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N Korea find Worlds sponsors in Italy

June 8, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, published June 8, 2010

North Korea may be part of former president George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” and under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons programme but for a little known Italian maker of sportswear politics is not an obstacle in sponsoring their World Cup team.

The stable of football clubs already sponsored by Legea ranges from Welsh champions New Saints (Oswestry and Llansantffraid FC) to struggling Italian sides, but their recent deal with North Korea marks their debut in the big time of the World Cup.

“We don’t have the power of Nike and Adidas so we have to find other ways for people to speak about us,” commented Giuseppe Marinelli, head of marketing for Legea. “Political issues have nothing to do with us,” he adds.

For North Korea, which is reported to have turned down an offer of sponsorship from a Chinese company, the deal also represents a welcome injection of cash.

Mr Marinelli declined to reveal details of the contract, involving supply of the team’s all-red strip bearing the Legea logo. However he said it was less than the 4m euros over four years reported in the media and did include “a little cash”.

Legea said it contacted the North Korean football federation two months ago and haggled over the telephone for three days. North Korean officials visited company headquarters in Pompei, near Naples, and a deal was struck.

“Their way of thinking was rather different from that in the west, but we finally succeeded,” Mr Marinelli said.

Ranked 105th in the world, North Korea kick off next Tuesday against Brazil in Johannesburg in the G “Group of Death” that includes Portugal and Ivory Coast. Star striker Jong Tae-a is known as the “the People’s Wayne Rooney” but his partner in attack, Kim Myong-won (The Chariot), will have to play as goalie, if at all, because of a North Korean mix-up in submitting its squad.

To be sponsored by an Italian company also carries some irony as the last time North Korea competed in the World Cup, in 1966, they caused the biggest upset of all time by defeating Italy 1-0.

“It’s a good deal,” commented Nigel Currie, director of brandRapport, a UK sponsorship consultancy, calling it a “backdoor entry” for Legea into an expensive world of high exposure dominated by the big brands who pay the top teams tens of millions of euros a year in sponsorship.

“They will get unbelievable exposure. Chucking the politics aside, to get in front of a cumulative audience of 26 billion, it is a good way to do it. Politics won’t come into people’s thinking… and once you get to a reasonable size in this market you get bought by Nike or Adidas.

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