On Friday 7 August, Sky Sports will be broadcasting Sheffield United’s away fixture against Middlesbrough as the first live Football League Championship match of the new season. As a result, the eyes of football fans from across the UK will be firmly fixed to the “VisitMALTA.com” logo emblazoned across Sheffield United’s shirts.
This season marks United’s second year of the groundbreaking sponsorship deal agreed with the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), which has led to the Blades becoming notable specialists in the football tourism arena.
Sheffield United’s combination of football and travel does not end with Malta. The club’s unique international business model in football sees the club own teams abroad with Chengdu Blades in China, Ferencvaros in Hungary and a strategic partner with the Australian Hyundai A-League side, Central Coast Mariners.
The first year of United’s partnership with the MTA has certainly set the benchmark high. Havas Sports Insight, one of the UK’s leading sponsorship research consultants undertook a study to evaluate the Visit Malta sponsorship of Sheffield United Football Club. Havas equated the sponsorship value to an impressive £1,566,036.
Complementing the shirt branding, VisitMALTA.com is prominently displayed across the Bramall Lane stadium, including the Malta Family stand. United enjoyed the second highest average match day attendance in the 2008/2009 Championship of 26,023 fans. During the same season, the Blades boasted a higher average gate figure than seven Premier League teams, including West Bromwich Albion (25,828), Hull (24,816), Fulham (24,340), Blackburn (23,479), Bolton (22,486), Portsmouth (19,830) and Wigan (18,350).
Sheffield United looked strong throughout last season, finishing a credible third position in the Championship. While the Blades may not have won last season’s play-off final at Wembley, the club’s sponsors benefited from the wide-reaching coverage of the game which was seen in over 150 countries, with the drama unfolding in front of more than one billion households.
Sheffield United’s blossoming relationship with Malta saw the team stage a recent warm weather training camp on the Mediterranean island, as part of the club’s pre-season preparations. The club’s tour of the island was purposely timed to coincide with the popular Isle of MTV music festival. The blend of music and football provided a further boost to the local economy with over 400 Blades fans travelling with the team.
An open training session and a series of charity events supported by the players provided the travelling fans and people of Malta with a unique opportunity to get closer to the team. With Maltese international Justin Haber, returning to his roots, he naturally became the man in demand as far as United’s tour party was concerned. With Haber in goal, the Blades recorded a 1 – 0 victory against Maltese Premiership side Floriana to provide the perfect finale to their visit.
Bernard Pollacco, a resident of Valletta, commented on the Blades pre-season tour: “I made many friends with Sheffield United fans and I was very proud to see the team wear our country’s name on the shirt. This trip has been a good way of bringing the Sheffield and Maltese people closer together.”
Another reflection on how United’s relationship with the island has been working well is the club’s commitment to support the Maltese community. Since the start of the partnership, young Maltese fans have been offered the chance to link up with the Blades official supporters club. Following a popular pre-season charity event in Malta hosted at the ‘Splash and Fun’ water park, plus a series of Blades training sessions with the Floriana and Hibernians nursery sides, the membership of the Malta Junior Blades supporters club is now approaching 300.
The best formula for football tourism is winning games. All the ingredients are in place to help the Blades achieve its number one objective of gaining promotion back to the English Premier League. The first test arrives in the form of Middlesbrough Football Club, when Kevin Blackwell’s squad travel to the Riverside Stadium for the match that kicks off at 8pm (UK time), on Friday 7 August.
Mike Farnan, Executive Director for Sheffield United said: “Sheffield United is very proud to have Visit Malta as the club’s main partner. It was important that all parties reviewed how the relationship worked in the first year. We were very pleased with the results, with the pre-season tour of Malta proving to be one of the highlights.
“While we look forward to the season ahead, we certainly won’t be resting on our laurels. The club will be looking at ways for our various partners to work together. We will also continue to maximise all the opportunities for the Visit Malta partnership, both on and off the pitch.”
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