Aside from the obvious connection between the sport and the video games based on it, football and gaming have another strange association: a long history of companies like Nintendo and Sega appearing as shirt sponsors for some of the biggest clubs in the world.

Not that this is necessarily a good thing: there’s a reason most football teams are sponsored by insurance companies and Chinese casinos, and that’s because it’s a terribly unfashionable thing to do. Sponsors pay tens, and sometimes hundreds of millions for the “privelege” of being worn across the chest of some of the world’s most overpaid athletes, with a net gain that the optimistic would call “slight” while the realistic would call “non-existent”.

In this gallery are some of the more prominent examples, from the stylish to the sad, successful to the not-so-successful.

(Top photo and Chelsea images courtesy of chuchalanachubelembe)
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Seattle Sounders, MLS – Let’s start with one that’s actually a good fit. With Microsoft’s headquarters just down the road, the software giant is in it for the long haul with the Sounders. With Xbox sponsorship of both its home and away kits, the Sounders’ colours of bright green even match those of Microsoft’s console.

This is more than a simple sponsorship arrangement, it’s branding, and as such has been pretty successful to date.

Fiorentina, Serie A – Nintendo did OK out of this 1990’s deal in terms of exposure, as at the time Fiorentina was home to Argentinian superstar Gabriel Batistuta, who was never too far away from the highlight reel. In commercial terms it was a bit of a wasted effort, though; from the mid-90’s until only recently, Southern Europe was PlayStation territory, and chucking a Nintendo logo on a second-tier team (the club hasn’t won anything in decades) was never going to change things.

Lazio, Serie A – For a few games in the 2008/09 season, around Christmas time, Roman club Lazio had their home shirts emblazoned not with the logo of a video game company, but of an actual video game. Konami’s Pro Evo 2009 got a little extra exposure during the holiday shopping season, but this was right around the time EA’s rival FIFA series had begun to wrestle both the critical and commercial crown from Pro Evo, and this did little to stem the bleeding.

Juventus, Serie A & Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, Costa Rica – Sony has sponsored a number of teams around the world, two examples being Italian giants Juventus during the 1990’s and, more recently, Costa Rican club Liga Deportiva Alajuelense.

Kyoto Sanga, J-Leauge Div. 2 – You may not recognise it at first, but that sponsor on the back of Sanga’s shirt is actually Nintendo, the company’s name spelled in Kanji rather than appear in its more traditional form of a hooped logo. Nintendo, also based in Kyoto, has been a sponsor of the club for almost a decade.

Arsenal, Sampdoria, Deportivo de La Coruna & AS Saint-Étienne – Sega’s ill-fated and expensive flop of sponsoring English giant Arsenal is one of the more notorious blunders pointed to in the demise of Sega’s last console, but they were far from the only European team wearing Dreamcast on their chests. In total four teams would be sponsored by Sega’s console around the turn of the millennium, Sampdoria’s away shirt (not pictured) even going so far as to carry the logo of Dreamarena, the Dreamcast’s free online gaming platform in Europe.

Chelsea, EPL & Bayern Munich, Bundesliga – In the late 1980’s Commodore sponsored Germany’s biggest club and one of England’s growing powers. By then the C64 lived on almost purely as a gaming platform, though Commodore’s Amiga also featured on Chelsea’s kit in the in the early 90’s.

Manchester City, EPL – They may be one of the richest clubs in the world today, but at the turn of the milennium City weren’t too cool to make a shirt sponsorship deal with Tomb Raider and Deus Ex’s Eidos.

Auxerre, Ligue 1 – For all its gaming clout, and ongoing sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League, the actual PlayStation brand is rarely seen on football shirts. It did, however, make an appearance during the middle part of the last decade on French outfit Auxerre, with not only the PlayStation logo on its chest but the PSP logo on its breast to boot.

Tokyo Verdy, J-League Div. 2 – While stuck in the country’s second division at the moment, Verdy are one of Japan’s most successful clubs. And just like Kyoto Sanga are sponsored by their home-town gaming company, so too were Verdy, Pro Evo developers Konami sponsoring the club in the late 1990’s.

JEF United, J-League Div. 2 – Of all the sponsorship deals between Japanese publishers and Japanese teams, this must surely be the best. In the mid-90’s JEF United were sponsored by Sega, but in addition to the company’s logo they even managed to squeeze Sonic’s face onto the front of the shirt.

Swindon Town, League 2 – For a few years now, Swindon Town have had at least one of their kits sponsored not by EA Sports, but by EA Sports’ FIFA series. Sadly, winning in FIFA is about all Swindon fans have had to look forward to lately, as last season they were relegated to League 2, which is the fourth division of English football.

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