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Visit Florida Spends Six Figures On English Soccer Sponsorship

Screen shot
Fulham Football Club

Florida's public-private tourism agency has signed a deal to sponsor a professional soccer club in England's second-highest league.

The Visit Florida logo will appear on Fulham Football Club jerseys. The logo will also be on the three roofs of its London stadium, known as Craven Cottage, which is along the flight path for Heathrow Airport.

Fulham is owned by Shahid Khan, who also owns the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

Paul Phipps, chief marketing officer with Visit Florida, says the one-year deal cost "high six figures," but would not specify an exact value. An outside evaluation found every dollar spent on the sponsorship deal would yield three dollars in return.

"We're really looking to do some bigger things in the [United Kingdom] this year as a state," Phipps said. "England, the U.K., is critical to what we're doing in tourism."

Phipps said the groundwork for the deal was laid last year when the Jaguars played in London. Visit Florida struck up a relationship with Fulham and built on it over the past year.

"It fits for us," Phipps said, "because we're taking the soccer fan and the U.K. -- Fulham's the oldest club in London -- and tying into that passion and tying into the Florida brand."

Fulham has a stronger connection to the United States than most British soccer clubs. The team was once nicknamed "Fulhamerica" because so many Americans -- Clint Dempsey, Kasey Keller, Brian McBride -- played on it. Fulham was in England's top division until 2014, when it was relegated -- sent to the second division -- for finishing in the bottom three.

Fulham's owner, Khan, also has a connection to Gov. Rick Scott. Khan gave $250,000 to the Let's Get To Work electioneering communications organization -- Scott's re-election muscle -- in September 2013.

Phipps said the Fulham sponsorship has nothing to do with Khan's donation, and that Scott has never spoken to the agency about sponsoring the club.

Credit Screen shot / Fulham Football Club
Fulham Football Club
Fulham Football Club announced the new jersey sponsors on the club website Friday.

"He has not once, in my three years there, picked the phone up and said 'I need you to do this or do that,'" Phipps said. "This deal is on its merits... this is about doing business."

Scott's office said he wasn't involved.

"Visit Florida makes their own marketing decisions," said John Tupps, Scott's deputy communications director.

Visit Florida received $74 million in the current state budget, but the rest of the firm's $215 million budget is privately raised.

Tourism has been surging in the state recently, with the state reporting a record 28.4 million visitors during the first three months of 2015. Second quarter figures will be released soon.