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Hoovering up sponsorship deals from some of the world’s richest companies operating in the world’s richest countries is a fairly straightforward process for Europe’s biggest clubs.

Hoovering up sponsorship deals from some of the world’s richest companies operating in the world’s richest countries is a fairly straightforward process for Europe’s biggest clubs.

But if a team cannot boast huge exposure through participation in the UEFA Champions League and cannot attract an exclusive noodle or car battery partner, a little innovation can make a huge difference.

English Premier League club Sunderland this month signed South African Airways as its official airline for southern Africa. The partnership means that the club now counts three South African firms and four African companies in total among its current roster of sponsors.

Deals with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, South African Airways and a £5 million-per-year shirt deal with distribution company Bidvest have seen Sunderland make huge moves into Africa’s biggest economy and a region largely untapped by its Premier League and Spanish Primera Division counterparts.

This month the World Bank upgraded its economic outlook for sub-Saharan Africa from 5.1% growth for 2014 to 5.3%, a figure already up from the 4.9% growth predicted for 2013. The World Bank also states that in 2012, five of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa, more than any other region.

It is a market with an increasing number of new businesses, an increasing number of consumers with greater spending power and an increasing amount of money to spend on sport sponsorships. Sunderland has moved quickly and smartly to secure some of that.

The club is also active on the CSR side of its partnerships, something that began in 2012 during its two-year shirt contract with non-for-profit organisation Invest in Africa. As part of the deal’s activation Sunderland ran football schemes for youth players using Sunderland coaches and players and actively encouraged companies in the north east of England to invest money in the continent.

In return, Invest in Africa offered initiatives to the club that, if certain targets were met, would have meant the sponsorship was worth up to £20 million per season, a number that would have seen the club hold the joint highest shirt sponsorship contract in the Premier League alongside Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.

Despite Invest in Africa ending its relationship with the club a year early, the club continues to run the Sunderland Association Football Club in Africa programme which has seen associations develop with the likes of business giants Ernst & Young and KPMG during various community support trips to the continent.

The opportunity to have a huge football sponsorship presence for a good price in a rapidly growing economy is something that has not been lost on some of the biggest brands. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations had telecommunications company Orange as a title sponsor and official partners in multinational food and beverage company PepsiCo, financial services company Standard Bank and electronics firm Samsung.

With research company SPORT+MARKT reporting in 2011 that 72% of Africa’s 738 million population aged between 16-69 are interested in football it would appear that the continent known for its abundance of natural resources could be a gold mine for European football clubs. Through some smart moves in sports sponsorship, Sunderland has become one of the first diggers.

These are the views of Steven Slayford, reporter for Sports Sponsorship Insider.

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