Premier League struggler Sunderland is close to announcing a new sponsorship partner to replace Invest in Africa on its jerseys, a club official said today.
The northeast England soccer club is fighting to stay in the top division and earlier this month fired coach Martin O’Neill and replaced him with Paolo Di Canio.
Following Di Canio’s appointment, the new manager and the club were forced to issue statements clarifying the Italian’s political position. He’d described himself in a 2005 interview as a “fascist” and was photographed making fascist salutes when he played with Italy’s Lazio. On April 3, Di Canio denied he’s a supporter of fascism.
Group marketing director Mike Farnan said local media reports that Invest in Africa ended the two-year agreement, signed last year, early because of Di Canio’s appointment were inaccurate. He also denied the club withdrew from the pact because of concern over the business practices of Invest in Africa’s backer Tullow Oil Plc in Uganda.
“The reality is it was a two-year deal with a year’s break clause,” Farnan said in a telephone interview. “What’s happening is we will be announcing a major African conglomerate with 188,000 employees as a sponsor and Invest in Africa will continue supporting us.”
Any agreement won’t be announced until after Sunderland finds out what division it will be playing in, he said. The Black Cats are 17th in the 20-team Premier League, one place outside the relegation zone thanks to a superior goal difference than Wigan.
“We’re hoping to announce it soon,” Farnan said. “The focus now is on making sure we secure our Premier League status.”
Sunderland’s sponsorship with Invest in Africa, a not-for-profit organization, started in June 2012. Farnan said the group will continue to be a top-ranked sponsor next season.
Sunderland has focused on growing its supporter base in Africa, where it also does charity work. It announced an agreement with the Nelson Mandela Foundation before a home match with Manchester United on March 30. Sunderland has also established soccer-based community programs in Ghana and Tanzania, and is in talks to open a project in Ethiopia, Farnan said.
“Africa is part of our long-term strategy, we’re not pulling out,” Farnan said. “We don’t listen to all the rubbish that’s being written. We just decided it would be good to be working with a consumer-facing brand.”