When Fulham Football Club’s Matt Smith headed home a goal against Cardiff on Saturday, cameras were immediately focused on the center forward as he wheeled away from the goal to celebrate.
More than 4,000 miles away, officials from Visit Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing arm, were smiling.
Stamped in blue across Smith’s predominately white away soccer jersey — in photos picked up by the BBC, the Guardian and the Daily Mail — was the name “Visit Florida.”
On Friday, a day before the opener of the Sky Bet Championship League, England’s second-division soccer league, Fulham F.C., owned by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid “Shad” Khan, announced that the team would be sponsored by Visit Florida.
“I love Fulham and I love Florida, so naturally it brings me a lot of satisfaction to see two of my personal passions become one,” Khan, a supporter of Gov. Rick Scott, said in a prepared statement. “One of my stated goals has long been the expansion and development of Fulham as an international brand, particularly in the U.S. Visit Florida has a great tourism and leisure story to tell in the competitive London and UK market, and I don’t think there can be a better way of communicating all Florida has to offer than through the power and following of Fulham Football Club.”
The one-year deal, which Paul Phipps, Visit Florida’s chief marketing officer, said is “high six-figures,” is expected to generate a $3 return in Florida for each $1 spent.
“We think this sport ties into a very passionate fan base, and Florida can become the destination of choice,” Phipps said. “You have to find new and different ways to communicate your brand.”
Pushing the number of British tourists from the 1.6 million recorded last year to 1.7 million or 1.8 million could be worth up to $200 million to Florida, Phipps said.
“We will watch closely how this moves the needle,” Phipps said. “If it works, we’re going to keep doing it, and if it doesn’t we’ll do something else.”
Phipps said the state agency looked at other clubs, such as Manchester United, where sponsorship could run as high as $40 million, and determined the return from a high-profile top-division team wasn’t worth the cost.
Fulham, which finished 17th in the 24-team second division last season, a year after being relegated out of the top-level Premier League, had been sponsored the past two seasons by Marathonbet, a betting website.
Fulham on its website wasted no time starting to hawk jerseys with Visit Florida across the front that fans can purchase for about $70. The state isn’t getting a share of the jersey sales.
“We’re about getting people to visit,” Phipps said. “I love the fact that they’re selling shirts because people are walking around with my brand on them.”
In addition to appearing on Fulham’s home and away shirts, Visit Florida’s name will be featured atop the roof of the club’s stadium, Craven Cottage, which is under a landing approach to London’s Heathrow Airport, according to the club’s release.
Visit Florida, which this year is receiving $74 million from the state, has ventured into college and professional sports in the past.
Visit Florida has worked with college football and was involved when Khan’s Jaguars played the Dallas Cowboys last November in London.
For at least six years, Visit Florida has been involved as a sponsor in professional auto racing. And Visit Florida, driven by Scott’s desire to make Florida the destination of 100 million visitors a year, has long had its eyes on England.
Khan, a Naples homeowner who made his money with the Illinois-based auto-parts maker Flex-N-Gate, supported Scott during the 2014 gubernatorial contest. He dropped $250,000 into the coffers of the Tallahassee-based “Let’s Get to Work” committee, which backed the governor’s re-election effort.