The marketing man arrived at the steel and plate glass offices of his newest and perhaps most lucrative client. He took a look around the office, sized everything up, drank a cup of tea from a vending machine, sat down, and sucked in his cheeks. “You know what the major problem that you’ve got with your branding is?” he said, smiling as he always did when preparing to share his wisdom in return for a substantial amount of money. The company executives leaned in closer, their eyes widening like Charlie Bucket at the entrance to the chocolate factory. “It’s not… English enough.” The room audibly inhaled.
“You see,” he continued, warming to his task in reaction to his clients’ body language, “This is England. The very traditional bedrock of the game of association football. The name English Football League is strident. Confident. It tells the world, ‘THIS is fiery crucible from which the world’s favourite sport emerged.’ It reminds anybody who sees it that this is THE Football League. The original. And still the best. And definitely the most English. And furthermore, synergising the Football League into the English Football League will surely only help to monetise the league in new and untapped markets”
“Consider the possibilities,” he continued. “A sense of continuation from the Premier League, young people crowded around television sets from Vancouver to Kuala Lumpur, wearing Shrewsbury Town or Port Vale shirts, cheering on their new heroes as they eschew the fakery and hyperbole of top class football in favour of the authentic. We can even market it differently according to demographics. To the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, a low cost alternative to the overwrought Premier League. To the craft beer bars of Portland, Oregon, a microbrewery of a competition, a way to mark yourself out as being different to the Budweiser-drinking, Messi-worshipping masses. Gentlemen, they’ll lap it up.”
Shaun Harvey wiped a bead of drool from the corner of his mouth, but as he went to open his mouth, a thin, reedy voice spoke up from the shadows, puncturing the almost sexual tension of the moment. “Sir, I have one or two reservations.” It said. “Firstly, you’re not proposing that we change the names of the actual divisions themselves, are you? So effectively we’re paying you a substantial amount of money to add one word to the name of our competition and a new logo which looks like a football that may have contracted meningitis.” The air in the room chilled.
“This isn’t one word, sir,” the marketing man interjected, before the moment was lost. He’d been anticipating this. Some people can always be relied upon lack clarity of vision. “three letter acronyms work for consumers. They’re neither too short nor too long. They suggest stability. Longevity. A name you can trust. Think about it for a second – BBC. CBI. RBS…” He paused for dramatic effect, relishing the moment. “…EPL.” He sat back, allowing the gravity of his brilliance to sink in, and allowed himself the luxury of surveying his audience. They were in the palm of his hand. This was why he chose this career in the first place. He straightened his tie.
The man in the shadows wouldn’t be quietened, though. “The best? The best, apart from the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A… I could go on. And none of them have the identity of their country in their name”, he said, adding, “And furthermore, I know you’ve talked about these three letter initials and why they’re so important, but do we have to have one that is only one slip of the finger away from being the initials of a far-right political agitation group? I know it’s all about social media engagement these days, but doesn’t being so close to this potentially open up a can of worms?”
The marketing man arched an eyebrow. This wasn’t the free exchange of ideas that he had been expecting. “Social media engagement!” He exclaimed, for the first time losing a little of his studied cool. “Exactly! For the first time, users of Twitter will be able to hashtag the Football League match that they’re at, to tell the world that they’re there!” The clients nodded their heads enthusiastically, even though they didn’t really look as if they understood what he was saying. Never mind, he thought to himself, it’s not comprehension that’s important, it’s enthusiasm.
“I don’t mean to sound cynical,” said the voice from the shadows, “but wouldn’t show a greater respect for tradition to, say, make clubs reduce their prices so that the Football League becomes the home of football for the ordinary working person again? And perhaps, rather than worrying about what hashtags people can use and the number of letters in our organisation’s initials, perhaps that history would be better served by not messing around with names every twelve years or so when there’s next to no chance that it actually makes any difference to anybody anyway?” The marketing man sucked his cheeks in. “Sir. With respect, I don’t think that you understand modern football at all. Progress is the name of the game, these days. Now then, gentlemen. That’ll be £50,000, please.”
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