What’s In A Name On A Sports Shirt?

This post was inspired by Jed Thian’s post about the New Zealand All Blacks looking for a shirt sponsor – http://cargocollective.com/alternativerugbycommentary/Jedi-s-Blog.

Now those of you that don’t follow rugby union might think the above post is a little … over-the-top.  But it’s not.  The idea of the All Blacks is something so strong.  You knew that if your team were coming up against the men in black, inside that shirt would be someone who was probably large and undoubtedly good at rugby.  You knew your lot were in for a beating.

And because New Zealand is a small country, and this is the sport that it is world-class in, it’s incredibly important to most New Zealanders.  The other sports teams are named with reference to the rugby union side.  The rugby league team and the sevens team both go by the All Blacks, the cricket team are the Black Caps and the hockey team are the Black Sticks.  And so on, because I know there’s a few I’ve missed.

It’s not just a shirt, it’s an idea.

I accept that financial needs exist, I’m a realist, but I have my doubts about people who are unable to raise the money on the back of the All Blacks brand as it exists.

It’s not like I hate all shirt sponsors, I still think Skint Records sponsoring Brighton and Hove Albion was a nice touch, but that was a case of a sponsor that fitted the team they were sponsoring.

On the other hand, there’s something about the idea of the unsponsored team.

If we move to a sport I know better, football, there used to be the ideal of Barcelona, the people’s team.  Communal ownership and no shirt sponsor.  A couple of seasons ago (starting in 2006) they put UNICEF’s name on their shirts, which, while it looked odd because there were words on the front of Barcelona’s shirt all of a sudden, wasn’t shirt sponsorship, they were doing it for free, in fact, they were even donating money to UNICEF (~ 1.5 million Euros per year).

But looking back, I can’t help but wonder if they were just preparing their supporters for the idea of having a shirt sponsor, because suddenly they have one, the Qatar Foundation For Education, Science and Community Development, which, while I get that Qatar are getting into football (roll on 2022 etc), doesn’t really link up with Barcelona’s identity of being uncompromising outsiders.

Because part of the attraction of Barcelona was that they were the anti-establishment team, the Catalan champions who happened to play in the Spanish League, the team owned by their fans, the team who never had a shirt sponsor.  And they can’t say that any more, they’ll never be able to say it again.  Even if, after this, they go back to not having a shirt sponsor, they’ll have to asterisk any time they say “the team that never had a shirt sponsor” with *except for seasons 2011-2016.  And that’s if they go back to not having one.  It takes the shine off the idea of Barcelona, and I have a terrible feeling it’ll do the same to the All Blacks.