About Hull City – The Tigers
In August 2013, Chairman Assem Allam (1) submitted a request to the Football Association to change the club name to Hull Tigers Ltd. As a result all hell has broken loose. Dr. Allam says that the name change will be shorter and snappier, and more marketable. Lobbying Group ‘City ‘Til We Die’ say ‘no’; it has almost 6000 members and is growing. The FA make a decision at the end of the season. But meanwhile, what’s the fuss in brand naming?
About Hull City – The Tigers
Hull City Association Football Club was founded in 1904. There is no record of the first person to shout ‘Up the Tigers!’ but the first reference in print to ‘The Tigers’ appeared in the Hull Daily Mail in March 1905. In the season that Hull City first wore a black and amber strip. The first ‘Tiger’ badge then appeared on the strip in 1947, and over the years it has taken many forms (2).
Football clubs as brands
As a marketer, my experience is that the most successful businesses and brands are customer driven. All marketing activities should therefore meet customer needs, improve stand-out and increase appeal. However, the proposed changes are clearly unappealing to a sizeable proportion of the fans. Many plan to boycott matches and also refuse to renew their season passes.
As a marketer and Hull City supporter, I’m curious about the business case. If there is evidence that a name change will benefit the Club, Dr. Allam seems reluctant to share it.
Dr. Allam has lived in the City of Hull since the 1960s. He’s a successful businessman and his investment in Hull City helped it reach the Premiership. Though he says the word ‘City’ is lousy and common and if he doesn’t get his way he’ll leave (3). This is an emotional response, and his words also don’t sound like those of a Hull or Hull City supporter.
Pros and cons of repositioning brands and renaming brands
On the plus side, the hullabaloo surrounding the brand renaming gives Hull a bit of publicity. Not bad for a team, only in its third year in the Premiership. And high brand awareness is an important characteristic of a strong brand. Fortunately, though, there is much more to a football brand than a name. Product performance has thus far held up, thanks to Mr. Bruce and the team. The Club has also built huge equity in entertaining and bringing generations together, through highs and lows. Not just the roller coaster ride in winning and losing. But also through financial hard times when buckets passed round at matches to pay the team’s wages. Bonds are forged when folk don’t have much money, and yet dip into their pockets to pay team wages.
There are many examples of brands repositioning to attract wider audiences and improve performance. Hull City AFC, like all clubs, evolved over generations, almost entirely, by ownership, management and team changes.
There are also many examples of brand transformation without changing name. Witness for example, Lucozade.
Brand renaming successes and failures
Several football clubs have also changed name, lost their fan bases (Wimbledon FC), yet were born again with a new fan base (MK Dons). And also brands that rose from the ashes (AFC Wimbledon, the Dons). Nevertheless Hull City is the Tigers. The words “City” and “the Tigers” are also interchangeable on the terraces, and this equity is long-standing. In overseas countries, it should therefore be possible to position the Club without changing name to drive demand.
Sadly, Dr. Allam has alienated lots of supporters and it is unclear how many he attracted overseas. Football clubs belong to supporters, largely local communities, as well as owners. The supporters and owners are also part of the brand though not the brand itself. Dr. Allam’s investment is welcomed but his tone is not. What the fans are really rejecting is Dr. Allam’s arrogance and implied transience.
Also remember lessons from the change in the East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire county names. In 1974, they were forcibly changed to Humberside. However, for the next 22 years those who moved away wrote letters to their old addresses. Thus, in 1996, Humberside was abolished and the original county name restored.
Facts speak loudest
What’s equally odd is that there is no commercial evidence to support a change. While there are a few who support the change, their claims appear subjective. This therefore suggests they may well be PR inspired (4). Without hard-nosed evidence to the contrary the case for a brand renaming thus appears flimsy.
Brands are not just about names and visual identity
Perhaps a new design idea seduced Dr. Allam into announcing a brand name change. Taking a look at the present badge, there are streamlining possibilities in dropping the AFC. Yet there may also be a small Google ranking benefit, and page view increase, by funneling Hull City and the Tigers searches into a single Hull City Tigers url.
Some also say the name change is a sublime masterplan to build awareness? However, whatever the answer, success in the home market requires a change of tone and a credible message. Though it is not too late to ‘fess up’.
1. Branding, like marketing is widely misunderstood. Further, brands are not just logos or names. Marketers must therefore help others understand.
2. Brands also live in the hearts and minds of customers – the supporters. They sum their thoughts and feelings; including memories; through tough times and good.
3. Football club brands have symbiotic relationships with communities. Clubs represent communities, communities support clubs. Thus they are a shared interest, and the community part of the brand experience. As a result, supporters strongly identify with clubs; they wear the kit, the colours etc. In effect, therefore, the brand runs though supporters like a stick of rock. It signals I’m like you, and I also share your views.
4. Changing for community embedded brands requires care. Because when an owner or manager dictates a course of action it risks alienation.
5. It is dangerous to make brand naming decisions on gut-feel, or to invent or hide behind spurious logic. It is better to be transparent and also honest to build trust.
6. The start-point is to build desirable brand perceptions. Perceptions are created by the product; the team and also the team performance. They are also influenced by promotion (which partly explains why advertising is a multi-billion business ;-)).
7. If you seek free publicity, stir up a storm in a teacup.
(1) Dr. Assem Allam is a successful entrepreneur. Born in Egypt, he studied at Hull University in the 1960s and then decided to stay in the City of Hull. His business, Allam Marine, supplies and also sells generators. At number 214 in the Sunday Times Rich List, and a philanthropist, he’s donated to Hull FC, the University of Hull, Hull Truck Theatre Co. and also the NHS.
(4) The work of a public relations company