Sports Direct picks up 3-year naming rights deal for Irish Cup

May 31 – Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has picked up the title sponsorship of the Irish Cup, but the new deal is not without controversy after the Irish FA (FAI) had to work its way out of a €6.5 million debt owed to the retailer.

The UK-based sports and leisurewear chain will add its name to both the men’s and women’s cup competitions in Ireland, which will be called the Sports Direct Men’s FAI Cup and the Sports Direct Women’s FAI Cup.

“The agreement sees Sports Direct become the principal partner to both the Men’s and Women’s FAI Cups for the next three seasons,” said the FAI. No value was given for the sponsorship.

Jonathan Hill, CEO of the FAI, said: “We are pleased to announce this new partnership with Sports Direct who, as Title Sponsor, will play a key role in helping us bring both Cups to an even bigger audience.

“We believe there is huge potential within both competitions, and it is great for us to secure another partner at Lead level to match our ambition for the competition.”

However, Sports Direct have a complicated history with the FAI.

They first sponsored the FAI’s summer soccer schools in 2016 before entering a controversial deal with Sports Direct in 2018, seeking advance payment of €6.5 million in 2019 to help deal with their emerging financial crisis.

The deal came under the leadership of now disgraced official John Delaney. Sports Direct demanded the repayment in full of the €6.5 million within days after Delaney left his CEO post.

In 2020 the FAI confirmed they would be repaying the loan by monthly instalments of €100,000 up to 2025.

“The FAI didn’t get much out of it at all. And I think it was probably, in hindsight, a misguided approach,” said Hill previously.

“At the time, particularly from the Sports Direct side, they committed to the deal with the best possible intentions and I’m sure that they would have loved to have been involved in Irish football moving forward but that wasn’t to be the case. And we’ve had to unravel it.”

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