Bizarre Scottish Football Sponsorships
A few days ago, Livingston announced that sponsors Tony Macaroni would be continuing their sponsorship of the club for the 2020/21 season, maintaining the stadium name 'The Tony Macaroni Arena'. This would be the 8th season that the West Lothian club and Italian food franchise have partnered up, the 6th with the restaurant as stadium sponsor. Lions fans will be hoping the club can maintain the 'Spaghettihad' nickname, providing a tough place for opposing teams and penne of pasta puns.
The deal between a football club and pizza specialists is an odd pairing but within the years of Scottish football, there have been plenty of others to warrant attention. Some are good and merit a laugh, some not so much but bring in a valuable income that can't be turned down. With a look to the bizarre, humorous and plain odd, here are some of the most notable sponsorships in Scottish football.
Strange Stadium Names
The aforementioned Tony Macaroni Arena isn't the only stadium to have featured an unusual name, it isn't even the only time that Livingston have had an unusual name for their home ground. The Lions home stadium was sponsored on a couple of occasions by local businesses, with 'The Braidwood Motor Company Stadium' and 'Energy Assets Arena' supplying sponsorship in recent years. The Lions also partnered with the City Group to rename the stadium 'The City Stadium' and 'West Lothian Courier Stadium' in the early 2000s during their first spell in the top flight. For a stadium widely known as 'Almondvale', its only been the official name a handful of times within the club's short history.
Moving away from West Lothian, about 22 miles west you will find the Excelsior Stadium, home to 'the Diamonds', Airdrieonians. Following the bankruptcy of the original side, Airdrieonians live on once again, a reincarnation of the club following the buy-out of Clydebank in 2002. With this, a new stadium was built and we have the Excelsior Stadium. The stadium has hosted a bunch of different events, such as other Scottish club's European games, Old Firm reserve matches and an Elton John concert in 2017. Quite like Livingston, the club also succumbed to the temptations of being named after a local car company, meaning new wonder signing Thomas Robert will be playing at 'The Penny Cars Stadium' next season.
There's an ongoing list of stadiums with these sponsored names with a further three in the top flight. St Mirren play at 'The Simple Digital Arena', Ross County host at 'The Global Energy Stadium' whilst Hamilton have 'The Fountain of Youth Stadium'. This avenue has been shown as an easy way for clubs to gain some extra revenue with little harm, as most fans brush it off and call the stadium its rightful name whilst the club brings in some extra cash.
Pizza and Conor Sammon
Partick Thistle fans were treated in 2018 - no, not on the pitch - with season ticket members being able to claim 25% off at their local Pizza Express. To help cheer Jags fans up from a horrendous season, they could get a quarter off their Pepperoni Pizzas, much to the delight of the showcased Conor Sammon. The look of an unimpressed Sammon was shared all over Twitter in the U.K., with Scottish football fans loving it as the likes of Paddy Power and Marathon Bet got involved with the viral photo. Perhaps it's not the best idea to do such a photo op for a sponsor right after a players side concedes two late goals, costing them valuable points in the fight for survival but hey, at least he got a pizza Prince Andrew would be jealous of.
Following his move to Falkirk, the Bairns would capitalise on Sammon's pizza picture, recreating it with better emotion upon the journeyman striker's face. The thought of a player with Sammon's career facing off against League 1 defenders would've been a mouthwatering thought for Falkirk fans but after a mediocre goalscoring season, they'd probably much rather have the pizza instead. The striker is now strangely synonymous in Scotland with boxes of Pizza, with the photo ops being mentioned regularly when Sammon pops up, with the striker being a seemingly good sport about it all.
Scotland is one of many countries to have a recreational drug problem. In the U.K., 20% of the population smoke with an average of 13.6 cigarettes smoked a day per smoker (ourworldindata.org/smoking). It is one of the highest health risks, leading to more premature deaths than the likes of pollution, obesity and excessive alcohol use. The use of E-cigs has been introduced as a safer, albeit not risk-free, alternative to normal cigarettes proving to be fairly successful. VPZ is one of the countries fastest growing businesses and have begun creating relationships with many outlets, including football clubs.
The likes of VPZ have signed up to be the official 'Vaping Partner' of top-flight clubs Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Livingston, creating an oxymoron of clean-cut athletes promoting an unhealthy, addictive toxin supplier. This, of course, led to a lot of mocking from around the world, with many mocking and criticising these partnerships. As mentioned before, clubs need revenue but the addition of a 'Vaping Partner' seems wildly unnecessary and may not be the best look for a professional sports team. It would perhaps work more in unison with a wide anti-smoking campaign but standing alone, this is certainly a strange one.
Irn Bru and the World Cup
Scotland and the World Cup in recent years haven't had the best relationship, to say the least, the 1998 World Cup in France being the last tournament Scotland featured in. However, Scotland would be represented at the 2006 World Cup, through the surname of the then-current St Johnstone striker Jason. With this and his native Trinidad & Tobago being drawn against arch-rivals England in the tournament, the nation got behind the Caribbean side with soft drink makers Barr capitalising on this opportunity. A bunch of adverts were produced to get behind Scotland, with billboards taking over cities and a memorable TV commercial with the striker guzzling Irn Bru on an empty bus. An unofficial World Cup song was also released in honour of the striker, with lyrics of Scotland's languishing presence and dreams of the McDiarmid Park striker stunning the Auld Enemy, all in good taste. The nation truly took to the former Dundee United and Hamilton striker but he sadly would not feature as his side were knocked out in the group stages.
This wouldn't be the only time Irn Bru got involved despite the absence of the Tartan Army, even offering pointers on how we can make it in the future. In 2010, prior to the World Cup in South Africa, a series of adverts titled 'Bruzil' began circulating, the main theme being what if our nation were to create a breeding partnership with the South American country in order to turn our fates around by the 2034 World Cup. Easily the best of these ads was the creation of a future Scotland/Brazil hybrid, combining famous Samba Stars names with Scottishisms. The best picks included Aberdinho, Donaldo and MacKaka, with an attacking and revolutionary 2-3-1-4 formation, some say its where Thiago Motta gained inspiration for his 2-7-2 formation. As the years go on with an absent Scotland side at these tournaments, the idea is growing on me as the desperation rises.
The Challenge Cup
The Cup competition for the lower leagues, the Challenge Cup has been a way for teams outwith the top flight to have the chance of winning a cup competition. As with all tournaments, sponsorship goes a long way and is a chance to bring in extra revenue. It appears to be vital for this competition, in particular, to do so, with the 1998/99 edition being cancelled due to a lack of a sponsor. With this, the competition has undergone many rebrands, with home improvement brand B&Q at first, before the likes of Bell's Whisky, MG Alba, Ramsdens, Petrofac and Irn Bru all getting involved. The most bizarre, though, has to be the current rendition, 'The Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup'. Sponsored by a Scottish delicacy, these partnerships end up turning the competition's name into a mouthful and the branding is certainly eye-catching. A true great Scottish delicacy, I'd much rather have something local and close to many punters hearts than some off-brand energy drink like the 'Carabao Cup'.
At first, it may not seem as odd for Betting companies to be a very prominent feature, not only in Scottish but World Football. Leagues such as the Italian Seria A and English lower divisions are sponsored by betting companies, with 10 of the 20 teams in the English top-flight being sponsored by the likes of Betway, LoveBet and Dafabet. The latter is also the sponsor of Celtic, with Rangers sponsored by 32Red. On top of this, for years the top-flight and cup competitions have been heavily sponsored by Ladbrokes, William Hill and Betfred.
The thing that makes this odd is the league officials attitudes to betting, which seems to be completely opposite of their optimism to take these brands money. The governing bodies often hide from responding to claims of irresponsible advertising. There are fears of how betting targets young people, leading to addiction and great loss of money but the league doesn't want to focus on that. The league don't want its own players, coaches or officials being involved with betting but everywhere on a match day, they are constantly bombarded with images of said companies. It speaks volumes that companies have pulled out of these deals due to fears over their branding and not the league itself. It's a clear showcase of negligence on behalf of those in charge, who will gladly take the money from these but try and shun the businesses themselves. Gambling has caused lots of trouble for many, namely John Hartson and recently Hamilton boss Brian Rice. With Rice being punished for being involved and being open about betting, no changes were made to these sponsorships, making you have to ask if they are fussed about what they promote, even if it clearly contradicts them.
Ayr United Kit Launches
A new season now means a new kit for every team, as all clubs now operate with slightly different styles each season to bring in more revenue. This leads to heavily speculation and leaks from fans who just can't wait to see if their team will still be playing in the same basic template in the upcoming season. With a kit launch, most teams will show it off using some star or just the better-looking players, with a cheesy tagline talking about the heritage of the club, the area they're from or whatever they can slap onto a hashtag.
Ayr United, however, go for a much more unique and to some a questionable approach in releasing their kits by not even showcasing it at all. The club instead hires a couple of topless models to have the kit painted onto them and pose for promotional pictures. The original edition had solely a female model before the club added a male for equality, with the stunt gaining viral status. As everyone knows, sex sells as there's a reason dross like '50 Shades' and '365 Days' have become hugely successful in recent times. This philosophy clearly has worked, with many excited to catch a glimpse of a ripped hunk or a model's bosom in their team's colours, with the details of the kit very quickly becoming secondary in the minds of supporters. The culprits for this stunt come in the form of former sponsors Bodog who have not shied away from poking fun at their critics. After some having a negative reaction to the stunt, Bodog made light of the situation, backing off the home kit like asked but opted for the away top in its place. Following the end of Bodog's sponsorship, the style of release has been maintained, adapting with the current climate alongside Bitcoin SV.
For the 2020/21 reveal, the impact of the Coronavirus halted plans for the Ayr Unite kit launch but a clever idea was born. Utilising the web, an electronic form was created to continue the recent tradition of the Ayrshire club, naming the virtual models Ronaldo Maradona and paying homage to current star Michael with the female Michaela Moffat. It's a clever use of adapting to the conditions from Ayr, with their light-hearted approach going down well once again.
As for the future, who knows what promotions and sponsorships will come into the Scottish game. This season will see more desire for any sort of income, so we may see more unusual brands pop up within our game that will hopefully bring a few laughs. It'll be an interesting time for Scottish football but its always good to see there are small things like this that can create a bit of light-hearted discussion and enjoyment. I for one, welcome more additions to this list, hoping we can see the likes of Mrs Tilly's, Baxters and other Scottish businesses come into a partnership to help fund our game in a good and humorous manner.