Three has temporarily suspended its shirt sponorship of Chelsea FC amid a freeze imposed by the UK government on the ability of club owner Roman Abramovich to sell it.
The sanctions against the Russian billionaire prevent UK companies doing business with him, throwing a huge amount of uncertainty onto Chelsea’s commercial arrangements.
The government has imposed a number of constraints on the club, including the cessation of ticket sales and agreement of new player contracts. Campaign understands new sponsorship agreements are also prohibited.
The government has issued a special licence for the club to operate subject to certain conditions, but these do not explicitly set out what will happen to continuing sponsorship payments. Campaign understands the government is still co-ordinating with the club and the Premier League regarding this point.
When Campaign contacted Three on Thursday morning (10 March), the mobile brand said “we are in discussions with Chelsea and we are reviewing our position” but the situation moved rapidly and the suspension of the sponsorship was announced in the afternoon.
A Three spokesperson said: “In light of the government’s recently announced sanctions, we have requested Chelsea Football Club temporarily suspend our sponsorship of the club, including the removal of our brand from shirts and around the stadium until further notice.
“We recognise that this decision will impact the many Chelsea fans who follow their team passionately. However, we feel that given the circumstances, and the Government sanction that is in place, it is the right thing to do.
“As a mobile network, the best way we can support the people of Ukraine is to ensure refugees arriving in the UK from the conflict and customers currently in Ukraine can stay connected to the people who matter to them. Therefore, we are offering connectivity packages to all Ukrainians arriving in the UK, and those in Ukraine.”
Three became Chelsea’s main partner in a three-year deal running from the 2020/2021 season, with an option to extend.
Chelsea also has major sponsorship deals with Nike and Trivago.
Televised broadcasts of the club’s games are still permitted under the new restrictions.
Campaign has approached Chelsea FC for comment.
Editor’s note: This story was updated after Three announced the temporary suspension of its sponsortship.