English Premier League Sunderland FC's "new and unusual" home uniform sponsor, Invest in Africa, is "causing plenty of debate," according to Ed Upright of the N.Y. TIMES. Invest in Africa is a not-for-profit "partnership of companies" with the declared aim of "promoting Africa as open for business, by challenging misconceptions and inspiring new investors." The organization boasts an African middle class of 300 million. Tullow Oil CEO Aidan Heavey has a huge role to play as "the founding partner of Invest in Africa" and, as yet, the only investor in the initiative. While Invest in Africa and Tullow are technically separate entities, the name on Sunderland's shirt "is exclusively financed by the oil company." The announcement on Sunderland's Invest in Africa deal was followed by "some negative reaction in Britain." The London-based NGO Platform saw the arrangement as Tullow "framing its drilling operations in the rhetoric of growth and development." Meanwhile, Sunderland supporters are divided. Many have been "seduced by the financial possibilities for the club."
Others feel much more concerned. Some have pointed out that "the reputation of the club is now aligned with that of the African oil industry." Many feel morally compromised by the positive language of Invest in Africa and the more complicated situation with Tullow Oil. In the past Sunderland's sponsors "have been local brewers, car dealers and online bingo companies." This big int'l deal for a mid-ranking club shows how branding and business development dominate the EPL at all levels. If Sunderland increases its "market share" in Africa successfully enough it may be able to rise a few places up a league already clogged with money (N.Y. TIMES, 8/1