The Last Word: Beware football as a brand

Banning fans from using club crests but pandering to dodgy Burmese whisky firms risks contempt

In a parallel universe, inhabited by a certain type of sports marketer, attending a football match is a brand experience. A stadium is a football servicescape, and the half-time pie is a touchstone. A game is a sequence of moments of truth.

Supporters are dream-seekers. If they are lucky they will reach the sweet spot, where the four realms of experience – entertainment, education, escapism and aesthetic immersion – collide. Clubs must avoid negative cues, such as surly stewarding, warm beer or, horror of horrors, a colour scheme that lacks corporate identity.

Before you scoff – feel free, by the way – there are research projects at respected universities which legitimise such psychobabble. The reality, that fans are treated like second-class citizens by increasingly emboldened functionaries, is carefully avoided.

Future generations of students might care to ponder the wisdom of Sunderland's legal department, which has given landlord Alan Wallace a fortnight to remove six club flags from the windows of his pub, the Fort, on Roker Terrace.

"The use of SAFC products in your establishment implies a misleading affiliation between your establishment and SAFC" read the so-called cease and desist letter. "SAFC reserves its rights to take further action, without further notice, in order to protect our intellectual property."

Wallace purchased the flags from the club shop. He's a diehard fan, who displays a range of Mackem memorabilia and expresses his loyalty by refusing to show live foreign TV feeds of games at the Stadium of Light. "Are they going to stop people getting Sunderland tattoos, because I'm covered in them?" he asks with understandable bemusement.

The madness is starting to spread, largely through social media. Watford, or Udinese Reserves as they are known in the trade because of their parent club, have told fans not to use the club crest as a Twitter ava-tar, or on any online forums, because it compromises their copyright.

Liverpool's director of communications has been accused of threatening a season-ticket holder who confessed to being the author of a parody Twitter account. He was allegedly tracked down by private investigators and blamed for costing the club an additional £300,000 in the Fabio Borini transfer.

I appreciate everyone is bored to distraction during the international break, but contempt is a dangerous customer-relationship strategy, even in the surreal expansionist world of the Premier League.

Chelsea have been busy between crises, signing an agreement with a Burmese whisky supplier whose owner retains close links to the military junta, which once considered making a £1 billion bid for Manchester United.

Never knowingly oversold, United's uniquely rapacious commercial department are promoting an official noodles partner for Asia, Oceania and Middle East, with the slogan "Slurp up and cheer".

In that context it is unsurprising that the democracy of Germany's Bundesliga, where season tickets start from around £160 and match tickets double as free rail passes, shames England's implanted culture of tourist-trap football.

Premier League attendances are remarkably durable, but the people's game is becoming an occasional diversion. Traditional fan bases have been abandoned in favour of affluent window shoppers willing to pay a premium for high-profile matches.

Alienation at the excesses excused by football's gentrification is beginning to be expressed by such protest groups as Arsenal's Black Scarf movement, who complain of "extortionate" costs and "repressive" stewarding. Instead of addressing such concerns, Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive, uses the easy excuse of blaming disaffection on players' wages.

Smaller clubs are feeling the pinch, but will not discount tickets consistently because of the risk of offending season-ticket holders. Few show an inclination to match Derby's implementation of an airline-style flexible pricing policy.

The FA deserve immense credit for ensuring Wembley was almost full for the parody international against San Marino. Tickets were sensibly priced for families and, as school outings go, the brand experience of seeing Wayne Rooney in the flesh was preferable to feeding goats at an urban farm. Just.

Terry set to play England games?

John Terry has let it be known, through the strange emotional osmosis of a word in the right ear, that he has come to a decision over whether he will appeal against the FA punishment for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.

He has until Thursday to confirm his intentions, and is understood to want to wait until after England's match in Poland on Tuesday before making his plans public.

This delay, apparently, is a mark of the Chelsea captain's respect for Roy Hodgson, who retains a puzzling belief in the man whose defence to the racism charge was deemed "improbable, implausible, and contrived" by an independent panel.

In more innocent times such deference to a transparently decent individual like the England manager would have been taken at face value. But, given current circumstances, this privilege can no longer be granted.

The suspicion persists that Terry will take advantage of a natural lull in the news cycle to restate his case. Chelsea, thought to be unhappy at criticism by the FA of their role, will doubtlessly defend their secretary, David Barnard.

That is their right, and it would be churlish to pretend they will lack support. Some of us, however, will exercise our right to ignore Terry, and his persecution complex.

Super thinking

Rangers will be involved in any European super league, says their chief executive, Charles Green. He suggests "completely useless" clubs like Aston Villa do not deserve a place, but is more guarded about the merits of Stirling Albion. Wonder why?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders