A blog in which we consider the benefits of rashness over economics - a potentially dull read of more than 140 characters, but one that we hope you’ll stick with.
Calls for the deletion of the allegedly ‘toxic’ Cardiff in the name of our team is based partly on good old Welsh levelling arguments but, more importantly, also predicated upon the notion that those for whom the name is aversive will unconditionally support the regional team once the epithet is removed. This is a crucial consideration, given that the potential takeover of our franchise (whatever that is) by the WRU is driven entirely by the continuing nosedive in the accounts of Cardiff Blues Ltd.
Part of this nosedive reflects the fact that the pro teams in Wales are still massively under-funded as compared to the rest of the UK and Europe-the legacy of Lewis lives on and the lasting damage done may yet see his infamous ‘cease to exist’ statement made manifest. To a large extent, the financial plight that the WRU is rescuing us from was created by the WRU itself and is therefore in part a self-fulfilling prophecy. It could almost have been planned-except that planning is generally conspicuous by its absence in the world of Welsh rugby. More cock-up than conspiracy then perhaps.
Other factors are also at play. Significant annual inflation in player salaries is one, as is the continuing decline in ticket sales, something which has sadly been in evidence for a while now at CAP. It is entirely possible that the latter trend is reflective of the fact that the ‘Cardiff’ brand has become even more ‘toxic’ in recent years, despite the stoic efforts of the club to completely ignore it (which, to be fair, is largely determined by the current RSA) and the unwritten law that the BBC commentators must never mention it. Vocal and sizeable though they are, we’re not actually convinced that the ranks of our haters have swelled significantly in this time-more probably hated us per head of population in the halcyon days of amateur rugby. The more likely reality is that this reflects the fact that a whole shed load of support was lost after the Cardiff City Stadium debacle and that since our return to CAP we’ve been really hard work to watch and love. Being pants on and off the field does not encourage affinity.
So, something has to be done-there is no status quo option here- and the aspirational WRU deal is seemingly the only thing on the table. Let’s take a while then to consider what the business strategy is here-presuming that there is of course a business strategy. We’ll start with two (challengeable) assumptions-the first being that there will continue to be a professional team in Cardiff and that this team will continue to play at CAP (the name of which will not change).
The word from informed sources is indeed that, whether it be in the short-term or perhaps more likely in the medium term (when the new RSA is negotiated), the WRU will seek to lose the Cardiff name. Given that this is what has happened at Newport, why would we expect otherwise? It is this possibility therefore that we need to consider from a business perspective.
The present financial climate is not just relevant to ourselves of course. The Newport scenario was also financially driven, the outcome of which is that the WRU are buying Rodney Parade for 3.75 million and having to make significant capital investments on the pitch and facilities on top of that-even before any money is spent on improving the team (or perhaps if any money is spent on improving the team). Underwriting the Cardiff Blues losses will require another 1.5-2 million, while the Ospreys and Scarlets are also looking for more investment and to retain the funding differential that exists between them and their Eastern rivals.
So, this is a time of significant expenditure for the union and therefore one of substantial risk. As with any business, the WRU needs to plan for and attempt mitigate this risk. How best does it do that?
Aside from the dying breed of benefactors, the biggest income for professional rugby comes from sponsorship, TV monies and attendance. The first question then is whether ‘the Blues’ is a stronger brand than ‘Cardiff’ when it comes to attracting sponsorship and TV revenue? Given the ubiquitous nature of ‘Blues’ sporting brands, the answer to this is probably a fairly reliable ‘No’. The second question then becomes whether a completely new and branding à la Ospreys would carry a bigger marketing punch. It might, but it might not; a radical rebranding might work, but it could also introduce new risk.
There are already rumours that some existing sponsors might jump ship if this goes the way we think it might. These rumours might be completely unfounded but, if you think about it, what kind of sponsor would choose to be associated with a novel, fabricated entity over one with an historic and established sporting provenance?
The question also needs to be asked as to how sponsors would respond to the removal of a branding that is swimming against the current tide of the promoting the city as a regional business centre (see for example the Hansard entry for the Cardiff City Deal)? The city swimming one way, the rugby club swimming another; it doesn’t seem to make huge sense.
Furthermore, the naming issue risks unravelling the potential redevelopment of CAP, which has implications not just for Cardiff rugby, but also for local council and business aspirations for the ‘golden mile’ between the new Central Square development and the Castle. This is a big issue therefore and one that will impact on the economy of Cardiff beyond way beyond rugby.
That leaves attendance. This may be hard for the powers that be and even for some fans of Cardiff Blues to grasp, but affinity to a sports club is often illogical and almost always driven by emotion. It’s emotion and affinity that keeps us going to support our side when the kick off times are completely random and destructive to family life, when it would be so much easier to stay in the warm and watch it on TV because it’s pissing down outside, when the price of a beer at the club is higher than you pay in your local, and when the fare served up on the field barely merits you leaving the house in the first place. Threaten to mess with that affinity however and you stir up an angry beast. Though we know it lacks any kind of statistical validity, as already reported, our recent survey indicated that 63% of respondents said that continuing to have ‘Cardiff’ in the name was essential and 53% saying that its absence would impact on their attendance. The data may be rubbish-in fact it is rubbish- but nobody else has any data at all, just opinion, so perhaps we ignore it our peril.
At present, WRU strategy seems designed to appease the disenfranchised while disenfranchising the committed; it’s either a very brave or very foolish plan-but appeasement doesn’t have a great history as a strategy.
When we met with Gareth Davies recently, he said that we simply don’t know whether changing the name would impact on attendance-which is 100% correct- but there’s certainly no convincing evidence that the neutral term created for the ‘one true region’ has positively impacted on numbers coming through the turnstiles. Do the WRU therefore really want to take a massive gamble and add additional risk to an already risk rich operating environment? Just as you might want to believe that having promises of an extra 350 million a week for the NHS on a bus is real, the truth may be appallingly different.
Some rebranding at Cardiff may well be a good thing and quite welcome– recent Twitter activity suggested some enthusiasm for such a move. Even the drummer boys struggle to get a meaningful rhythm out of ‘Blues’, and while a vociferous minority chants ‘I will never be a Blue’, we’ve yet to hear ‘I would rather be a Blue’ ringing out on the terraces. So, possible rebranding in the wake of a WRU revolution? Yes- but care needs to be taken to rebrand the right bit. Paradoxical and unpalatable though this will be to some, a successful WRU-led franchise at CAP needs to make more use of the Cardiff name rather than less of it.
At the end of the day, what any organisation does is more important than what it is called (shock horror moment) and we’ll be writing about what Cardiff rugby needs to do to improve regionality in both player development and spectator terms in the next week or two (when we will startlingly agree with Geraint Powell over some matters!) But to manage risk in a commercial sporting environment, you start from a position of strength and ensure that you take existing fans with you while trying to grow the brand and get new ones on board.
To do anything else is nothing more than a faith and dogma-driven shot in the dark; knock it down and they will come.