Why brands should be making time for football clubs (and how)

by Chris Ward on August 20, 2021

It was that pivotal time of the year in the footballing world… after months of negotiations, contracts and signatures on the dotted line, clubs were unveiling their new signings, not just players on the pitch but the equally important commercial partnerships. While most players returned to pre-season training following their summer break, that time away proved to be a flurry of activity for the commercial teams inside the clubs.

Love it or loathe it, modern football has a huge commercial side; the working man’s game many grew up with has long disappeared, replaced by players on Tik Tok or Twitch streams about Fortnite. Of course, those deals can help fund those new signings that can launch a club to new heights and moments that’ll remain engrained in its history forever. But there’s a limit to how far the everyday fan will tolerate the direction their club is heading in off the pitch (and that’s before we even think about those not so super leagues). Gaze at the partnership list on any Premier League club’s website, and you’ll find an endless number of tenuous deals. From official tyre sponsors to Official Global Lubricant Partners (no, seriously), nothing is too spurious to have a partnership label slapped on it. Which brings us to our point...

Why are there so few timing partners in football?

Think about it. The concept of time ties into the beautiful game, well, beautifully. The suspense of the clock ticking down as your team chases a last-minute winner; the blockbuster thrillers that are over before you’ve even had a moment to check your watch; the 0-0 bore-fest which seemed to drag on forever, leaving you wishing you’d stayed in the pub instead. Time plays its part in all of them. With the worldwide interest in the big leagues, combined with devoted fans across the globe, you’d think the idea of creating a well-crafted Swiss watch integrating the club’s story would be a winner for just about everyone involved.

But, somehow, it hasn’t caught on. Despite at least 3.2 billion worldwide watching a Premier League game in 2017, only a quarter of the clubs ahead of the 2021/22 season have their own official timing partner. Considering that nearly half of the planet’s population have access to the league, why aren’t Swiss watch brands diving on this potential treasure trove like a keeper smothers the ball protecting his team’s lead in the final minute? Here’s our answer: They don't understand football.

Football is for the fans.

It sounds obvious, but it’s true. Most Swiss watch brands don’t understand football, nor do they make an effort to. Simply put, they’re not fans. It’s an alien world, far away from their usual safe and sanitised advertising. And because they don’t get how football operates, they make mistakes.

The warning signals range from the small to the large. The latter, for example, being the Swiss watchmaker whose club-branded haute horology costs tens of thousands of pounds, beyond the budget of even many well-off fans. Yet arguably the greater sin is that Swiss watch brands don’t even attempt to relate to what makes football special to the supporters. Marketing nonsense that refers to the ‘effortlessly stylish sophistication’ of a club watch, but then nothing about the history of the club or its traditions (ironic, considering the industry sets it store by the concept of heritage). Save us the watchmaking stereotypes – you know, the ones you copied over from the rest of your collection that have no affiliation with football – and try to get inside the mindset of the fans. What possesses people to hold this lifelong obsession of watching 11 players chase a ball around a pitch? What makes them tick?

From boys to men.

The Saturday routine. Making your way to the first pub of the day. Meeting your mates and catching the bus to the ground. Watching the early kick-off in the second pub as you look up the team selection on your phone. Passing by the usual characters as you make your way to the stadium, seeing the same families alongside you as your make your way up to your seats. The sense of belonging that comes amongst the roaring crowd. The drama. The spectacle. The euphoria or heartbreak of fulltime. And that’s before we even get onto those special away trips…

At TRIBUS, as football fans who also know how to create beautifully engineered Swiss-made watches, we didn’t want to shy away from the human side of the game. In fact, it was this angle that we want to embrace most.

We recognise that football has a primal edge. It’s not golf, tennis or sailing. It doesn’t have the gentile crowds, jumpers wrapped around their necks, clapping politely over a jug of Pimms. Football is theatre, with every emotion played out in front of thousands of people. Players become heroes and villains, the crowd responding to every tackle and red card. And in the midst of this drama, sometimes those tensions spill out on the pitch or elsewhere…  

That side is what makes football, football. The rivalries between fans add that extra spice to matchday, with bragging rights on the line and the powder-keg atmosphere ready to explode at any moment. Sometimes, it gets ugly. Players, managers and fans are known to enjoy a good scrap every now and then. But those can be the memories that last longest and shine brightest. They’re also exactly the opposite of what luxury Swiss watch brands want. Rather than the sanitised content they can use for generations to come – the tennis player holding a trophy aloft, the sailor racing on a boat that costs more than a mansion – football does have that mean streak. Crunching tackles and broken limbs; kung-fu kicking members of the crowd; headbutting opposition players. You wouldn’t find that happening in golf.

Yet the fact remains that these things can happen is part of the appeal. People spend days and weeks looking towards those 90 minutes, during which nothing else matters. It can be unpredictable, it can be aggressive, it can be beautiful, and anywhere in-between. And while that might scare off other brands, at TRIBUS we recognise it to be part of the game we’ve grown up with and dedicated our lives to. We understand what it means to be part of something bigger, following the same club as our dad and grandad, making the trip every other Saturday to our home away from home. We know that your club is one of the most important things in your life; something you have no control over, that pushes you through the ringer of every emotion possible, but you wouldn’t change it for the world. Because fans aren’t made, they’re born.

Football can tear at the heartstrings like little else can, and it’s that emotional connection which we want to highlight. Take our partnership with Brentford FC, for example. Now a club readying itself for its debut season in the Premier League, we joined forces with the club last season as it departed from Griffin Park, its home for 116 years. Griffin Park was about as traditional a ground as you could find. Definitely a ground – certainly not a stadium! – you could sense the history as you walked around the place; from the wooden benches in the southwest corner of the Braemar Road Stand to the patchwork of different additions tacked onto the ground over more than a century.

It was an authentic place, built for football – and not the glossy kind served up in the Premier League. For decades, Brentford was a club defined by shoestring budgets, languishing in the lower leagues with the odd playoff failure just to test fans’ resilience. Any glory supporters were better off heading a little further along the M4, into Chelsea, Fulham and Queen’s Park territory. At Brentford, the fans made their way to Griffin Park every fortnight out of sheer love for their club, a way of life they couldn’t bear without.

It was meant to Bee.

Fortunately for them, the Bees began to embark on a rapid upward trajectory following the arrival of owner Matthew Benham, culminating in the club’s promotion from the Championship to the Premier League – perfectly coinciding with its move to the brand-new Brentford Community Stadium. Just under a mile away, Griffin Park would soon await demolition. At TRIBUS, we didn’t want that to be the end of its story. A club’s home is special – a place of memories, friendships and more – and we wanted to help create something that Brentford fans could remember it by for decades to come. The result was the TW8 Limited Edition, a watch containing a disc of metal melted down from the handrails of the ground. Not just a copy of a watch from our normal range with a club badge shoehorned onto the dial, the TW8 was designed from a blank canvas to reflect Brentford FC: its traditional past, its exciting future, with club colours, crest and ground all involved. Because that’s what real fans deserve – not a cynical, lazy cash-in.

So while other Swiss watch brands shy away from football, that’s fine by us. Their watches wouldn’t be designed for fans, by fans, like ours are. And in a new age where people attend games in trainers costing more than a ticket to the cricket or tennis, we want to show that precision Swiss watchmaking can speak for them too. Our next partnership? You’ll have to wait until the start of the season...


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