Yellow is a very special color for many Arsenal fans. It is associated with success. In the 1971 FA Cup final, for example, yellow was worn as Arsenal came from behind to beat Liverpool after extra time and secure their first double.
Eight years later they won the Cup again. Wearing yellow.
Then there was 1989, Mickey Thomas and all that. Winning the old Division One at Anfield, against Liverpool, they wore yellow shirts.
On the other hand, fans, die hard traditionalists at heart, do not have that have emotional attachment to blue, or white, or purple, which have been used in recent years. Primarily because they are not associated with winning trophies in the way yellow is.
Not that the club seem too worried. This season’s second choice shirt is a purple and black number and it is apparently “selling well.” Traditionalists, the old school, are up in arms about it but the club are looking at the bottom line and, especially, the lucrative Chinese market.
Talking to an Arsenal supporters’ group recently, commercial director Tom Fox was quizzed about shirt designs, and while he recognized the role yellow has played in the club’s history, he inferred that was not as important as the Asian consumer.
“You want a yellow shirt with blue trim, I get it. There are fans in China that don’t want that,” he told the supporters. He went on to say they, and kids in N5, Arsenal’s home turf in London, wanted something more fashionable to wear with their contemporary clothing.
Arsenal have jumped on the Asian bandwagon in the last 15 months or so with tours to China, Malaysia and Hong Kong. But it’s not just about shirt sales. It’s about raising the club’s profile in a part of the world that companies are rushing headlong into. And it’s about attracting sponsors who either want a piece of that action or they are already there but looking to expand themselves.
Watch a Premier League game most weekends and you can see how the clubs, and the league, are bending over backwards to chase the Asian dollar. Or baht. Or ringgit.
Liverpool, Everton, Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers have sponsors on their club shirt who are either Asian in origin or have a large presence in Asia while the likes of West Ham United, Wigan Athletic, Swansea City and Stoke City have online gambling sites.
It’s not just on the shirts that Asia is being targeted or showing off its wealth. Take a look at the A boards and you can see a Thai brewing war revolving in front of TV audiences around the world. Liverpool recently signed a deal with Indonesia’s flag carrier while a sports website, strongly and subtly, linked to a major tobacco company, also features prominently.
And there’s more. Queens Park Rangers, Leicester City and Cardiff City are owned by rich businessmen from Thailand (Leicester) and Malaysia. Seeing replica Leicester City shirts on sale at Bangkok’s international airport among the more familiar duty free brands takes some getting used to. And some chicken farmers own Blackburn Rovers.
Cardiff City have of course gone one step further in their attempts to appeal to a new breed of supporter. The Malaysian owned club have ditched their traditional blue shirts in a bid to attract fans in a culture where dragons and the color red carry strong messages of wealth and power, alienating some of their doorstep in the process. For now though it does seem most fans are giving the new owners the benefit of the doubt with the move but how long the honeymoon lasts remains to be seen.
A few years ago nobody in Malaysia would have known anything at all about Cardiff; indeed cynics may say they still don’t. But will a Malaysian owning a little known football club be enough to open the club to people who have already been following English football a decade or more and already have their own teams in red they support?
English fans have long been moaning about the crass commercialism of the game, especially the Premier League and its ‘greed is good’ policy, and the look east is only causing more consternation as fans who have followed their clubs through thick and thin now find themselves being marginalized by the perceived influx of foreign money.
There are pitfalls to this easy money. Everton, who have had a long and successful relationship with a Thai beer company, had their fingers burnt when they were due to go on a tour to Indonesia only to find it cancelled at the last minute for reasons that remain unclear but probably revolve around money.
The English Premier League may not be the best league in the world but it doesn’t matter. Had satellite TV been worldwide in the late 1980s or early 1990s perhaps Italian clubs would be the most popular. But it wasn’t. The big English clubs and their players are brands. And like all brands they are there to be exploited.
A new TV deal will boost the money flowing into clubs, but most of it will likely end up in players’ and agents’ pockets leaving clubs again scouring the globe for sponsors and revenue sources. With fans already being squeezed by high ticket prices, the most expensive seats for Arsenal v Chelsea later this month are a mind-boggling 123.50 GBP (Rp 1.85 million) and the cheapest at a mere 62.00 GBP, fans cannot be expected to keep bearing the brunt and Fox recognized that recently by saying the club was after 95 percent revenue growth coming from the club’s international business.
Traditions may be nice and may be what brings a club and its support together, but they don’t pay the bills. Expect to see more changes as new owners tinker with their club to attract new support and new money.