Opinion: Rebranding needs to be more than just a paint job

"A bloody and murthering practice..."

While the above quotation from an English medieval chronicler refers to the game of football, this season, the real victims are the lower leagues.

Rebranding a product does not make a better product unless the reason for the rebranding is to communicate a change or an improvement in that product. So the question is: will Coca-Cola's three-year, £15 million (US$26.8 million) sponsorship of the Football League result in a higher standard of football at the lower levels? That £15 million has to be shared between 72 clubs across three divisions. Meanwhile, the rebranded Barclays Premiership (from Barclaycard Premiership) has more than three times the cash spread across a quarter of the number of clubs.

Nobody is fooled by the rebranding of the Football League's Division One into The Championship. The reality is, a radical overhaul of the product is needed, not a cosmetic makeover. Sad though it is for some, football is a product as well as a game. TBWA has been hired to examine ways of raising the competition's profile and increase sponsorship opportunities.

New logos, community programmes and a number of other commercial initiatives are also being introduced. Arguably, if the Football League really wanted to make a lasting impression on the game, it would have started with a new, improved product and then harnessed Coke's cash and TBWA's creative genius to operate and sell it.

In Asia, the football product is made or broken by TV. The English Premier League (as it is incorrectly called) is king - you are either in it and you exist, or you are not and you don't. If Coca-Cola's investment in rebranding lower division English football is actually a smart way to make more football more popular outside of the UK, then TV revenues will follow and ultimately many of those 72 cash-strapped clubs will benefit.

The chasm between Premiership clubs and lower division clubs might begin to shrink. That would give Coca-Cola the credibility as a football brand for which it has yearned.

Marketing football is the privilege of those with the deepest pockets.

At top club level, the ROI is measurable. At League or competition level, it's a little harder to quantify. But do fans care if it's called the Barclaycard Premiership or the Barclays Premiership, The Nationwide League or The Championship? It's just a name and they'll get used to it. What really matters is the team. Team loyalty transcends brand loyalty (unless you argue that they are one and the same), so a rebranding exercise of the League can only ever be met with indifference.

However, League chairman Sir Brian Mawhinney's claim that "the Football League is about real football for real fans" must have supporters of Premiership sides wondering if they're following a different game. And as for the wilderness that results from finishing in the bottom three? Cheer up, relegated and debt-ridden Leeds United! You are now competing in ' The Championship', so if you win, it means you will be Champions. Or, put another way, the 21st best team in England.

Just to tip the scales back the other way again, the football fan base is more commercial in its outlook than ever before. Most fans appreciate that football is more than a passion. It is a product, a business and a brand. Neither fans nor sponsors see the rebranding exercises as merely a fresh coat of paint. The league divisions serve as a gateway to the Premiership, itself a highly successful marketing exercise.


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