If the growing feud between Assem Allam and the supporters of Hull City AFC is to be viewed through the prism of being a battle for hearts and minds in some way, then today probably hasn’t been a very good day for Allam. The story appeared in the Hull Daily Mail newspaper and the headline was the obvious one: “Hull City season tickets could go up by 50 per cent if Tigers rebrand rejected.” This is, of course, a ridiculous and offensive idea and for several different reasons. But this also has the feeling of having something of the diversion about it. Previously in this soap opera, he has threatened to sell the club and plumbed frankly extraordinary depths in breaking with any sense of common decency in saying that, of those opposed to his plans, that, “They can die as soon as they want,” a statement so grotesque that it makes one wonder over his mental well-being. What sort of person, we might reasonably ask, would even think that, let alone say it publicly?
The accusations of blackmail are an obvious reflex reaction to it all, of course, though who exactly Allam would be looking to blackmail isn’t necessary an easy question to answer. If the FA are as blasé about ticket prices as most people seem to think they are these days, why they should they give a toss if they go up by 50% at Hull? They don’t give one about season tickets that already cost more than the £750 that Hull supporters would have to pay next season, after all. As for blackmailing the fans themselves, well, okay, for half a second you might consider this to be an ill-thought out attempt to unite Hull City supporters against the Football Association, or perhaps the precursor to a club-funded “independent” poll in which a grudging majority answer a leading question which proves that actually, just as black is white and east is west, a majority of Hull supporters now support Allam’s plans.
What Allam’s plans are, however, might just be visible within the Hull Daily Mail’s article on the matter. According to the HDM, “the dropping of City in favour of the Tigers moniker is fundamental to at least two major sponsorship deals which have been lined up for the 2014-15 campaign,” and that, “Those deals are understood to be dependent on the name change and losing those finances could spark a dramatic increase in the cost of a season pass.” Presumably, these two sponsorship deals are relating to companies who are unconcerned by paying good money to achieve pariah status in this country, but otherwise details are thin on the ground, and one can only wonder how the club’s finances have been run over the last couple of years if the cost of two sponsorship deals would necessitate a fifty per cent increase in season ticket sales, especially when we bear mind that this season’s new television deal will hand the club a minimum of around £60m in television money alone. Small wonder, then, that many Hull City supporters are calling “blackmail” on the subject.
Exactly how Allam would increase season tickets by this amount when he has stated that he would walk away from the club if the FA does block his desired name change is unclear, and cynics might well argue that he is at the point now of throwing around just about any threat that he can think of in order to force his will. If anything, however, Allam has guaranteed that the level of protest at the club from supporters will now only increase from after the FA confirms its decision – which will be by the ninth of April. After all, it will either be called Hull Tigers, or season ticket prices will be going up by fifty per cent. And it’s difficult to believe that there could be a very positive reaction from supporters to being bullied like this by the oener of their football club. Can there really be many supporters of the club who will put up with this sort of treatment for the sake of the owner of the club? Perhaps most people are more supine that we like to believe we are. There must come a point, however, when most supporters will say “enough” and draw a line in the sand.
Furthermore, the numbers don’t add up. Season ticket sales are a reasonably significant source of income to a football club, but putting £250 on 20,000 season tickets would raise an extra £5m in season ticket revenue, or at least one-twelfth of the money that the club is receving in television money for this Premier League season. Some comparative shirt sponsorship deals would be Fulham’s with Marathonbet, Aston Villa’s with Dafabet and Sunderland’s with Bidvest, which are each worth £5m per year to their respective clubs. So, if this sponsorship deal is so enormous, it would, we might reasonably argue that for a sponsorship deal to be so significant as to require huge ticket prices it would have to be three or four times this amount, all of which begs the question of how the remainder of this shortfall would come from. An extra £200 on the cost of a replica shirt? Mortgage papers required for a pie and a cup of Bovril at half-time, perhaps?
And all of this is without taking into account a drop in the number of people who would take up a season ticket for next season because they can either no longer afford to buy one, or because they will not allow themselves to be treated like this by reptile running their football club. An alternative viewpoint to this might be to suggest that Allam could be merely seeking to punish Hull supporters for failing to unanimously support him over the name-change. If that were the case, then there is every reason for the Football Association to not only block the name change, but also to introduce a new rule which bars Assem Allam from any involvement in professional football for life. As things stand today, there would be few on Humberside today who would do anything other than cheer very loudly were that to happen. The question, therefore, of exactly what this sponsorship deal is, who it is with, why it is so important and why it is so dependent upon a change of the club’s name is very important.
The club replied with a public statement released today which again sought to marginalise the CTWD campaigners – specifically mentioning the number of members it has – in comparison with the number of season ticket holders that the club has, an action which leaves it difficult to shake off the feeling that the club might even be trying to ferment a state of civil war amongst the club’s support. The club also adds that, “A significant rise to season card prices (not limited to the suggested 50%) would still be dwarfed by the potential revenues generated as a result of being Hull Tigers” (there’s that bogeyman again) and reminds readers that, “As stated in our application to the FA, “the business plan which forms the basis of this application will help protect affordable ticketing for our supporters.” Again, we can only the question of what sort of company runs itself on the basis that two commercial sponsorship deals make the difference between prices rising by a figure now not limited to 50%. The nexy couple of years’ annual accounts will make for very interesting reading.
There is another way to view this week’s new which might offer a little hope for those supporters who are sickened and appalled by the sociopathic way in which the owner of their football is being run. We all know that football clubs these days will at least consider just about any stunt if they believe that there might be money in it for them, and if the mysterious sponsorship deal referred to above is so important, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a name change to a sponsor’s name . Here is Wikipedia’s list of football clubs in England as far down as Level Ten of the National League System, or, in other words, six divisions below the Football League. It contains nine hundred and eighty-three clubs and of these clubs, only two – Fleet Leisure of the Kent Senior League and CB Hounslow United of the Combined Counties league could even be considered in any way a sponsor’s name, and in both of these case, the companies contained within the club’s name relates not to a sponsorship deal but to the company that either owns the club or is owned by the person that owns it.
What does this tell us? Well, it tells us that football clubs in England are not named after sponsors. And if we accept this to be the case, then we should perhaps ask why this there aren’t more. The obvious answer to this question would be to answer that clubs would not be permitted to, if they were to request it. The highest profile example of a club seeking to change its name came a little over three decades ago, when Coventry City sought to tie-in with a local car manufacturer under the name of Coventry Talbot. This was dismissed by the Football League, and when this failed chairman Jimmy Hill commissioned a home shirt into which the Talbot ‘T’ symbol was integrated. This was promptly banned for televised games.
Different clubs at different levels of the game have different rules regarding this sort of thing, but it doesn’t take a great leap of faith to imagine that this, so far as the FA, the Football League and the county Football Associations of England are concerned, is the line that clubs do not follow in the pursuit of money. It may well be so deeply ingrained that it is not acceptable to do this. This would certainly explain why there has not been one example that we can think of of a club trying to do this in recent years. And whilst the FA has remained tight-lipped on the subject so far, there has been little rumour to come from anywhere to suggest that this name-change will be allowed to take place, so far.
So, Hull are playing to the gallery by claiming that that they are helping to “protect affordable ticketing for our supporters” threatening to put ticket prices up by 50% or more if they don’t get their own way. Will the Football Association fall for it? Well, we can’t say for sure but we’ll know by April the ninth. All that we know for certain is that the floodgates on ripping the soul of will be opened should the FA allow it, even though they don’t normally allow for precedent when making decisions such as this. Their position as the guardians of anything like the soul or tradition of football in England will be forever tarnished as sponsors rush to persuade clubs to do anything for a few extra pounds. The ball is in their court. It is their credibility that is on the line. The credibility of Assem Allam is already shredded beyond repair.