With coverage of football now spread across the globe more than ever before, Rob Lyons looks at examples of sponsorship deteriorating the very identity of clubs.
The Collins English dictionary defines a club as,
“a group or association of people with common aims or interests.”
The common aim of a football club should be to win games but more importantly form part of the identity and community of whichever town, city, region or even country it is in. The sponsorship of a football club’s name, ground or in some cases the changing of the club’s colours has slowly crept into our game, decreasing the intrinsic value of the club.
Do we want our game to be overridden by commercial interests? Or do we keep the one thing that makes each football club individual -its identity?
A victory for fans came about recently when the decision was taken by the F.A. council last season to stop the name change of Hull City F.C. to Hull City Tigers. 110 years of history won through and rightly so.
For most, the changing of Hull’s name will matter little. However, the fans of these clubs see it as part of the identity of where they are from in these clubs and changing the name would be comparable to changing the name of the city they inhabit.
Name changes are one of the most drastic things that have occurred in recent times as companies vie for their piece of the football pie. Red Bull are one of the most well documented of these culprits. Salzburg in Austria, New York in America and, according to an article in The Mirror in 2013, the Red Bull hierarchy could be looking at investing in a Premier League club as well.
Although it is the cliché of clichés, allowing this to happen to clubs is selling the soul of a club. What would one chant on the side of the pitch? “I’m Red Bull ’til I die? We love you Red Bull we do?”
When football clubs are put in the same bracket as global corporations they become less about identity and more about profit.
Some of England’s football clubs for example have nicknames from their roots in the industrial cities of the North; these clubs’ nicknames come from the industry their city is most associated with – the Potters (Stoke City), the Blades (Sheffield United) etc. These nicknames didn’t come from a company name, they came from part of that city’s identity.
The lack of connection between the ownership and support causes this rift and ultimately causes clubs’ fans to become frustrated or, in some cases, start their own clubs in frustration with the current regime.
This is the case with FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon. Fans who are taking back the identity that the owners attempted to take from them.
Newcastle is another example of a club where fans are becoming disenfranchised with their owner, Mike Ashley. The short lived name change of St. James’ Park drove a divide between the club’s hierarchy and the fans. History and identity are associated with football clubs but commerciality and profit are slowly replacing the identity of football clubs across the globe.
The identity of a place rarely, if ever, comes from a company name. The name – Aviva Stadium will never hold the same esteem or history that Lansdowne Road held. The commercialisation of everything that is capable of making money in the world is something that is inevitable but are the sporting public just a little blemish on an inevitable changing of name, jersey colour etc?
This writer hopes not and also hopes that Hull City have given inspiration to fans who see their clubs going this way.
Ignorance towards business and football working in a conducive manner would be wrong and it is clear that sponsors have their role to play in helping a club’s fortunes but there is a fine line between helping the club’s finances and selling the original value of the club in the first place. If the name or colours of a club are taken away then a club’s primary being goes with it.
The main point of this article has certainly been about identity. the name of a place or the colour of a jersey are what makes football clubs unique. If clubs are to change these individual standout features then they lose what is the fabric of their very existence.
Their existence is rooted in the support base that has followed its every movement up and down for the past 100 years or so..
These are the people that keep their clubs going. Football should not be exploited for profit. Football is about passion, history and identity. Let’s keep it that way.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Reggie Suplido from USA (The fabulous Aviva Stadium) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.