Mark Sellers provides a fresh perspective on City’s continuing name-change debacle.
The proposed Hull City rebrand is obviously divisive and problematic for the fans of the club itself, but there are massive wider implications for English football in general. The phrase “thin end of the wedge” often comes to mind, particularly when looking at the influence Red Bull is having on world football.
The Austrian energy drink company is widely associated with “extreme” and motor sports, but they bought into football in 2005 when they purchased SV Austria Salzburg and changed the club’s name to FC Red Bull Salzburg. They also changed the club badge and colours from the traditional violet and white to red and white (to align with Red Bull branding) and declared “this is a new club with no history.”
Unsurprisingly many of the team’s fans were very unhappy, and after initially trying to work with the new owners relations broke down as it became clear they would not compromise. Dietrich Mateschitz, the Red Bull owner, dismissed the criticism and unrest as “kindergarten stuff”, and a low point was reached when fans wearing the teams traditional colours were refused entry to a pre-season friendly against Croatian side Hajduk Split. As protests continued the club branded the protestors as “hooligans” and “complete idiots” and said that supporters who were unhappy should form their own club, which they duly did, and like AFC Wimbledon started afresh in the lower reaches of the league pyramid using the original name.
The following year the New York Metrostars MLS franchise was bought out and they were rebranded in the same way, with stars such as Thierry Henry being drafted in. Then in 2007, Red Bull established the Red Bull Brasil team in São Paulo and in 2008 Red Bull Ghana were also set up.
In 2009 the Red Bull executives cast their eye over the border from Austria to Germany where they purchased the license of SSV Markranstädt, a team who played in the German fifth tier. Again the same rebranding occurred, and money was pumped into the club allowing the newly renamed RB Leipzig to rapidly climb through the leagues. They now play in the German second division (Bundesliga 2) and at the time of writing lie 5th in the table so it’s not inconceivable that they could be playing Bayern Munich next season. This new entity is widely disliked in Germany where traditional fan culture is particularly strong. A number of games have seen protests, most notably this season when RB Leipzig visited Union Berlin in September and were met with 15 minutes of silence from the 20,000 spectators, clad almost entirely in black.
All of the Red Bull teams exist to promote the energy drink, all are branded with the same corporate identity, and all play in the identikit strip. Most of them are successful.
There’s no real indication if this is where the Red Bull empire will end, but there have been rumours for a few years now that they are interested in acquiring an English team. While there have been no reports of the Red Bull spotlight shining on East Yorkshire, there has been confirmed contact with Leeds United in the past. I’m sure they (and possibly other corporations) are following the “Hull Tigers” proposed rebranding saga with interest, seeing it as a test case for how the English FA will respond.
Clubs have changed colours and team crests in England before but not on such an industrial scale, and not to promote a commercial product. The English FA needs to back supporters and help them safeguard their clubs’ traditions.
Football clubs should represent something. This has traditionally been community, local pride, history, in some places political ideals, and even religious beliefs. Football clubs should represent something. That something should be more than just a fizzy drink.
Mark Sellers @mrmarksellers