Visit North Korea sponsor Blyth Spartans - sport's unlikely commercial partnerships

By James LawBBC Sport
Ian Holloway (left) and Boiler Man
Ian Holloway (left) and Boiler Man

Whether it is on shirts, stadiums or advertising hoardings - sponsorship in football is more prevalent than ever.

It seems every company wants a piece of the action, which may go some way to explaining why Visit North Korea - an organisation promoting tour packages in the East Asian country - has purchased a pitchside board at non-league Blyth Spartans.

There is a football link between North Korea and England's north east - they caused one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history by beating Italy at Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park in 1966.

The advert made its debutexternal-link at Blyth's game against Spennymoor Town in National League North on 26 December, with even the Visit North Korea website describing their newest commercial partnership as "unconventional".

"We're nevertheless proud to be able to help support the great English game at a local level and secure publicity for clubs in the north of England," said a statement on the Visit North Korea website.

It is not the first time an unlikely sporting sponsorship deal has been struck - BBC Sport looks at some others to have caused debate.

When owners get involved

Blackburn chicken interrupts Wigan match

You will probably have seen the advert, with David Dunn, Michel Salgado and Jason Roberts tucking into chicken drumsticks alongside their Blackburn team-mates.

Rovers were taken over by Indian poultry firm Venky's in 2010 and they have been the subject of protests for much of their time at the helm - including one when a live chicken draped in a Blackburn flag entered the pitch on the day their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed in 2012.

Elsewhere, Cardiff owner Vincent Tan - who once caused great controversy among the Welsh club's supporters by putting the Bluebirds in a red home kit - has the club's shirt sponsored by Visit Malaysia, his home country.


Boiler Man
Who has their central heating on in August anyway?

When West Bromwich Albion signed a sponsorship deal with a boiler firm in May, you can imagine the discussions that were had on how to make the most of the relationship.

The result? Boiler Man. Yes, the Baggies had a man dressed as a 'combi' boiler for their 2-1 Championship defeat by Bolton in August.

And then there is the infamous Kingsley at Partick Thistle. The yellow character was designed as part of a new deal with a US investment firm, and described as "terrifying".

Partick Thistle's mascot Kingsley
Partick Thistle's mascot Kingsley - designed by Turner Prize-nominated artist David Shrigley


Selling stadium naming rights is seen as a lucrative option for many clubs, but the age-old issue is fans calling the ground by its original name regardless.

Some examples - in League One there's Accrington's Wham Stadium and Shrewsbury's Montgomery Waters Meadow, while the fourth tier boasts the Jonny-Rocks Stadium - home to Cheltenham Town.

It's not just limited to football, either. In rugby league, St Helens' Totally Wicked Stadium and Castleford's Mend-A-Hose Jungle are among the list of stadium names in Super League.

Accrington Stanley ground
Some stadium sponsor names are more catchy - or less of a mouthful - than others


Nowadays, shirt sponsorship at the elite level is dominated by gambling firms - this season, almost 60% of clubs in England's top two divisions have betting companies on their shirts.

There was a greater variety in years gone by, with QPR's deal with radio station Classic FM particularly outside the box.

Ian Holloway QPR
Ian Holloway, a Classic FM man? Who knew?

Shirt sleeve sponsors are a more recent addition, with Everton sporting video game Angry Birds, while Visit Rwanda takes the slot on Arsenal's kit.

Maybe Blyth are onto something with their North Korea-inspired partnership after all...

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