Liverpool and Western Union

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Earlier this week, Liverpool announced a new sponsor and company logo to go along with Standard Chartered on the kit. Western Union, the financial and communications company based in Colorado, now have their logo emblazoned on the arm of the new shirt. Liverpool Chief Executive Peter Moore said:

When the Premier League announced in February that we were able to go look for a sleeve sponsor for our jerseys we were excited on a number of levels,”

Whatever floats your boat, mate.

This has led to a black and white debate between the fans. While some will nod at the pragmatic nature and ‘good business’ and ‘fresh revenue streams’, others are more concerned about the sanctity of the shirt and commercialisation of an already crowded marketplace.

It’s easy to mock the notion of sponsorship. In The Simpsons Krusty the Clown – the star of the kids TV show and Springfield hero to Bart – endorses absolutely every product possible as long as he’s handsomely paid for it. In one episode in which he is reunited with his estranged father, he talks about his Jewish heritage and recites a Hebrew blessing. Yet in another he tells the kids at his live TV show that he ‘has a real hankering for some pork products’ despite the implications to his faith, going so far as to bring a barbecue into the studio.

Equally, on the brilliant long running Radio 4 show I’m Sorry I Don’t Have a Clue one underworked panel member was accused of having an answerphone which states ‘I’m not in at the moment but I’ll do it.’

When it comes to new deals, Liverpool have a hankering for some pork products and will definitely do it.

This is an age where you can buy another company’s coverage. One of the reasons why Moore is so ‘excited’ about this is that we can ‘get a partnership that gives us the ability to interact with our fans on a global basis.’ Yes, because we were clearly struggling with that before Western Union came to save us.

I’m sorry but I just don’t understand that. If I’m queueing up to change my Sterling for Euros at a Western Union, is it going to bring me closer to the club or any other? Equally, am I more likely to choose Western Union now that they’re on our shirt? I can answer that here and now. Coincidentally, I’ve just returned from Spain and had to change my funds on the day the deal was announced. I went to the Post Office.

The partnership amounts to £25m for five years – £5m a season. Yes, for five seasons we will wear their somewhat oversized logo for the price of half a Virgil van Dijk. I’ll take the half without the knackered leg.

Of course, since Fenway came in we’ve been awash with new deals and endorsements. According to the club website, Liverpool currently have a main club sponsor, a kit supplier, an official shirt sleeve sponsor (important to point out that that’s an ‘official’ one and not those ‘unofficial’ ones you see), an official training kit sponsor, eleven ‘Official Partners’ and fifteen ‘Regional Marketing Partners’ including ‘Chaokoh’ – a coconut water provider.

On top of this we have official health, wellness, men’s grooming, timing (?), tea, coffee, bakery, tyre, beer and (my favourite) ‘daily fantasy sports’ partners. I’m sure we turn stuff down too but it seems the door is always open.

And I know a lot of people will have no problem with this. If they’re paying for it then it’s money which could help Jurgen and the Redmen achieve glory and who wouldn’t want that? Of course, we’d actually have to buy players for that to work but that’s a discussion for another day.

If you’re against this it’s more likely to be on aesthetic grounds than financial. Every major club has allegiances with corporates. Even Barcelona, who held out for decades, have, since 2012, given in and allowed a sponsor’s name to be daubed next to their badge. Nowadays we have to play ball even if it’s at the cost of dignity.

Personally, I can live with the idiocy of Official Coconut Water provider as that’s a local deal and won’t impinge on anything I love. If someone wants to pay us so they can shift a few units (and I’d DEFINITELY buy that coconut water over any other if it has a picture of Nathaniel Clyne on the container) then that’s up to them and the cash fits better in our pocket than that of a rival. It’s when it comes to the shirt that it hurts.

Like most football debates, this is based on pure hypocrisy. In 1979 we were the first club in the country to allow a sponsor’s name on the jersey. This was certainly a novelty at the time and it worked. I can remember excitedly telling my schoolmates that Jack Sharp’s – the chief sports shop in Liverpool city centre – had ‘the Hitachi kit’ in. Yes, we called it by the sponsor’s name rather than the club. A free plug if you’ll excuse the pun, even though I couldn’t actually purchase anything being that I wasn’t really in the market for electronic goods at the age of ten.

For me – and I know this is a generational thing – the Liverpool shirt represents something I have deeply embedded in my heart. It’s a way of life, a way of doing something, a culture that exists nowhere else on this island. It bears the emblem of our city, the colour comes from Shankly and that era and that ethos is stemmed in the three letters – L.F.C. That’s a statement, not a simple acronym and it means something to me. I don’t want it to be sullied by someone who happens to have great sackfuls of cash and a slogan to bung on a jersey. Of course, we’ve long lost that identity and any semblance of heritage evaporated when we allowed a McDonalds sign to appear on the external wall of the Kop in the 90s. It will continue too. The next step will simply be more and more adverts, placed wherever possible.

If I was the sort of man who wore replica shirts (and I do have some for gym purposes) I would bristle about the connection between something I love and something I’m, at best, indifferent about. To show that club allegiance in public I would also have to advertise Standard Chartered and tacitly say that I was on-board with them too. I resent that. Now it’s added Western Union.

So don’t buy the shirt, Karl! I won’t, of course, but I feel uncomfortable at the celebration of it. It might make ‘business sense’ and a ‘share of common brand values’, whatever they are, but that says nothing to me about my life. That badge does.

My final point on this is arguably the most important one. The sleeve advert looks too big, gaudy and, well, let’s not beat around the bush here – shit. It just looks shit. I don’t like things looking shit on my club’s shirt. Sorry if that makes me a dinosaur.

Actually, I’m not sorry at all.

I understand the opposing argument. That makes sense. Just don’t tell me that this is anything than a necessary evil or that a logo on a shirt means that people in, say, South East Asia are now more connected to the club than ever before. That’s just bollocks.

Blood red shirt. Three letters. Liver bird.

That’s why I’m still doing all this. That’s what I’m here for. Nothing else.

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