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Visit Florida nets renewed deal with football club

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Visit Florida's logo remains emblazoned for a second season across the front of uniforms for the London-based Fulham Football Club.

A one-year renewal as the club's sponsor, at a cost of $1.25 million, came without the fanfare that accompanied a deal approved a year ago by Visit Florida, the state's tourism-marketing arm. Last year, the arrangement was described as a "high six figure" deal.

The decision to include the price tag on the deal this year was made after the agency got approval to do so by club owner Shad Khan, a Naples resident who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and has been a political backer of Gov. Rick Scott.

"He said, 'If it helps the state, I'm fine with that,' " said Paul Phipps, Visit Florida's chief marketing officer. "He was willing to give a deal that he wouldn't give to someone else because he thinks that's going to help Jacksonville."

The financial disclosure is a change for the agency, which often claims a need to protect trade secrets about deals such as the initial Fulham contract or a separate arrangement with Miami rapper Pitbull to be an ambassador for the state.

A post Tuesday on Sunshine Matters, the corporate blog of Visit Tuesday, outlined the Fulham deal, which includes a tie-in with the Jaguars' Oct. 2 game against the Indianapolis Colts at Wembley Stadium in London.

"I am elated to have Visit Florida returning to Fulham and the Jags for what I believe is one of the more distinctive and imaginative partnerships, not only in football, but in all of sports," Khan said in the blog post.

Khan is also expected to address the deal when he speaks next month in Orlando at the Governor's Conference on Tourism, which is coordinated by Visit Florida.

Phipps said the Fulham deal is part of a wider strategy by Visit Florida to draw more visitors from the United Kingdom, which is one of Florida's largest international markets.

"Would I do it if the U.K. wasn't my top international origin market? No, I certainly wouldn't," Phipps said. "But they are, and I need them and I need more of them. They stay longer. If I lose a Brit, I need like four domestic visitors."

Last year, nearly 1.7 million British tourists crossed the Atlantic to visit the Sunshine State, an increase of about 100,000 from the prior year.

However, the renewal of the contract comes as British health officials have issued advisories about travel to Florida by pregnant women and people planning pregnancies due to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

The renewal of the deal was initially mentioned, without details, by the Fulham club through a pre-season release about a uniform redesign. Visit Florida is also named on the club's website as being a principal sponsor for the recently started season.

The club, which plays in the Sky Bet Championship League, England's second-division soccer league, is three games into its season.

Adidas is the other principal sponsor of the club.

As with the initial one-year deal, the Visit Florida name appears atop the roof of the club's stadium, Craven Cottage. The stadium, located along the banks of the River Thames, is under a landing approach to London's Heathrow Airport.

Fulham's uniform redesign, which on the home whites features the Visit Florida logo under a horizontal red line across the chest, is inspired by the version worn in 1975, a season considered one of the club's most famous in its 137-year history.

So far this year the club has recorded two wins and one draw.