Well here is a football passion v brand logic, quandary.
Change a name to play up a club’s personable and distinctive nickname, or stick with the history that conventionally but proudly named a club after its own city?
For those who do not deign to mix the sports pages with brand strategy, the Chairman of Premier League Hull City, Mr Assem Allam, has proposed to the Football Association that the club (the club that he owns) is rebranded ‘Hull Tigers’.
His reasons are various, roundly backed by the fact that the Tigers have been so-called at least since 1947. Given romantic credence by playing in amber and black striped jerseys, a Tigers head first appeared on the club badge.
But his main reasoning is pragmatically commercial. Mr Allam knows the Asian market. Mr Allam knows that selling merchandise branded ‘Tigers’ is infinitely more appealing than parading another City brand, an argument to which he fanned the flames by citing this as a “lousy identity.”
Spurring on the chief protagonists, a supporters group rather desperately named “City Till We Die”, to continue to harp on about their unique heritage. Throwing a dummy to the fact that there are 4 other Cities being chanted for, in the same top division.
So is this really a culture clash or a fight for ownership?
One thing that Mr Allam could not be accused of in these days of fashionable ‘foreign’ ownership, is being a fly by night owner. He has lived in Hull for 30 years, his kids were raised there and he has sunk some £75m into the club to help it achieve its premier status. Surely as an owner he has the right to spend his money on changing more than just the perennial manager?
Mark Gretton, a spokesperson for the City Till We Die team clearly thinks he is in disagreement with his Chairman, when he speaks of the potential harm a name change could bring. “There is a real risk that it takes clubs still further away from the fans. So much that attracts people to British football is the passion involved. That comes from people caring about the clubs. You don’t care about a brand. You care about a club. People are brought up with it and are inculcated with the ethos of a club at a very early age. If you begin to give clubs cartoon names, you will start to lose that.”
Aha. But surely Mr Gretton is talking about a brand.
He thinks he is talking about a club, but in reality he is spouting brand speak. Brand – Club, Chicken – Egg. The principle is the same only the letters are different. And in branding it is DIFFERENCE that we strive for.
If we could give Mr Gretton a crash course in brand dynamics, I think he would grasp very quickly that the strongest brands live by their difference.
Not just another City, like so many cans of soup, but a very different product altogether. It is irrelevant whether Hull Tigers is a new or old name, it’s strength and its potential is it global difference. If I am kicking a football around the backstreets of Shanghai, I don’t care whether Hull is in Yorkshire, plays flowing rugby league or actually has a Cathedral. But as a Tiger fan, I can proudly wear my stripes – and with the benefit of a fighters name, show my teeth.
Yes Mr Gretton, cartoon names are a worrying prospect, but Mr Allam didn’t give the Tigers their nickname. Your father, grandfather and his before him could well have been one of the perpetrators. Surely you have nothing but pride in the Tiger attitude, since you first stood (or sat) upon the terraces?
It is change that Mark Gretton fears, and he is looking purely for negatives. Fortunately for the majority of Hull fans, (well if we are to believe Mr Allam, a majority who declared a YES to the name change,) for in Mr Allam you have a benefactor with a wider vision. This proposal does not appear to be a move sparked by self-importance, unlike Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, whose crass company name and logotype SportsDirect, has supplanted St James’s park as the towns historic ground title. Wiping St James from history seems are far more heinous crime. Or the bizarre goings on at Cardiff ‘City’ where owner Mr Vincent Tan has flown in the face of all rationality and required the ‘Bluebirds’ to wear red shirts. Although whilst they cling to the right to retain the nickname and Mr Tan’s bank account, the fans it seems are willing to run with this one.
But at half time in the Hull debate, the latest score on is 1-1. The FA, the bastion of the slow-moving, have voted to block Mr Allam’s rebrand attempt.
Back in the dressing rooms, no doubt both sides will be engaged in a tactical pep talk before they take the field again. So I am curious if any of this chanted emotion is actually being argued by anyone with a brand education?
City Till I Die seem like a team of close-knit but lump-it-long, chop ’em down reactionaries, whilst in Mr Allam’s revolution, his tippy-tappy plans would see Hull Tigers remain proudly a growing, fluid part of the city.
I believe in brand terms Mr Allam needs help to answer the perfect impossible brief: This is a club that appreciates that in the 21st century things can change. And yet remain the same.