How Inter Milan and Paramount+ Reinvented the Jersey Sponsorship
One of the Inter Milan TMNT kits
Inter Milan / FEVO

How Inter Milan and Paramount+ Reinvented the Jersey Sponsorship

April 19, 2024

Brand sponsorship is a tried-and-true marketing formula in professional sports and has been for decades. Team lends cachet and eyeballs to brand; brand gives money to team. Sponsorship in a nutshell. 

Nowadays just about every aspect of a sports organization’s operations is sponsored or presented by a recognizable name or logo. There is an “Official [Insert Product Category] of the [Insert Sports Team]” for an endless array of categories: banks, cars, beers, insurance companies. The stadium sponsorship, first created by Anheuser-Busch for the naming rights to the St. Louis Cardinals stadium in the ‘50s, has become the de facto method globally for drawing large sponsorship dollars. Very few major stadiums in 2024 lack a brand name plastered in size-8,000 typeface across their exterior. 

In European sports — as well as in a steadily growing faction of American sports — another one of the most impactful channels for brands to get in front of sports fans is via kit sponsorships. It was a practice that became mainstream in the early ‘70s, when Jagermeister became the official kit sponsor of Eintracht Braunschweig. After that, the practice exploded across Europe, leading to some truly iconic kits (Liverpool and Carlsberg, Arsenal and O2, Barcelona and UNICEF, Fiorentina and Nintendo — the list goes on and on).

The way it typically works is that a brand will sign a kit sponsorship deal with a club for a certain number of years, and their logo will be emblazoned across the chestplate of the shirt (home, away, alternate) for the duration of that contract. 

That model is not what Inter Milan of Italy’s Serie A have been doing this past year, though. They signed a three-year deal with Paramount+ at the start of the 2023/24 season to serve as the club’s main kit sponsor (after a rare one-off single-game sponsorship for the Champions League Final in 2023). Entertainment sponsorships are nothing new by any stretch; however, the way Paramount+ and Inter are activating their partnership is, and it has had a positive impact benefiting the holy triad of sponsor, club and fan.

The partnership has taken a page out of the streetwear’s drop culture to release limited-edition shirts that are worn in actual games and also sold on Inter’s website. These shirts aren’t just done in a unique colorway (like Arsenal’s No More Red kit, which raises awareness of knife crime in the UK), but with completely new sponsor artwork. 

Let us explain: the standard Inter kits feature the Paramount Mountain with the brand’s wordmark below it. As a streaming service, Paramount+ plays host to a wide range of intellectual property (including — appropriately — US rights to watch all Serie A matches), and much of that IP has strong brand equity on its own merits. Through their partnership with Inter, Paramount+ uses that brand equity to generate buzz for content that’s new to the platform. In December of 2023, Inter took the field in limited-edition Transformers kits, and in March of this year, they rolled limited-edition Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle kits kits. Replicas of both shirts sold out almost immediately. 

Why did these kits get made? Simple: to draw attention to shows and movies that are newly available to Paramount+. At a game in February, Master Chief from Halo, another show streaming on Paramount+, could be seen out on the pitch high-fiving players. These activations brought Inter Milan and their sponsors an insane amount of earned media, and not just from industry publications. They also essentially created grail pieces of merch for Inter fans: special shirts that will never be sold again. 

“Why are you telling us this?”, you’re probably asking. Well, we think there are some lessons to take away, especially as more and more American franchises experiment with jersey sponsorship. Introducing club jerseys and merch in partnership with intellectual property that already has its own fan base is an easy way to not only earn a few bucks, but also to draw in new audiences and create an entirely new breed of superfan. When someone is a fan of not only your team but also the brand on your shirt, the excitement coefficient is more than doubled. 

This creates a virtuous circle. Fans enjoy unique, cultish items, sponsors get additional eyeballs and press, teams get new fans and more revenue from added item sales. These sort of unique jerseys can serve as entry points for new fans, acceleration points for fans who have yet to pull the trigger on a piece of merch, and must-have additions to the collections of your most hardcore fans. It essentially allows you to double-dip on your sponsors, getting paid for the partnership as well as additional sales from products made in collaboration with said partner. 

Inter and Paramount+ have been judicious thus far, not overdoing the drops and making sure every one of them is carefully thought out, well designed and impactful. Not every partnership can include multigenerational entertainment franchises like TMNT and Transformers, but the partnership is instructive nonetheless. Imagine a sandwich shop with massive popularity among locals launching new sandwiches throughout the season designed by your players, or a local brewery launching new beers in-stadium with attendant, special-edition merch. This type of campaign builds a sense of hometown pride among fans and makes them feel appreciated, deepening their bond with your team.

So, don’t be afraid to put out weird products. If you were playing the brand-association game, no one would ever guess that TMNT and Inter Milan were a match. But now the two will forever be inexorable, and fans are hyped about it. Which in turn means media outlets get hyped on it. Which means more fans — and potential fans — see it.

The opportunities are endless. It just requires teams and their partners to think a bit differently about the “typical way” sponsorship is done. You might be surprised what you come up with. 

Some related reading on jerseys and sponsorship...

Esquire: Fashion FC: How Venezia became the trendiest football team in the world

Versus: The 25 most iconic football shirt sponsors of all time

High Snobiety: The evolution of the Inter's jerseys and their impact in today's fashion

The Guardian: The perfect fit: how sport and fashion became a dream team

Sports Innovation Lab: Top 25 most innovative sponsors in sports

And some other assorted nuggets of internet wisdom from this week...

Frank Michael Smith: Greatest in-game sports props

The Athletic: A new group is buying up minor league baseball teams at a feverish pace. What's the end game? NBA sets all-time records for attendance and sellouts in 2023-24

Versus: AC Milan just opened an NBA-Style 'courtside' seating section at San Siro

CBS Sports: Future of college football spring games? Ole Miss' blueprint is fun and mostly football-free

Billboard: What’s the secret to selling to superfans? Ask the Grateful Dead — or a K-Pop act

BBC: Deaf Newcastle United fans 'feel the match' with vibrating shirts

How Inter Milan and Paramount+ Reinvented the Jersey Sponsorship