In the “good old days”, back when everything was perfect (aside from the fact most people globally lived shorter, more miserable lives and there were far more wars), football clubs did not have shirt sponsors. Swings and roundabouts, eh? Arsenal, including in their previous incarnations as Dial Square, Royal Arsenal and Woolwich Arsenal, played in a simple kit of plain red shirt, usually with white shorts, and socks that were either white, red, black, navy or some combination of those.
Back in the earliest years there wasn’t even a badge or crest, though the cannon was added in the 1960s, the manufacturer’s symbol being added at the end of that decade. Of course Arsenal were not alone in this and indeed shirt sponsorship did not become a thing until the 1970s. Depending which source you believe – and we can’t find any that seems 100% reliable – Coventry were the first club to wear playing kit emblazoned with a sponsor’s name, in 1974. Other sites say that Kettering Town were the British trailblazers and this took place in 1976, whilst some even claim this key moment for football finance came in 1979 and that Liverpool were the first. Yet others argue that Derby County wore a kit with Saab on the front in 1973 but only once.
Shirt Sponsors Throughout the Years
No matter how shirt sponsorship originated and which club can lay claim to this rather unimpressive first, Arsenal is, of course, our focus here. Over the years, the Gunners have had some iconic shirt sponsors. JVC, the first brand to appear on the iconic red and white Arsenal strip, immediately springs to mind, with the Japanese electronics company appearing on the club’s shirts throughout the 1980s and 90s.
This coincided with a golden period for the north London giants, who won three top-flight league titles in JVC-sponsored kit. The other that we might immediately think of is O2, the shirt sponsor of Arsenal’s greatest ever team, the Invincibles. Although the telecoms company only appeared on the Gunners’ shirts for four seasons, they will forever be associated with that brilliant, unstoppable Arsenal team, and we can all picture Thierry Henry looking magnificent in an iconic 02 shirt! In this article, we will take a look at the club’s shirt sponsors throughout the years, right up to their current (as of 2022) sponsor, Emirates.
Sponsors by Year
As we can see from the table below, the Gunners were definitely not among the vanguard of clubs who adopted shirt sponsorship before it was mainstream. That said, in 1981, when Arsenal did take a sponsor, the authorities were still fining clubs for playing in such shirts. The FA imposed sanctions on clubs who played in the FA Cup in sponsored shirts and UEFA did likewise in European competitions in the early months of that year. It was not until the mid-1980s that virtually all sizeable clubs had a shirt sponsor, so perhaps the Gunners were not so slow after all.
*As part of Arsenal’s deal with SEGA, the home shirt featured “Dreamcast” as the sponsor, which was a games console, whilst the away kits had SEGA on the front.
- Years: 1981-1999
- Legendary Players: Tony Adams, David Seaman, Ian Wright
- Iconic Rating: 9/10
JVC was a Japanese electronics brand, perhaps best known worldwide for developing the VHS video recorder, but they were also the first company to introduce televisions to Japan. Alongside their success in the electronics world, they’re also legendary in a certain part of north London, for being Arsenal’s first ever shirt sponsor, one that can now be seen on some of the most fantastic vintage kits around.
JVC’s sponsorship of the Gunners was immensely successful, with the 18-year deal seeing the club bring three Premier Leagues (including as the old First Division) and two FA Cups to north London, including winning the domestic double in the 97/98 season. For any Arsenal fans looking to buy one of these fantastic vintage shirts there are so many excellent ones, both home and away, for any classic football shirt collectors to get their teeth into!
- Years: 1999-2002
- Legendary Players: Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry
- Iconic Rating: 8/10
A long-forgotten console that had a very brief moment in the popular culture, the SEGA Dreamcast was a sixth-generation video game console released in 1999. This was the same year that SEGA finalised a reported £12 million deal to sponsor the Gunners’ kits, taking over from JVC. As part of this deal, the classic red and white Arsenal home kit would now have Dreamcast written on the front, as part of the electronic company’s desire to promote their new product, which was one that they had high hopes for!
Meanwhile, the club’s (particularly gorgeous) away shirts would feature the classic SEGA logo. The Dreamcast console was eventually discontinued in 2001, just two years after its release, as other sixth-generation consoles, such as the legendary PlayStation 2, blew it out the water. Due to its short lifespan, it is genuinely possible that the SEGA Dreamcast’s most noticeable impact on society was being written across the chests of the Arsenal side that won the league in 2001/02. It was also SEGA’s last foray into the console market, as they haven’t developed another one since.
- Years: 2002-2006
- Legendary Players: Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas
- Iconic Rating: 10/10
Perhaps the most iconic of all Arsenal kit sponsors, in no small part due to its role in the club’s famous Invincible season of 2003/04, is the British telecoms brand, O2. Both the classic red and white home shirt, and yellow away strip, remain iconic, although they perhaps aren’t quite as aesthetically pleasing as the JVC or SEGA kits.
However, what they lacked in aesthetic points was more than made up for by the on-field success that the Gunners enjoyed wearing them. Although only shirt sponsors for four seasons, this period not only included their league triumph in 03/04, but also saw the north London giants win two FA Cups and two Community Shields and saw them build one of the strongest teams in history.
When Emirates took up this role in 2006, O2 remained a secondary sponsor of the club, which continued until they eventually ended this partnership in 2012. The telecoms brand claimed that this decision was taken to allow them to focus on their sponsorship of England rugby, although many speculated that it was due to Arsenal’s lack of success, as they went seven seasons without winning a trophy during this period.
- Years: 2006-2024*
- Legendary Players: Robin van Persie, Santi Cazorla, Bukayo Saka
- Iconic Rating: 7.5/10
*Arsenal’s current deal with Emirates is due to finish at the end of the 2023/24 season, but it may be extended.
The last 17 years have been a turbulent time for the Gunners, in which they have gone through a number of dramatic ups and downs, yet one thing has remained consistent throughout. No, its not Gunnersaurus (we’re afraid), it is Fly Emirates being on the front of their kits!
The airline, who also own the naming rights to Arsenal’s stadium, extended their sponsorship deal with the club in 2018 for a reported £150 million, which will allow them to sponsor the north London giants’ kits until at least until the end of the 2023/24 campaign. This is currently the longest running shirt sponsorship in the Premier League. Alongside this record, Emirates also have the unfortunate label of being the only Arsenal kit sponsor to have never sponsored a title-winning team, something that significantly lowers their iconic rating. This is a shame, as some of the kits produced in this era have been nothing short of stunning, and it is a period that has also seen some absolutely fantastic players come to north London.
Arsenal Kit Manufacturers
Arsenal Kit Manufacturers
- 1965-1988 – Umbro
- 1986-1994 – Adidas
- 1994-2014 – Nike
- 2014-2019 – Puma
- 2019-Present Day – Adidas
In recent times the role of shirt and kit maker has taken on more importance. Huge companies like Nike and Adidas invest billions of dollars a year on sponsorship to raise awareness, and more importantly improve the image and prestige of their brands. Much of this is in the US on sports like basketball and American football, but a huge sum is spent on football, with much of that paid to clubs to be their shirt-maker.