No Logo

November 2, 2009

At the moment I am reading No Logo by Naomi Klein.  It is based around the idea of ‘the rise of the brand’ in the late eighties and into the nineties.  Although it is now ten years old it is still both an interesting and relevant read.

The reason I mention this is because it got me thinking about the relationship between football, sponsorship and branding.  In recent weeks the spectre of stadium sponsorship has reared its ugly head at both Fulham and Newcastle, although to a more serious extent at the latter.  In the case of Fulham I doubt that there is really anything to worry about. The Fenway Sports Group who have become consultants to Fulham and mooted the idea of a name change have a tradition of focusing on the history of clubs when marketing them. I think a rename of Craven Cottage is about as likely as a rename of Fenway Park. In the case of Newcastle, Ashley wants cash and it is likely that a rename is on the cards as long as he cannot sell the club.

If we look at stadium sponsorship pragmatically, then it is an excellent idea. In exchange for something of relatively little economic value ( a name) you receive lots of money. It is of course not that simple. In the UK and to some extent across Europe stadium names are sacred ground. In the UK the few sponsored stadiums are generally new builds (see The Reebok and KC stadium).  Nostalgia surrounding names is still strong and viewed as central to the identity of many clubs.

The question is if this will change. I believe that it is only a matter of time before football goes the way of US sports. Ever since the creation of the brand that is the Premier League, football has been steadily progressing to total branding. The big clubs have led the way (notice how Manchester United are not an FC any more) and others are sure to follow. Football teams do have an innate advantage in the branding process in that they posses badges. These logos give the club an immediate graphic identity and a base for the brand to be built. Football is also surrounded by companies which really spearheaded the rise of the brand such as Nike. The logical next step for advertising and branding in football is stadium sponsorship. With many clubs looking to move into new stadiums over the next few years stadium sponsorship is inevitable.

What does this mean for the game? Without wanting to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, the inevitable end is the end of real competition. We have seen a shift in power upward to the ‘big 4’ in the premier league and this will continue.  A European ‘super league’ would be the ultimate form of branded corporate football, a place where the most powerful teams engage in a perpetual struggle similar to that of the warring nations Oceana, Eurasia and Eastasia in 1984.

I know that this seems like another moan from a supporter of a club outside the top four but I do think there are some important points that need to be addressed. The lack of competition in the Premier League and others across Europe is a real worry.  Whilst at the moment the ascension of Man City and other clubs sustained by heavy investment gives the illusion of competition, these clubs are based on a bubble which could burst at any time.  The FA, UEFA and FIFA really need to look into imposing limits on squad size and wages before the brands at the top become too powerful.

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4 Responses to “No Logo”

  1. Dan Says:

    Morning Alex,

    I wish I had your confidence. Fulham bought into branding in a big way when they reached the top flight – jettisoning the badge without any consultation and bringing in something a four year old could have drawn.

    It was the ‘expensive consultants’ who were influential in advising MAF to pursue other stadia for Fulham to play in – and the club continued to peddle the myth that Fulham couldn’t survive at the Cottage. The fans (nobody else) won that fight.

    I’m worried about the renaming of the ground for the simple reason that it is one of the things that is specified in the deal. Fulham will have to consider it as part of their contract with Fenway Sports Group and they might think it a good idea. It certainly shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

    No Logo’s a great book. And this looks like a great blog. I’ve stuck a link on HammyEnd this morning.

  2. AlexL Says:

    The ‘selling out’ of Fulham when they entered the premier league was sad to see. However, in terms of the stadium sponsorship I think we have to look at what the Fenway Sports Group is all about.

    Being a Red Sox fan, I have watched as they have added seats to every nook and cranny of an ageing ground with a huge character and as every game is continuously sold out. For a team that plays 162 regular season games that is quite a feat. Through this they have always wanted to stay at Fenway, and for a team with such a huge market potential this was good to see.

    I think the age of Fulham becoming the ‘Manchester United of the South’ is well and truly over. In a funny way the advent of the leagues super rich has been a benefit for Fulham, Mo simply cannot compete, and I have a feeling this new ‘traditional club’ brand that Fulham are persuing may be a result of this. Don’t spend as much but focus on the traditional side, because unless Mo strikes oil in Egypt then we will never have the funds to compete for the premier league. At least we can really point out the difference between us and those up the road rather than competing with them.

    But then again I might just be being sucked in by the advertising!

  3. Dan Says:

    I don’t have a problem with the Fenway deal if they’ll market the club overseas effectively because that’s their expertise.

    Fulham are getting bigger crowds that at any point in their recent history. Their ticketing policy still remains pretty questionable, though, but I doubt Fenway Sports Group will dealing with that too closely.

    I don’t know what a new ‘traditional club’ brand is. Fulham have also been firmly attached to their history and the fans are very proud of it.

    • AlexL Says:

      I was referring to that promo video at the end of last season, it just seemed to me that the club was really focusing on that. Certainly not disputing that tradition has always been firmly attached to Fulham FC.


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