The Bank of Montreal paid just over $4 million to have their logo emblazoned on the front of Toronto FC’s jerseys in 2015. After that one-year contract expired, BMO paid an undisclosed amount to extend their sponsorship of BMO Field. That deal, set to expire in 2025, included kit sponsorship for the 2016 season as a throw-in but with the 2017 season less than two months away, no renewal has been announced.
Given the tremendous success of the club in 2016, it isn’t ridiculous to suggest that the 2017 sponsorship fee will be in the $5-6 million range. True, this is a far cry from Manchester United’s $70 million deal with Chevrolet, but it’s not chump change, either.
With that being said, the 2017 season could be the ideal opportunity for a high-rolling member of corporate Canada to align its brand with a winning team. Here are a few possibilities.
Let’s start with the obvious: BMO has been the club’s only kit sponsor since the Reds first took to the field in 2007 and they can easily afford the steep price that such an advertising honour will command for the upcoming season. In 2016, the organization built several television ad campaigns around TFC (you’ll recall Giovinco scoring in an empty stadium) and would probably like that to continue into what should be another very exciting year. You can’t have another company’s logo on the chest of the league’s star player if that is going to be the case.
Furthermore, BMO has a large multi-cultural client focus as it looks to grow its business in whatever way it can. Affiliation with the ‘world’s game’ in the most ethnically diverse city in Canada fits in very well with this strategy.
Finally, anyone other than BMO on the front of a TFC jersey, at BMO Field, seems somewhat blasphemous. As TFC continues to build its brand by preaching stability and continuity at the club, a new sponsor might be too incongruous to tolerate. As long as TFC gets fair market value, BMO would be the preferred choice over another company willing to throw a few extra dollars on the table.
Royal Bank of Canada
Given BMO’s 10-year naming rights deal for BMO Field, they probably would not want their main tenant sporting the logo of one of their competitors. Although I have not read the agreement between BMO and MLSE, I imagine that there is a clause to discourage such a thing from happening.
Assume that this clause is the most lenient of all such clauses; the famous ‘right-of-first refusal’ clause. Under such an agreement, should another bank come forward with a large sum of money, BMO would have the right to match that offer. Canada’s largest bank is the Royal Bank. However, it has typically spent its sports-marketing budget on golf (RBC Canadian Open, RBC Heritage Classic, etc.) and hockey.
Chances are that even if RBC knocked on TFC’s door, they wouldn’t put up an offer that BMO wouldn’t match. Another financial institution is, therefore, unlikely. But, given the size of Canada’s ‘big five’ banks, I thought that it was worthwhile to entertain that argument by highlighting the largest of them.
Already sponsors of the Rogers Club at BMO Field, Rogers has a hand at the table. With Bell sponsoring the Whitecaps in Vancouver, Rogers may look to counter in Toronto. TFC’s colours are also Rogers’ corporate colours, so the potential for cross-promotion and marketing is that much greater.
With TSN (owned by Bell) snapping up the broadcasting rights to TFC games, Rogers could do itself proud by securing two hours per game of ‘free’ television advertising on the dime of their biggest rival. A little petty? Perhaps, but not a completely ludicrous suggestion.
Additionally, with sponsorship of major venues like the Rogers Centre (Toronto), Rogers Place (Edmonton) and Rogers Arena (Vancouver), the company has shown that it is not afraid to make a big splash in the sports world. Rogers could also use kit sponsorship as a potential ‘in’ to negotiate future streaming and media deals with the league around TFC.
The one strike against all of this is the fact that Rogers owns 37.5% of MLSE. Would they want to maximize their revenue streams and cash-flow position by securing sponsorship money from a company other than themselves? Perhaps.
As mentioned, Bell is already sponsoring the Whitecaps’ kit for approximately $4 million per year. With significant sports spending also being made on the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Canadian Soccer Association and the Toronto Raptors, Bell may want to diversify its corporate social responsibility strategy and spend the $5+ million that it will cost to sponsor TFC’s kit on something else.
Also, they - like Rogers - own 37.5% of MLSE. Therefore, they face the same concern: maximizing revenue and cash flow. For these reasons, while Bell could certainly afford TFC’s asking price, I would consider them long shots at this stage.
If anyone other than BMO was to print their logo against the red of a TFC shirt, my money would be on Kia, the naming sponsor of TFC’s academy and training ground.
Their presence at TFC home games is seen through field-level advertising and promotional events just outside the gates of BMO Field. Presently, the company is all over the edges of the club but not at its centre. This could be the best opportunity in a generation to remedy that.
TFC is not just a Toronto team. With their 2016 success, the Reds are now a concern across North America. Games on TSN, Sportsnet, ESPN, MLS Live and highlights across the continent would link the Kia brand to a winning team in front of a wider audience. The two entities are a match made in sports-marketing heaven.
For starters, Kia’s history is similar to the club’s. Both started out small, and their quality was initially suspect, but are now at the top of their respective games and expected to field high-quality products without exception. Furthermore, the game itself meshes seamlessly with Kia’s desired brand identity; a popular, inexpensive product that is accessible to everyone.
Kia has demonstrated its belief in the value of soccer by becoming the official automotive partner of the FIFA World Cup as well as through its partnership with UEFA and the European Championship. Like Rogers, Kia’s corporate colours are identical to TFC’s, making cross-promotional activities that much easier and meaningful.
Whoever adorns TFC’s kit in 2017, a decision needs to be made soon - I need to buy my new jersey before the first whistle on March 4.