English Premier League club Southampton is thought to be searching for a new main sponsor after the termination of its deal with Chinese company LD Sports.
The front-of-shirt sponsorship contract, signed ahead of the 2019-20 season, was worth £6.5m (€7.2m/$8.5m) per season and had been due to run until the end of the 2021-22 season.
The brand has exercised a break clause in the contract to terminate the association after just one season due to concerns over the political situation between China and the UK, as well as the ongoing uncertainty around the Covid-19 pandemic, according the Mail on Sunday.
It would leave Southampton searching for a new front-of-shirt sponsor with the 2020-21 Premier League season due to kick off in September.
English Football League Championship club Blackburn Rovers is in a similar situation after its contract with front-of-shirt sponsor, Chinese betting firm 10Bet was ended.
Concerns were raised about the Southampton’s relationship with LD at the time of signing, with the LD Sports product offering unknown and the company yet to launch.
In May 2020, Mark Dreyer, founder of China Sports Insider, told SportBusiness Sponsorship: “I don’t think it’s a scam per se, but it’s a huge risk for the club to be taking – in effect gambling on an unknown company and announcing it as the biggest deal in their history.
“There may be more to this than has initially appeared, but who is to say that LD Sports – whose vague future product has a landing page and absolutely nothing else – will still be in existence three years from now, filling the club’s coffers?”
Southampton was the first Premier League club to come under Chinese ownership when founder of China’s Lander Sports agency, Gao Jisheng bought an 80-per-cent stake in the club in 2017 for a reported fee of £200m.
In May 2019, the Premier League concluded an investigation into Chinese state influence at Southampton, after Gao sold shares in Lander Sports to the Chinese government.
The league found that the Chinese government had “not gained a significant stake” in Southampton.