Sponsor's fury over FA Cup

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The Independent Football

The FA Cup sponsors AXA reacted furiously last night after learning at second hand that the competition is no longer up for grabs. The financial services group accused the Football Association of being discourteous and unprofessional by not informing it in advance about a radical re-organisation of its commercial contracts.

From next season, the FA's current list of 10 sponsors will be halved, in pursuit of what it calls "fewer, deeper relationships'', copying the pattern established by the World Cup and Champions' League. To the delight of traditionalists, no individual sponsor will be linked with the FA Cup or the England team, putting an end to such mouthfuls as "The FA Cup sponsored by AXA''.

AXA seems unlikely to be involved as one of the new partners after Phil Hickley, its head of corporate affairs said: "The FA have been thoroughly unprofessional. They eventually faxed us a letter yesterday evening. That is how we learned of a major policy change which clearly affects us and our relationship with the FA. You would have thought they would have had enough courtesy, if not professionalism, to inform one of their main sponsors. It is staggering.'' AXA have sponsored the Cup for the past four years at a cost believed to be £25m.

Paul Barber, the FA's director of marketing, said: "AXA has been a great sponsor of the FA Cup, but there are certain properties which fans say belongs to them like the Cup and the England team.''

Adam Crozier, the FA's chief executive, said the new arrangement was part of "the FA Cup being returned to its rightful place'' in English football.

The announcement delighted the Football Supporters' Association, whose chairman, Malcolm Clarke, said: "Most of us had assumed that these days sponsorship of everything that moves was part and parcel of the game. We welcome what the FA have done – more power to their elbow.''

Current deals with Nationwide, which sponsors the England team, and AXA run out next June. Nationwide is likely to be one of the new partners signed up before the start of next season, as long as a fee can be agreed. Some analysts believe that the FA will find it difficult to attract the £10m a year it would like from each contract, effectively doubling its present commercial income.

Umbro will stay as official kit manufacturers for the remaining three years of the present deal. As well as Nationwide, makers of snack foods, soft drinks, cars and (controversially) beer are understood to be among other interested parties. Carlsberg, which sponsors the FA Vase, and other brewers will be invited to tender, despite links between alcohol, crowd trouble and misbehaviour by players.

FA SPONSORS 1998-2002: AXA: FA Cup. Burton: Menswear supplier. Carlsberg: FA Vase. Coca Cola: 'Soccer Star' Scheme for children under 16. Eidos: Associate partners. Nationwide: England team. One 2 One: Charity Shield. Sainsburys: Associate partners. Umbro: FA Trophy; Kit supplier. Walkers: Youth teams.

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