Russia’s Gazprom used to be in the thick of the action when it came to big sponsorship deals in European football, but nowadays, given the sanctions upheaval caused by the Kremlin’s march into Ukraine, it can’t even make it on to the substitutes’ bench.
The gas giant has effectively suffered a relegation to the lower tiers of the beautiful game, hence the reports on April 24 suggesting it is on the verge of a deal on the edge of Europe, namely with Turkish football club Besiktas, who play in Turkey’s top-flight Super Lig as one of the Istanbul Big Three. TRT Spor TV reported that Gazprom and Besiktas were close to signing a three-year sponsorship contract that will pay the Turkish club €61.5mn.
The agreement would reportedly include an option to extend the deal for an additional two years and could be concluded in the coming days, the channel said, adding that it would give Gazprom naming rights for the club’s stadium.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a former semi-professional football player, who says he was only red-carded once in his career (for disagreeing with a referee’s decision) and is a big proponent of fair play. Thus, despite his well-known support for Besiktas’ Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce (the other Istanbul Big Three club is Galatasaray), he’s unlikely to put in a block tackle on the deal, especially as he is for ever asking Gazprom and Vladimir Putin for discounts on Turkey’s hefty Russian gas bill.
Currently, the UK’s Vodafone is the main sponsor of 16-times Turkish champions Besiktas, but its sponsorship agreement with the club expires at the end of this season.
Turkish media have reported that Besiktas’ deputy chairman Serhan Cetinsaya will travel to Russia in the near future to sign the sponsorship agreement with Gazprom.
Besiktas JK sports club, founded in 1903, plays its home football games at Istanbul’s Vodafone Park stadium, which has a capacity of over 40,000. Besiktas is currently in third place in Turkey’s top football league.
Turkey has not imposed any sanctions on Russia or Russians in response to the Ukraine invasion and ongoing war. It has also pledged to respect Western sanctions on Russia, but there is a lot of concern in Western capitals that Moscow is exploiting major sanctions “leakage” in Turkey, using the country as a conduit to obtain sanctioned goods and services.
There is also concern that Turkey, which has plans to become a regional gas hub, may be tempted to breach EU sanctions by piping Russian gas with disguised origins into the European pipeline network.