Q and A: Meaningful partnerships with Arsenal Commercial Director Peter Silverstone

12 Dec 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

On the back of Arsenal’s latest campaign, bringing back the retro bruised banana range with partners adidas, we chat to the club’s Commercial Director Peter Silverstone about meaningful partnerships, working with others on sustainable initiatives and why Gunners fans are so taken by this season’s kits.

How much emphasis does Arsenal place on finding a partner who shares the club’s values?

It is simple to say we want to align with partners who share our values – that should be a given for any football club, sports organisation or brand. What we are really aiming for is authentic collaboration where both partners leverage the power of each other. It is when we have that genuine connection that it becomes much easier to reach, and engage with, our fans in a meaningful way. 

There are so many examples of strong partnerships that have been forged with Arsenal – from adidas and Camden Town Brewery who have both focused on celebrating Arsenal’s position as *the* London club, to Visit Rwanda who are using Arsenal’s global reach in key markets across the world to change the perception of a country full of ambition and courage after its difficult past. When your values align and you both define the objectives for the partnership and have that clarity, it becomes easier to stay focussed on making the partnership a success.

Ultimately top clubs are competing with each other and do need to make deals with brands and sponsors, but what are Arsenal looking for in a brand partner? 

Shared values are a given, and obviously partnerships need to work commercially and deliver positive brand association for both parties, as well as desired geographical reach.

What we are really looking for are brands that share our innovative approach and are prepared to join us in pushing boundaries through unique and bold activations. Football performance will always come first at Arsenal, but we create partnerships that offer the partner the right assets to meet our joint objectives and reflect our common partnership narrative away from the pitch.

I think it’s genuinely interesting for fans to see players in a different context whether that’s David Luiz visiting endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda (pictured), giving them a real insight into his infectious personality or meeting fans in adidas’ new flagship Oxford Street store. Partners give us that platform and we give them access to the assets that will work best in each situation.  

How do sustainable and green initiatives drive your approach to partnerships?

We are committed to leading the way on sustainability among Premier League clubs and we were very proud to come out on top of a recent study by the UN-backed Positive Sport Summit and BBC Sport. Linked to our progressive values and sense of community, this pioneering approach is heavily reflected in our partnerships. 

Our ground-breaking battery storage system stores enough energy – provided by our Official Renewable Energy Partner Octopus Energy – to run Emirates Stadium for an entire match. This is the equivalent of powering 2,700 homes for two hours. We were the first Premier League club to switch to 100% green electricity in our stadium and across all of our London training ground and office sites and the first to install the Battery Storage System, which really sets us apart from other clubs.

Also in partnership with Octopus Energy, we have planted 500 trees since 2018 to build the new ‘Colney Wood’ at Arsenal’s Training Centre. This is in addition to the 29,000 trees the club has planted at the Training Centre since 1999.

Together with Camden Town Brewery, we were also the first Premier League club to implement a re-usable cup scheme. We are already well on the way to saving half a million single use plastic cups since we started the project at the end of last season. 

We also have some fantastic community initiatives in the pipeline to help create new jobs with our Official Coffee Partner, Lavazza, and a unique health and wellbeing programme with Vitality, our Health and Well-being Partner. 

Arsenal Football Club was born, and remains, rooted in the community. We understand that the power of football and the unique connection that Arsenal has with our community enables us to reach out to many in society in a way that few organisations can. Through our fantastic Arsenal in the Community team and The Arsenal Foundation, we make the most of this privilege – working across North London and globally to help young people thrive.

The deal with adidas and the ensuing 2019/20 kits seem to have captured the imagination of Arsenal fans and even the wider football watching public. What do you think it is about the design and the partnership that’s been successful so far?

Adidas and Arsenal have a successful history together that began with the original partnership back in 1986 through to the '93/94 season. It was a much-anticipated reunion after 25 years and we wanted to nod to the classic shirts that are important to our fans whilst also creating a kit that marked a new era for Arsenal.  

We are immensely proud of our rich history and heritage. The late 80s and early 90s were a key period that shaped the modern identity of Arsenal and cemented our position as a leading global football club. By tapping into that iconic era, we evoked the spirit of that time which now gives a new generation of Arsenal fans the opportunity to connect with the club’s incredible history. 

Whether it’s inside Emirates Stadium or on the streets of Highbury and Islington or beyond, the variety of ways people are wearing the shirts, you can see we have successfully tapped into something very special together which is appealing to our fans all over the globe. 

How does the return of the Bruised Banana range with adidas demonstrate nostalgia for brand partnerships if they resonate with a fanbase?

The success of Arsenal Football Club on the pitch will always come first but most fans realise, and appreciate, that a strong commercial programme is a prerequisite for success in modern-day football. However, such a commercial programme can only really cut it with fans by leveraging the emotional connection that comes with supporting a team during the highs and the lows. 

That’s why we’ve brought back the famous Bruised Banana range with adidas Originals with a fittingly fantastic campaign for a fantastic kit, giving fans the chance to get their hands on one of the most iconic away shirts of all time. The adidas partnership evokes strong memories from 1986-94, a key period in shaping the modern identity of the Club, so crucially there is a lasting affinity from what was an extremely special era for Arsenal fans. This can be linked to the famous book – Fever Pitch – and the idea that fans equate unforgettable moments with certain points in their life. 

Arsenal and adidas have so many shared values - a respect for tradition and heritage but a desire to innovate and never stand still.  Community focus and a commitment to use our enormous combined strengths to do good are entrenched in both of us and Arsenal, and non-Arsenal fans, are respectful and appreciative of this.    

Away from adidas, a recent survey by Statista found that our Emirates shirt sponsorship generated 78% awareness among fans, the most recognised shirt sponsorship in the Premier League. This shows the true value of longevity when a brand becomes part of the shirt and part of the club – and ultimately becomes a defining part of our Premier League stature. The Emirates’ shirt partnership began in the 2006/2007 season, and the last extension means that Emirates will remain on the shirt of all Arsenal teams for at least 18 years – making it the longest running in the Premier League and one of the longest relationships in world sport.

Of course, you remember the goals and the special moments on the pitch first and foremost, but things like the shirt sponsor, kit manufacturer or sleeve sponsor also stay etched in your memory.

Arsenal’s partnership with Visit Rwanda has seen David Luiz travel to the country and a tie-in created with National Geographic, too. What’s the thinking behind this partnership and why, as a football club, is it important for Arsenal?

With Visit Rwanda, we wanted to create a partnership unique to so many partnerships we see in world sport. 

Rwanda is a nation with fierce ambition, determined to free itself from reliance on foreign aid and with a desire to break out of the poverty cycle and to radically change the narrative since the genocide in 1994. It’s a country that wants to showcase its incredible luxury tourism attractions and facilities and David’s trip was just one way we have chosen to portray this to the world.

Visit Rwanda is embedded in the club’s fabric with the logo on the sleeve of all our teams, but the collaboration has been designed not simply to raise awareness of Rwanda as a tourist destination, but to change perceptions of an entire country.

That’s why David Luiz travelled to the country to learn about the history and culture and to share his experience with an engaged global audience. There is a lot of talk in the industry about influencer marketing, and there aren’t many more powerful influencers than a Premier League footballer with 50 million plus followers on social media!

The National Geographic collaboration, again a unique element in this partnership, was an extension of the partnership that we facilitated to help us get to an audience beyond even Arsenal’s reach and channels. We wanted to do something different and really stretch our thinking. Partnering with such an authority in the travel space has, so far, led to 24.9m impressions of Rwanda content on National Geographic channels.  

When the partnership launched, many commented positively on the ambition of a country partnering with a global football club with such an established and well-regarded footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it also had its critics. The challenge was to counter a misleading narrative around Rwanda. The partnership stood firm and we’ve really shifted the dial. This includes an 8% rise in tourism in Rwanda and an independent study showing a positive change in the perception of the country amongst Arsenal fans and football fans globally.