Friday, May 11, 2012

Cardiff City - football's "Indecent Proposal"

How much money would it take for you to compromise your principles?

Cardiff City Football Club, who lost in the first round of the English Championship playoffs this week, were the recipient of just such an indecent proposal: 100 million pounds to permanently re-brand the club, changing the club jersey from blue to red and dispensing with their Bluebird nickname. City would have been permanently “rebranded” in efforts to market the club better in Asia.

Plans for the changeover have been shelved after a leaked document led to uproar from fans.

This is hardly the first time that clubs have dispensed with tradition for the sake of finance. In Australia, Carlton Football Club once changed their navy blue strip to royal blue because M&Ms wanted to introduce Blue M&Ms to Australia. Fans puked (the club's nickname is the Navy Blues) but swallowed the sponsor dollars. Only a year or two later, Geelong footballer Garry Hocking changed his name to Whiskas (a popular brand of cat food) to earn his debt-ridden club a hefty sum.

While both these instances were temporary, occurred half a world away to clubs who seriously needed coin, Cardiff City's financial situation is hardly tip-top. This means the failed re-branding could have serious implications for the club's continued stability in the future. Cardiff's Malaysian owners have suggested as much in an open letter to fans.

The thought of such “branding” makes one only too aware of the pure economics underlying the sport. I would hate to see the club changing to a red dragon motif simply for the sake of it; even typing the word “rebranding” in a sports paradigm makes me feel dirty.

But the commercial reality is that Cardiff City (like many football clubs) have already marginally compromised the integrity of their kit by selling it as a billboard for sponsors. As we can see with Barcelona, Unicef and the mysterious Qatar Foundation, once changes like this are made – no matter how laudable – the game becomes less about crosses and more about balance sheets.

Teams have almost always used their strip to generate income. The site Historical Football Kits describes the changing face of team uniforms over time and you watch a match or visit a football website without multiple ads asking you to “support your club and buy their 2012-13 kit NOW!”.

In reality, what Cardiff City's owners planned to do was just a more clumsy and blatant version of what almost every league club already does: subtly changing and altering their team kit every season to generate revenue. These kit changes are driven by a market – and so was the idea behind Cardiff City Dragons (no matter how potentially flawed that market research may have been).

While not wanting to see the Bluebirds disappear, the industry realities behind the supposed change are immutable. It was pleasing to see fans “win out” and keep their Bluebirds blue; however, the change that didn't happen may end up being a watershed, looked back upon as a great “what if”.

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