Commercial wolves take football to the slaughter

News of yet another elaborate non-league sponsorship deal gets TMN’s resident Premiership fan bemoaning the commercialism of football at every level – and a glance at the United States and Japan provides a chilling vision of things to come: the Tokyo Yakult Swallows are not a joke – they are a probiotic way of life…

In today’s commercial world, “buzz words” occupy a position of some dominance. Many of us out there work in jobs that demand little more than a mental grasp of the full “lexicon of buzz” and an instinct of when to deploy it best. If the TMN outlaws were in any way connected with the real world then the staple from this most shameful of etymological groups would be “farce” and “absurdity”: we crave them like the Hoff does vodka or Chuck Norris does faces to roundhouse into oblivion.

When dredging the depths of football’s nether regions (which is often just as unpleasant as it sounds), it is these two words that guide us. If it can’t be described as “farcical” or “absurd”, it doesn’t even get the time of day. One thing that we have pondered in these terms throughout this scintillating pre-season is the seemingly never-ending encroachment of corporate names into our beautiful game.

The situation could become a desperate one. Certainly we do not want to end up in a situation like they have in Yankeeland where corporate sponsorship, particularly of stadiums, has gone to a level that seems to TMN to be frankly silly. The LA Lakers play at the Great Western Forum, for the love of God. For a number of years the Houston Astros baseball team played at the retrospectively hilariously named Enron Field. This was swiftly changed to the just as ludicrous Minute Maid Park after the unpleasant revelations pertaining to a certain financial giant with more dodgy accounting than a Ken Bates CVA.

Nor do we want to follow in the footsteps of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League where teams are all named after corporations, including the bamboozling Tokyo Yakult Swallows…that’s right, YAKULT! Apart from wondering if Yakult is in fact a porn star with a reputation for gorging on the product of a messy facial money shot, TMN was left to speculate how, in the name of all that is holy, do people get behind a team named after a yoghurt? Even if that yoghurt does admittedly harness the power of friendly bacteria. Where do their supporters come from? Is probiotic digestion enhancement something which promotes fearsome brand loyalty? Do the lovers of Yakult (both the team and product) come to blows with the Danone Dragons (alright this one’s made up) each year in the always hotly anticipated yoghurt derby? TMN doesn’t know…indeed TMN doesn’t care one bit, except that here in Britain the game we so love is going down the same road as these minor pastimes.

Unfortunately the very fabric of football is being ripped to shreds by the progressively more asinine nature of sponsorship deals. Nothing, it seems, is safe from being donned with a ludicrous new moniker, as long as there is enough money spent to name it. The front of football kits up and down the country are plastered with company advertising that seems to dwarf the kits themselves. Each division in this sceptred isle is given a title that often resembles a short novel – and even stadiums are sullied with company names.

The non league football pyramid has always contained numerous bug bears for us outlaws at TMN but one thing in particular has always irked: the ludicrously long names each division is donned with. It’s a world gone mad when Bethnal Green United have to advertise on for opponents for pre-season friendlies and yet will participate next season in a league with full sponsorship: the succinct and catchily titled Cherry Red Books Middlesex County League.

It also seems a shame that Ryman League Division One South club Kingstonian are so underfunded that they have to hand out sponsorship deals like it’s Christmas and they are a particularly jolly fat man with a cookie crumb laden white beard and a fur lined red suit. Recently the K’s have announced a startlingly complex new sponsorship deal in which, if TMN has read this right, TMG Fire and Security Ltd will now be emblazoned across the red and white hoops of the kit; while Jemeca Toyota will sponsor the players’ tracksuit and The Shanghai Furniture Company are to be the sponsors of the club’s travel and logistics. (How in the hell do you sponsor logistics? – TMN wonders while happily banging its head against its newly secured marble fireplace.) Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the club’s joint-managing director Malcolm Winwright is quoted as saying:

“This is significant progress for the club, signing three great companies such as TMG, Jemeca and Shanghai Furniture. They have demonstrated confidence and belief in Kingstonian, and we hope this will encourage others to come forward and work with us in every possible way.”

It must be stressed, in no uncertain terms, that this isn’t Kingstonians fault. No football club can be blamed when the world has become so saturated with money and greed that small time teams who used to get by on gate receipts and a few bob from the local fishmongers in return for their name on the shirt can no longer survive unless they have their logistics sponsored.

Who is to blame? It’s simple. Big time top level football has dragged its own nether regions up in its jet stream. It is no longer a level playing field and football’s money is leaking out the bottom and rising to the top leaving everyone in between up a particularly smelly creek without so much as a boat, let alone a paddle. (In fact, if they did have one, it would undoubtedly be a boat and paddle whose name would be sold off: perhaps the phrase would become up Blue Heron Fibre and Stool Softener creek without so much as an ebay paddle).

One thing is particularly disturbing in this incident and that’s Winwright’s parting statement: “We hope this will encourage others to come forward and work with us in every possible way.”

TMN admits that it doesn’t know the details of the deals made by the K’s but we are guessing the sums involved are not astronomical (TMN is thinking it could perhaps sponsor the logistics of some clubs itself, if it wasn’t for our aversion to gross hypocrisy). The point here being that if the K’s and other clubs like them are in such desperate need of money because of the failing financial structure of football below the top flight that they are prepared to do anything to get the money to prosper, it is disturbing times.

How long before players are forced to warm up pre-match in sandwich boards plastered with advertising slogans sold at tuppence per square cm? Will goal celebrations become an opportunity for live theatre advertising? The thought of any player pealing away after scoring before grabbing a microphone and extolling the influence of a particular sports drink in getting them to where they are today as part of some promotional contract their club has signed makes TMN nauseous! How much are teams going to have to sell to keep afloat? Will it come down to selling their very identity just to survive!?

Premiership clubs are in part to blame, by shamelessly whoring themselves to brands, and as brands themselves. But football itself is the main villain in this piece, by leaving the majority out in the cold with exclusive big money TV deals while failing to support the game lower down – leaving the vast majority of football clubs as lambs to the commercial slaughter. Do you want your team to end up like Total Network Solutions? Well, do you?


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