13th September, 2011
Watching the Rugby World Cup matches in the weekend, there was one real sour note to an otherwise great opening spectacle (other than Auckland’s spectacular train fail.) And that was provided courtesy of the England team and their ‘away strip’.
Now I know that in the interests of being good hosts we’ve put aside any criticism of our guest’s selection of an ‘all black’ alternative kit for their pool games. And clearly, just donning one of the most recognised uniforms in the game hasn’t made a great deal of difference to their playing – as Richie McCaw famously pointed out, if you are relying on the colour of your jersey by game day, you’ve got deeper problems than just a choice of wardrobe.
But come on. From the nation that would tell you it invented modern manners, it’s pretty poor form to turn up to the party knowing you are going to be wearing the same outfit as your host.
Perhaps more importantly, they are infringing on the All Blacks brand – certainly the best recognised in rugby, and arguably one of the world’s leading sporting team brands.
The All Blacks – and their sponsors (even the much maligned adidas) – invest many millions in their brand identity. From their performance on the field, to the brands they choose to associate with, they have the right to control their identity and how it is projected to the world.
Rugby World Cups have the effect of extending brand awareness far beyond the usual reach of rugby enthusiasts. Right around the world, a competition at this level elevates interest in the sport, the personalities – and the brands; just witness the global phenomenon created by Jonah Lomu’s explosive play in the 1995 World Cup, which established the big man as a brand in his own right.
It seems the England team have been quite cynical in their approach to the choice of the black jersey as their alternative touring colour. Sure, they might have presented the choice as an innocent selection, or even a calculated bit of psychology designed to throw the All Blacks off their game. But in reality, its far more likely the England national franchise saw the opportunity to cash in on the All Blacks international brand and give fans the chance to purchase the famed black jersey to wear in support of their own team.
If this happened in any other commercial arena, the brand in question would quite rightly be looking at litigation to provide some injunctive relief – and possibly, given the way England played on Saturday, damages as well!
However, in the interests of sporting behaviour – something that some UK journalists have also seen fit to lecture the ABs on in recent times – the NZRU has taken the moral high ground. For fans around the world, though, it might be a case of the return of ‘Anyone But England’ for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
What’s your favourite example of brand ripping off another? Do you think the English side has knowingly stolen our brand image…or do you think it was an unintentional mistake? Is a sign of bad sportsmanship to mimic another team’s identity? Share your thoughts!