In September 2006 NEC Harlequins played their first game in National Division One having been relegated from the Premiership the previous April. Amongst the unfamiliar teams that they would be playing in the 2006-07 were Pertemps Bees. For several weeks I wondered to myself where exactly Pertemps was. The word sounded vaguely Welsh, was it there? No, it turned out to be in Birmingham. A district? No, it turned out to be not a place at all but the sponsor’s name.
As the season progressed, NEC Harlequins and Pertemps Bees turned out to have little in common except the fact that their sponsors’ names also formed part of their club names. Quins kept winning and the Bees (for the most part) kept losing so that, last April, Harlequins were promoted and became unique: the only team in the Premiership to have the sponsor’s name alongside the club name. But this is about to change for it has been reported by Brand Republic, the advertising website, that Harlequins intend to ‘reclaim’ the Harlequin brand by ending their ‘club name’ association with NEC.
Like other Harlequin fans, as grateful as I am for the money that NEC has put into the club over the last decade (long before I ever started supporting the club) I am very pleased to see the end of the club name deal. I know that you can’t separate money and sport now, but it seems to me that some things should be kept clear of commercial interests. The club name should be one of those things. The club’s name is the heart of the club. It identifies the team, the men that run out on the pitch to win glory. It does not and should not identify the sponsors. They have put up the money but they are not out on the pitch putting their bodies on the line (as the saying is) for the cause.
Ideally, I should prefer shirt sponsorship to be outlawed as the shirt is an extension of the badge for which the players are fighting. However, I realise that when it comes to club rugby, this is a non starter. But only for club rugby. In regards national teams, is it really necessary for them to have shirt sponsors? England and Ireland, for example, are both sponsored by 02. Now, neither the English or Irish Union is short of a few euros or pounds. Is the few extra that 02 pay them really worth the association of our countries with a mobile phone firm? I don’t think so. For that reason, I congratulate France which does not carry a shirt sponsor. When you see the French shirt, you see in your mind’s eye all that you know about France. Hopefully it will be good – the architecture, the wine, history etc. There is no sponsor to interupt your conscious or unonscious thoughts. But when you see the other five nations, you have to get past mobile phones, beers, whiskeys and a bank before you can imagine the countries that these players are bravely representing. However, it may fairly be said that people pay no mind to sponsor’s logos. While good, this is also sad because it shows how seeped in sponsorship we are. Oh, to be free of sponsorship! But now I am turning into a nostalgist (if that is a real word) – desiring a world which perhaps was never better than that which, for all its faults, we have now. Ironically, it seems, there is nothing as hard to bear as success.