Espanyol follows Southampton, signs shirt deal with LD Sports – report

LaLiga club Espanyol has reportedly signed a new front-of-shirt deal with LD Sports – the mysterious, newly-launched Chinese content platform and shirt sponsor of Premier League club Southampton.

According to Espanyol news site PericosOnline.net, LD Sports will be named as the club’s new front-of-shirt sponsor in the next few days, ahead of its opening game of the season at home to Sevilla on Sunday.

PericosOnline said it believes the partnership is a four-year deal, from 2019-20 to 2022-23, and is expected to bring in a record fee for the club.

The arrival of LD Sports at Espanyol also means that current front-of-shirt sponsor, Mexican state tourist board Riviera Maya, will be forced to terminate its contract four years early.

Riviera Maya, the tourism promotion agency for Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, had signed a six-season deal as Espanyol’s front-of-shirt in 2017, set to end in 2022-23.

PericosOnline said Riviera Maya has agreed to downsize to an Official Partner-level deal without shirt inventory, though this is yet to be confirmed.

As early as July this year, PericosOnline had already reported that Riviera Maya may be forced out to make way for a new Chinese sponsor brought in by Chen Yangsheng, Espanyol’s billionaire Chinese owner.

The signing of LD Sports at Espanyol will raise the same questions as when the unknown Chinese brand first appeared on the Southampton shirt in May this year.

In an official statement, Southampton described the LD Sports tie-up as the “biggest sponsorship deal in the club’s history,” and Gao Jisheng, Southampton’s real estate billionaire owner, later told the Financial Times that the deal is worth “nearly twice” the £4.8m per season paid by former shirt sponsor Virgin Media.

But LD Sports’ product offering remains unclear, and its UK website has only begun to be populated with clickable links within the last few days. LD Sports claims to produce “original” and “exclusive” content, but at the time of writing, its UK website contains only archive footage pulled from Southampton TV and Espanyol TV.

LD Sports’ Chinese website, which was previously hosted at http://ledong6666.com, has been offline since the day of the partnership announcement, and its Weibo account has published only Southampton news updates and archive footage from Southampton TV – much like its UK website – since the account opened on June 6 this year.

SportBusiness Sponsorship has been in regular content with sources at Southampton since the partnership launch, and the club has reiterated that LD Sports is a “sports content, marketing and entertainment platform” with an “Asian focus,” targeting a “mainly Chinese audience”.

Mark Dreyer, founder of China Sports Insider, told SportBusiness Sponsorship at the time of the Southampton partnership launch: “There may be more to this than has initially appeared, but who is to say that LD Sports – whose vague future product has a landing page and absolutely nothing else – will still be in existence three years from now, filling the club’s coffers?”