Chelsea's New Jersey Sponsor Seeks Vast Prospects in Premier League

Charlie Ebersol, a seasoned entrepreneur, is accustomed to the constant interruptions of his daily life due to his buzzing phone. However, even within that familiar context, his phone has been ringing nonstop in recent weeks.

“People I haven’t heard from in years are suddenly calling me,” says the tech-savvy businessman. “They claim to be huge Chelsea fans, traveling to London annually to watch their games.

They want to catch up!” Ebersol chuckles, adding, “I can’t help but think, you didn’t call for 15 years, and now you’re reaching out. I had to be associated with the company on the front of your favorite team’s shirt for you to reconnect… I get it.”

Ebersol says this with a grin, fully aware of the significance of the situation. It’s not just about the money – it’s a substantial financial commitment for his in-game analysis company, Infinite Athlete, which is investing over £40 million ($49.2 million) to have its name prominently displayed on the jerseys of Chelsea’s men’s, women’s, and academy teams.

Sponsorships in football rarely generate this level of interest, but the name emblazoned on the front of Chelsea’s shirt has been a notable story for the past 19 months – and at times, the absence of one has raised eyebrows.

It all started when the previous sponsor, Three, suspended its deal with Chelsea. This decision came in March last year, following the UK government’s sanctions against the club’s former owner, Roman Abramovich, in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Three requested that its logo be removed from the shirts until the ownership issue was resolved, which took two months to happen under the Todd Boehly-Clearlake consortium, although that request was never acted upon.

Nonetheless, Three’s decision did not sit well with the club’s supporters, and there was an uncommon sense of relief when the mobile phone company’s contract expired following the 2022-23 season.

With Three’s departure, the new leadership of the club, following a challenging first season at the helm marked by Chelsea’s rare failure to qualify for European competition, faced another dilemma.

An arrangement with Paramount+ was rejected by the Premier League in June due to concerns about potential conflicts with the league’s broadcasting partners.

Subsequently, discussions with the gambling company were abandoned after fans expressed their strong opposition to close ties with a betting firm. There were also discussions with Riyadh Air, the Saudi state airline, regarding a possible agreement.

During this interim period, the team sported jerseys devoid of any sponsors.

A year prior, Ebersol had initiated discussions with co-owners Behdad Eghbali and Boehly. They were exploring the potential of Ebersol’s company, Tempus Ex Machina, which specialized in data stream consolidation, data visualization, and integrated player tracking technology for various sports clubs and leagues, to enhance the fan experience on Chelsea’s Fifth Stand app.

In April, they officially announced a seven-year partnership. However, it wasn’t until all three men were present at the Kenan Memorial Stadium in North Carolina, watching Chelsea’s pre-season friendly against Wrexham in July, that the concept of an official sponsorship was floated.

In just a matter of days, they reached an agreement, but, similar to the halted Paramount+ deal, it required approval from the Premier League.

From an external perspective, there were suspicions. Rivals observed Chelsea’s summer transfers of fringe players to clubs in Saudi Arabia, leading to speculations (which Chelsea denied) regarding Clearlake’s connections to the Public Investment Fund, Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund.

Much of the uncertainty also revolved around the origins of Infinite Athlete. The company had been launched only in August, and questions arose about how it could afford such a substantial fee right from the start.

In reality, the new brand, Infinite Athlete, emerged when Tempus Ex Machina acquired Biocore LLC, a biomechanical analytics firm.

Although it may have seemed like a recent player in the field, it was, in fact, a fusion of two companies established in 2019 and 2009, respectively.

Nonetheless, the Premier League had its established procedures, and it fell upon Ebersol to secure its approval. It took until September 30, more than two months after Chelsea and Ebersol had reached an agreement, for the green light to be given.

Ebersol reflects, “My mother, the television and film actress Susan Saint James, told me when I was growing up that ‘everything works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it is not the end.

It didn’t hurt that during the waiting period, people were asking the question: ‘What is Infinite Athlete?’ After all, that’s the essence of sponsorship – to get noticed and for people to learn.

So there was a benefit to this taking time. If I were 10-20 years younger, maybe I would have been more impatient. Now I can see that it worked out better than I could have hoped. If we had been approved right from the start, it wouldn’t have been as valuable to us.

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Ebersol’s familiarity with the Premier League worked in his favor. The entrepreneur and television producer had previously engaged in discussions regarding the potential utilization of his company’s technology.

Ebersol, a 40-year-old with a background that includes ventures like The Company and the Alliance of American Football, is well-known in the United States, partly due to his father, Dick Ebersol, a respected senior TV executive with decades of experience in sports broadcasting.

Despite these connections, there were no shortcuts in the process, as the timeline indicates. Ebersol explains, “We had prior communication with the Premier League, but as a privately held company, our business wasn’t widely known.

Only in the last year have we acquired multiple companies, signifying our evolving nature.”

Ebersol visited London on several occasions during the process to provide transparency to the Premier League. “We introduced them to some of our partners and investors because I wanted everything to be open and transparent.

We had nothing to hide. We are a large company operating in seven or eight countries with hundreds of employees. Our business is quite complex. Our motivation for this deal is to educate people about our company.

I was more than happy to do it. Plus, any excuse to enjoy a full English breakfast for several days in a row – that’s heaven on earth for me!”

Growing up surrounded by sports, Ebersol appreciates the Premier League’s meticulous efforts to protect its brand and the brands of its clubs throughout this process.

He notes, “There is a perception that for the right price, you can do anything. However, this process demonstrated that it’s not the case in the Premier League.

Your brand has to meet a certain standard for them to be comfortable with your representation. That was very satisfying. I knew that if I was approved, I wouldn’t be associated with someone I didn’t want to be.”

While some may dispute the last claim, the lengthy discussions with the Premier League indicate a thorough process.

One issue that arose was the involvement of some of the Premier League’s owners as investors in Infinite Athlete. Concerns were raised that their funds might inadvertently assist a competitor.

Ebersol clarifies, “Someone at the Premier League raised this concern, but I explained that’s not how it works. My investors are funds worth $90 billion.

Their investment in our company and the clubs is just one of many investments they make. They take it seriously and aim to make money, but it’s not as if they’ve put their entire life savings into it.”

Throughout the process, Ebersol refrained from speaking to the press to avoid hindering the negotiations. He emphasizes their commitment to focused and prudent investments, stating, “The idea that we’re casually purchasing a front-of-shirt sponsorship without a plan was amusing from our perspective.”

Ebersol believes that the potential provided by his company’s technology is boundless. Fans using its app will have the ability to track every touch made by their favorite player. Chelsea’s head coach, Mauricio Pochettino, can access clips of each action in a specific area of the pitch.

In-game analysis will be comprehensive, with viewers able to customize their viewing experience according to their specific needs.

As for the duration of the shirt sponsorship deal, the club’s official statement only mentioned the 2023-24 season. Ebersol reveals, “I had extensive meetings with the Premier League where we outlined a five-year roadmap explaining why this partnership goes beyond a single-year commitment.

That’s where they began to grasp that this was not a frivolous endeavor. It’s an opportunity — how often do you get the chance to be the front-of-shirt sponsor at a club like Chelsea?”

The sponsorship partnership with Chelsea is a multi-year deal, and the company also has a multi-year technology agreement.

Over the first year of the deal, various assets will become more apparent. Ebersol concludes, “Our goals are unique. We’re not selling cars or plane tickets; we’re aiming to integrate ourselves into the world of football.

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