Tom Bason wades in on the sponsorship debate as he looks at the club’s link between sponsorship and the community.
This week, Wolves announced their new sponsors as The Money Shop, a firm who specialise in short term loans at very high interest rates. Yes, they have other services, but, it is the short term loans that are front and centre on their website, indicating to me that it’s the product that is most important to them.
Now, this piece is not to have a go at The Money Shop. They are a business, who do what they do legally, and perhaps save some people from using illegal loan shops. Saying that, if you do feel the need to use a firm like The Money Shop, check this information out first and see if there’s a better alternative.
No, this piece is about Wolverhampton Wanderers, the club who represents the area and community where I grew up, choosing to associate themselves in such a visible way with a firm such as this.
‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, in a nutshell, is about ensuring that businesses adhere to various laws and norms of society. CSR has changed over the years; it is no longer just about, for example, a firm giving money to charity or being involved in social programmes. It is about more than that. It is about what the entire firm does, not just the charitable arm.
Football, and sport has always been awash with questionable sponsors, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Research, including some of my own, has shown how firms seek to use sport to legitimise what it does. Why do McDonalds and tobacco companies choose to sponsor sport tournaments? Generally, they want to be associated with the positive feelings that sport creates. While sport has some negative aspects at the highest levels, overall, it is a very positive thing.
Smith and Westerbeek identify seven reasons for sport being an ideal vehicle for CSR, but do not consider one of the most important factors – passion. I’m writing this, watching thousands of Sunderland fans celebrating their victory away at Norwich. Think of the feelings when Wolves stayed up against Blackburn in 2011, or even Sam Ricketts’ goal v Rotherham in 2014. Sport provides feelings that nothing else does. And companies want to ride on the back of that.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this is that it comes so close to the last Fans’ Parliament.
Now, the meeting itself doesn’t really matter, but prior to it was a half hour presentation by Ryan McKnight. The crux of this presentation is that Wolves are not just a football club who need to be successful. No-one started supporting Wolves because they’re successful; the vast majority of Wolves fans become supporters because of where they grew up, or for family reasons. No-one has renewed their season ticket for next season because of the quality of football on offer; they’ve done it because at Wolves, they are part of something. And just as Wolves fans are part of the Wolves family, so the football club is part of the wider community.
In fact, the football club is more than just part of a community – it is a representative of that community.
What else represents Wolverhampton in the same way as Wolverhampton Wanderers? If Pointless asked 100 people to name something that they associate with Wolverhampton, what would they say other than the football club?
One of the key arguments for why companies should engage in CSR, is that they should look to repay the communities in which they exist. You will see this in the offshoot of the Wolves Community Trust.
Firms do not live in a bubble; they cannot function without all of the little things that society provides them. Wolves do not exist in a bubble outside of the Black Country area; without this society, Wolves would not exist. And so, should Wolves be associating themselves with this type of firm?
For some, a football club is just a football club. The biggest clubs in the world are so globalised that their local roots do not matter. For Manchester United, their Official Global Noodle Partner is probably as important as any of the Manchester based sponsors. But for a club like Wolves, without that global identity, what it does in the local area matters.
At the last two Fans Parliament meetings, this has been focused on – before Christmas we had a talk by someone at the Wolves Community Trust, then we had Ryan McKnight’s community focused presentation at the last one.
Then a month or so later, we find out the club’s latest main sponsorship is with a firm which often dances with peoples’ vulnerability. As it ever seems with this club, it’s 1 step forward, 5 steps back.