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Published: 03 July 2001

by Red Kelly

The news that Real Madrid are removing sponsorship from their football shirts as of the beginning of next year to coincide with their 100th anniversary provoked some thought. How refreshing would it be if a certain club who play their football at Old Trafford would see their way clear to doing the same?

I know that many people haven't got a problem with seeing a sponsor's name emblazoned on the front of the shirt and that's fair enough - each to their own, but I have always disliked it intensely. I am not naive enough to think that this gesture by Real Madrid isn't a marketing ploy, but the fact is, when this comes into effect, they will only be marketing Real Madrid and no-one else. To me this makes ultimate sense. Why degrade the name of your football club by adding another company's logo to the most prominent portion of your most effective advertising space?

You may argue that sponsors donate a huge amount of money for the privilege of appearing on the front of the shirt. Money that is, ostensibly, put towards the transfer kitty etc, but for these companies it is priceless advertising. If United keep winning then Vodafone will consider the millions donated as an excellent investment as their logo is promoted throughout the world emblazoned on the chests of some of Europe's finest. That advertising would cost Vodafone a great deal more and be considerably less effective if it were placed anywhere else. And the bonus is that the marketing is more or less everlasting as the shirts are often kept for posterity, the name is seen for years to come in millions of photographs and the shirts even appear in the club museum.

But from Manchester United's point of view there is a downside to all this association, and it is a very important one which will have a long term effect. In fact it may already be irreversible. When my kids were very young they actually thought the football club I have followed for over forty years was called SHARP. And if you think about it, it is not that implausible. Surely it is obvious that the name which appears on your team's shirt is the name of the club. Obviously we know different, but to a small child who knows no better it is the most logical interpretation, nevertheless the everlasting image of that shirt is not the emblem of the football club, or even the crimson red, but the name of the club's sponsor. In actuality the football shirt is no better than an advertising board. It's all very well for people to say, 'I don't buy it anyway' and 'I couldn't care less if we have Vodafone on our shirts' but perhaps they should consider what effect that extra logo has on the name of Manchester United.

It could be argued that the sponsor's logo has more credibility than the shirt itself. It is definitely nothing to do with Manchester United - a club rich in history - but it is everything to do with marketing and the effect of it's advertising. Impressionable kids - kids who are supposedly the future of any football club - want to wear the shirt. But they want it as a fashion item. I hear them referring to it as 'the Vodafone shirt'. They know Manchester United wear it, but as an everyday item of clothing, the name Manchester United is not necessarily important. The logo it bears is it's identity and that logo is Vodafone. Manchester United has allowed itself to become a marketing vehicle for another business.

Surely it would be better for Manchester United to promote Manchester United and not a third party? The unadulterated football shirt, bereft of sponsors' logos, would still be a fashion item - but it would also be a football shirt promoting the club and the club's core business - football. you don't see the likes of Nike and Umbro linked with others do you?

If Manchester United designed and manufactured their own shirt there would be no need for sponsor's money. All profits would come direct to the club. But to me the most positive benefit of a lack of sponsor would be the fact that the shirt would be a Manchester United shirt pure and simple and that kids would refer to it as such. The name of the football club would be perpetuated rather than the name of another company who's only reason for association is to ensure it's own longevity.

Red Kelly

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