This was, as we noted before when discussing this subject, supposed to be a time when the supporters of Hull City AFC were supposed to be getting excited at the prospect of a return to the Premier League, but any feelings of anticipation have, on the part of many, now been replaced by anger at the news that the club is actively seeking to rebrand itself as ‘Hull City Tigers’ for its first season back. When we first reported on this three weeks ago, it felt scarcely felt credible that the club would seem to alienate and anger its fan-base by seeking such a change on the sly whilst making ameliorating noises in the press about wishing to preserve the club’s history.
There cannot have been a single person amongst the club’s senior management who wasn’t aware of how this tackiness was likely to be received by supporters of the club, yet they did anyway. The only reasonable conclusion that the muddied statements made by the club over the last few weeks and months were made with a degree of disingenuity. The club had the whole of the summer to make this decision. Why wait until little more than a week before the start of the season before formally announcing the decision? It has been reported that season tickets have already been returned by furious supporters. How many season tickets might have remained unsold had yesterday’s announcement been made earlier in the summer is, of course, open to conjecture, but what we do know is that the club’s managing director Nick Thompson had stated earlier this summer that:
We tidied up our logo for marketing purposes to make it a little bit sharper and slicker. The badge is on the shirt; it’ll be on the shirt next season. I think sometimes people try to make a story out of the flimsiest of pretexts. What we have to bear in mind is actually those traditional names have changed over the course of the years. Hull City AFC changed into being a number of years ago but there was a name before that. We’re very proud of our heritage. We’re very proud of the fact we represent the region. Whatever the situation is, we are Hull City and we are Tigers. The badge on the shirt is entirely different to the way we present ourselves in a marketing context.
The arguments put forward by the club in favour of the rebrand were weak, insulting and, ultimately, baseless. “Hull City is irrelevant,” owner Assem Allan unwisely told the Hull Daily Mail yesterday, “My dislike for the word ‘City’ is because it is common. City is also associated with Leicester, Bristol, Manchester and many other clubs. I don’t like being like everyone else. I want the club to be special. It is about identity. City is a lousy identity. Hull City Association Football Club is so long.” So there you have it, supporters of Hull City AFC. Your club’s name is ‘lousy’ and it’s too long. Somebody should probably tell the owners of Manchester United Football Club that the reason behind why the club’s global reach isn’t as big as it could be because its name is too long. Notably, Manchester United have been considering returning the words ‘Football Club’ back to their badge this summer. Somebody should probably warn them that they’re about to make this catastrophic error, and that the owner of Hull City, who has been involved in professional football since December 2010, knows better than the marketing department of a global sporting behemoth.
“In the commercial world, the shorter the name, the better,” he continued. “The more it can spread quickly. I have always used short names in business. It gives you power in the science in marketing. The shorter, the more powerful the message. In Tigers, we have a really strong brand.” In this, we see what we can only assume to be the motivation behind this bizarre decision. In a global economy, there is a prevailing belief amongst the owners of medium sized clubs that Asia is some sort of pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which will shunt their clubs in the direction of bigger, more established names. All the evidence that can be gathered on this subject seems to indicate that “branding” is not the reason why supporters in this part of the world choose which club to support, and that tradition, history, size and the level of success that a club has already had are the reasons behind why people with no geographical ties to choose to nail their own colours to that particular mast. Assem Allam’s experience of marketing is Assem Allam’s experience of marketing, but this isn’t experience earned in the oddly cranky and traditionalist world of professional football and all has the faintly musty whiff of public relations suicide about it.
His son (and club vice-chairman) Ehab Allam, meanwhile, stated that, “We have dropped the AFC as it is something which has become redundant. It is not used by the club, the fans never mention AFC, nor do the media. The identity of the club is the Tigers, the stripes, and the colour scheme of amber and black, which remains. People have the right to call the club what they like, it’s their club. We are not going to fans and saying they all have to refer to us in the same way. It is for commercial reasons that we are choosing this branding. We just feel that, now being on the international stage, we need to strengthen the brand.” Of course the problem with that is that this very decision proves the exact opposite, that it’s not “their club” at all. The decision was made without consultation, and it seems likely that any consultation that does take place will be done in conjunction of the supine-looking “official supporters club”, whose spokesman Bernard Noble seems more than happy to have roll over and have his belly tickled by the club:
My personal opinion is I’m disappointed because I’m a bit of a traditionalist, but this guy saved us from liquidation and administration and it’s his club. I will still say ‘I’m going to watch City’, ‘I’m going to watch the Tigers’, ‘I’m going to watch Hull’. I will still say that and so will many other people. As far as Hull City Tigers is concerned, the fans – the 25,000 people who will be there for the first home game against Norwich – they’ll say ‘I’m off down to watch City’.
No matter how the club wishes to try and spin this decision, however, it is not quite a done deal yet. A spokesman for the Premier League spokesman has told the Daily Mail that, “We have not been informed of a change in the name of the actual club, it is the company name that has changed. They will still be known as Hull City as far as the Premier League is concerned when results or fixtures are published. We understand the move is more to do with their international reputation. If any club wanted to change the club name we would talk to them and see what processes of consultation [with supporters] they had gone through,” while the Football Association’s deadline for changing the name of a club was the first of April, which rather prompts the question of whether the club was merely incompetent in pushing ahead with an attempt to rename itself without know the FA’s rules, or that it was aware of them, actually carried it out in time for this deadline, and has been lying by omission in the intervening time period up to yesterday’s announcement.
Staying in the Premier League this season is going to be difficult enough for Hull City this season, and creating such a potentially poisonous atmosphere around the club just over a week before a ball is kicked makes little sense. And the bridges that may be burned may not feel as if they matter now, but they will certainly become important if or when the club returns the Championship. Perhaps, though, this isn’t “rebranding” at all. Perhaps it’s just “branding”, an owner taking a metaphorical iron and stamping it upon the club, as if to say, “I own this, you don’t matter, fuck you.” This may all have been subconscious, but it’s certainly how it looks from the outside. There was plenty of opportunity for supporters to be consulted prior to this decision being made – a poll on the local newspaper’s website found about 88% of voters to be against this renaming – but this wasn’t taken. And so it is that another drip in the drip, drip, drip that the debasement of football in this country by owners who seem to care more for foreign markets than their own supporters, and more for their own egos than custodianship of the institutions that they willingly bought into. It is a stupid, insensitive and short-sighted decision that the owners of the club have taken. It is to be hoped that they come to regret it at length.
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