Football fans everywhere recognise the dilemma. It's one thing being into football, but quite another being lucky enough to back the winning team. Allegiances are often thrust on the average football fan at a young and impressionable age when, quite frankly, they don't know any better.

Yours truly, for example, has been a long-suffering follower of Aston Villa, which, apart from one golden spell which miraculously culminated in 'the Villans' lifting the European Cup some 20 years ago, really has been a labour of love.

Britain's big fmcg brands have it a little easier. All they have to do is pick the right club, open their cheque book and enjoy their shirt logo being beamed into millions of homes.

It's a formula tested by many brands over the years, with the Premiership mantel this season being taken up by Bulmers and Carlsberg-Tetley.

The pair, which are using Strongbow and Carlsberg to sponsor Leeds Utd and Liverpool respectively, have replaced rival Carling, which used to be overall sponsor of the Premiership, as the top flight's leading lights from food and drink. New Carling owner Coors is once again taking a sabbatical from front line sponsorship of the Premiership (it is backing the Worthington Cup for one more year) to concentrate on music promotions.

But a football tie-up can create penalties, although Bulmers maintains it is still delighted with its Leeds tie-up despite the club's disappointing record last term and unwelcome off-pitch publicity surrounding the trial of star players Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate for their alleged part in an assault on an Asian student. The pair were eventually cleared of assault by a jury, although Woodgate was found guilty of affray and Bowyer received a record fine from his club.

However, Bulmers spokesman George Thomas insists such unsavoury publicity has not affected the cider maker and does not compromise its position.
"Disciplinary matters are nothing to do with us," he says. "If we were unhappy with our association then we would have pulled out."

Instead, says Thomas, Bulmers is once again looking forward to the new season, hoping it will bring the same success which the brand enjoyed during the first season of its £5m, three-year shirt sponsorship deal.

Then, two years ago, Leeds were riding high near the top of the Premiership and battled their way to the semi-final of the European Champions' League, ensuring that the Strongbow emblem emblazoned across the team's shirts got high-profile TV coverage.

The brand has also benefited recently from Rio Ferdinand's defection to Manchester United, with the England defender's picture, complete with Strongbow-branded Leeds shirt, being featured in newspapers dozens of times in the build up to his £32m transfer.

"Overall, we are delighted with the coverage our sponsorship of Leeds has brought," says Thomas. "We are now Britain's number eight long drink and our tie-up with football has definitely helped us get there."

'The perfect platform'

Carlsberg-Tetley also has no doubts that its new three-year deal with fancied title challengers Liverpool will continue to reap similar rewards. The brewer has been involved with the Anfield club for 10 years.

It is also looking forward to the brand's position as the official beer of Euro 2004, for which qualifying games get under way soon. "Football is the perfect platform to reach our target audience," says Doug Clydesdale, md for brands and sales.
Snack giant Walkers, however, insists it is happy to drop down a division. It has contributed financially towards demoted Leicester City's new Walkers Stadium and will use Doritos to sponsor Wolverhampton Wanderers, also in the First Division. "We feel confident both tie-ups will be successful for us, even though neither side are in the Premiership," says Cath Painter, Walkers' trade marketing manager. "We are also heavily committed to advertising with Gary Lineker."
Meanwhile, a pick of the rest reveals that no fewer than seven other brands will line up for the start of the new season. Who said anything about football losing its appeal?