West Ham United have been, financially speaking, probably the English football club that has been the hardest hit by the recent changes in the international financial climate. At the start of September they lost XL Holidays, their shirt sponsors. The company went into liquidation and, in doing so, became one of the first truly visible signs of the worsening global financial situation. Unlike West Bromwich Albion who, when they failed to land themselves a deal last summer, simply wore shirts unadorned by these strangely runic exhortations and benefitted from record sales, at West Ham the XL logo was quickly covered up and replaced with a terribly tacky looking squad number logo until new sponsors were found.
In the Autumn, West Ham’s financial circumstances went from bad to worse. When the Icelandic bank Landsbanki collapsed (along with the rest of the country’s economy) at the start of October, the West Ham chairman Björgólfur Gudmundsson’s fortune was obliterated. A couple of years ago there had been talk (limited talk, but talk nevertheless) of West Ham joining the rarified atmosphere of the likes of The Big Four. Now there were suddenly real concerns over their financial situation. As if this wasn’t bad enough for them, they had lost their case in front of the FA over Sheffield United’s compensation claim for the Carlos Tevez affair and, at the end of November, were refused the right to appeal to The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausann, which could cost them another £30m.
After all of this, there was a small consolation when they secured a sponsorship deal with the Asian online betting firm SBOBET at the start of December. “This is a great deal for West Ham United and I am looking forward to a successful partnership with SBOBET,” said Scott Duxburry, the West Ham chief executive, through gritted teeth. The figure being talked about was £2m for eighteen months – a sizeable drop from the deal that they had been halfway through with XL, which was worth £7.5m over three seasons. It was a sponsorship deal (and it could argued that to find any sponsorship deal worth more than tuppence ha’penny in the current climate is something of an achievement), but it was a massive drop in finances at a time that they cannot afford it.
Fortunately for West Ham, the new sponsors logos could be put onto their shirts in time for the Christmas rush, but the club has received complaints that they have simply stuck the new sponsors’ logo over the old one, meaning that you can still see the XL logo, peering out at you like a peculiarly twentieth century Turin Shroud, when you hold it up to the light. The club has stated that it would have been “logistically impossible” to do it any other way and pointed out that they have cut the cost of home shirts by 25% accordingly. Certainly, it’s true to say that the official club “megastore” has reduced the price of an adult short-sleeved shirt to £30. This story does, however, continue to propagate the belief that West Ham’s problems may be more severe than the club has been letting on.
In truth, the supporters that have complained about this (and newspaper reports on the subject have been noticeably sketchy about the number of complaints that have been lodged) are rather getting themselves wound up over very little. If anything, The Shirt With Two Sponsors may even come to have some sort of rarity value in a few years’ time, and the shirts serve as a timely reminder to all football supporters of the dangers of getting too far into the thrall of the international money markets. With the sale of the club yet to be completed (and now unlikely to be before the end of January) and other clubs circling the Boleyn Ground like vultures eyeing up West Ham’s better players like choice cuts of meat, they may have more important things to worry about by the end of 2009.