If you scored a match winning goal at the highest league level in your country how would you react? With a slice of pizza behind the goal?
You may have seen Dominic Oduru of Columbus Crew do just that in a match last year against Chicago Fire, provided by the club’s ‘official’ pizza provider. Thank goodness he hit the target otherwise that pizza may have gone to waste. What company was it? Let’s not go there, as if they need any more publicity!
How we chuckled. But official sponsorships, however ill-fitting to sporting excellence, are a serious, lucrative business. And the list of sponsorships gets ever more daft. But business is business and that’s what football is become.
And I knew I had to write about the subject when Liverpool FC proudly announced a deal with an official donut provider. ‘A warning to non-official donut providers’ I joked on twitter, but how could I compete with the initial one-liner – that a football club requires a partnership with a sugary snack.
The way football clubs are now being run, it would be futile to question why clubs feel the need to bother with such marketing.
Instead I want to highlight such activity as all the evidence needed for those who want football to resist its transition to business. Too late. Far too late.
If half of the English Premier League clubs are owned by foreign businessmen, If an Abu Dhabi-owned club can sign a deal with a UAE airline to beat financial fair play, if Barcelona can end their tradition of no shirt sponsorship, if a footballer can stuff a pizza in his face and think it helps his image, if my club can look at a donut and see the 0s on the contract…this is business. The dreamers and idealists can fight their good fight but they can’t win it.
The controversial name change idea at Hull, to Tigers, is a bad one, but has the owner really now got the right to suggest it? It’s like Chelsea fans criticising Abramovich for Benitez. Villa fans questioning Lerner. United fans condemning the Glazers. These owners actually have the right to try and do things their way because the door was opened to them. They are often free to make their own rules. If you don’t like it, perhaps you should be trying to direct blame to those who invited them to use English football as their own train sets. Not the owners themselves.
I am as nostalgic as any football fan. I miss the FA Cup’s glory days, the England team being the priority in England, I miss Subbuteo, old fashioned number 9s, the Cup Winners’ Cup, managers in sheepskins and affordable top flight football. Of course I miss them.
But is it right for me to condemn donut deals, or indeed anything that bring money into modern football clubs – some answerable to the stock market for goodness sake?
And let’s not forget this is not just about football. I still remember the look on IOC President (at the time) Rogge’s face when in the middle of a respectful interview I asked more aggressively how on earth the Olympic games can be sponsored by fast food companies and soft drink manufacturers. He responded calmly with a well-practised routine on the responsibilities and regulations these sponsors act under. But I had to concede that he, like you and I, was merely following ‘rules’ that have become commonplace. Eat hamburgers, just not so many you can’t play top class sport.
Keep your eyes open for innovative sponsorship – is there anything at a football club that is now sacred?
Who will be the first player to lift their club shirt to reveal a sponsors name on a t-shirt but you realize there is no t-shirt.
It’s a tattoo.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport