Hull City: Managing Marketability And Tradition

The City of Hull is home to a club whose nickname is among the more unique in the British Football Pyramid.  If their colors, amber and black, don’t shout out the nickname then certainly the picture on their crest leaves no doubt as to what their monicker is. The nickname, ‘The Tigers’  definitely has more to do with the color scheme than with how common such big cats are in the north east area of England and for as much as its beloved by the team’s fans, it has become apparent that they prefer it to stay the nickname rather than see it find its way into the official club name.

Confusion arose among fan’s of Hull City AFC (Associated Football Club) around mid July as the owner, Dr. Assem Allam, had numerous times made reference to the club as the ‘Hull Tigers’ as well as the appearance of a modified Crest on the club’s website that had removed the word “The” as well as the acronym “AFC”.  Following these developments, rumors and fears began to build among the fan base that the overall change to “Hull Tigers” would in fact occur, which resulted in the start of a petition by fans opposing the change.

Hull City Petition banner

Petition Banner – Source:

Initially the crest modification was explained as a promotion for an event. When the crest was put onto the training ground gates, Nick Thompson the club’s managing director stated that the official company name that owns the club was simply changed to ‘Hull City Tigers’. In the end, these notions were dispelled by Dr. Allam who confirmed his preference was to see the club name become “Hull Tigers”.  He argues the change from two angles.

The first is that from a marketing and business standpoint, having the official team name be ‘Hull City Associated Football Club” is simply too long and that shorter is better for business.  He argues that “in the commercial world, the shorter the name, the better. The more it can spread quickly.” With the shorter name comes a more powerful message for what he believes is already a powerful brand.

The second argument is still business related but more of a personal feeling that the ‘City’ reference in the name is weak due to the number of teams who also use the word in their name.  In total, five other teams in the Premier League use the word in their name including Manchester City, Swansea City and Stoke City, while a further seven in the divisions below the Premier League also use the word.

Despite ‘City’ being in the names of the clubs mentioned above, few clubs are commonly referred to as City except for the Manchester club and that is simply to distinguish it from it’s United, and not-so-noisy, neighbor. Take Swansea, Stoke, Norwich and Cardiff and these teams are mostly referred to by just their names.  In addition, while not as numerous as the ‘City’ title, United is a team name that exists with three major teams in the Premier League and eleven further teams in the leagues below, yet neither Manchester United, Newcastle United or West Ham United seem to have any qualms, either business or otherwise.

The real issue fans have with this branding move by the Allams is the irreverence that the move has for the history of the club.  In Dr. Allam’s argument in favor of the switch he states that in dropping ‘The’ and ‘AFC’ the club has “dropped something that is redundant, that is of no value, and is of no use.”

That statement, specifically the value portion of it, seems to be what gets under the fan’s skins the most with many feeling that the history of the club, and consequently the name, in fact holds significant value to the tradition and culture of the club.

The Premier League has made a statement regarding the proposed name change saying that the league itself has not been officially informed of anything and that the league would continue to include ‘City’ in the team name. Almost as a nod to the fans of the club, the league went on further to say that if a name change was put forward they would inquire to see what type of fan consultation the club had gone through.

Similar branding moves have been made to equal distaste among Premier League team’s and their fans specifically with Everton and Cardiff City.  Neither teams took the route of changing their name, but with Everton quite a big deal was made of the change made to their crest which removed the year that the club was established. At Cardiff the whole color scheme of the club was changed.  These two clubs also represent the spectrum of responses a club may take to fan ire and opposition to the changes.  Despite claims of meeting with supporter groups, Everton acknowledged mistakes in the development process and have stated they will go through a more thorough process after this season since the crest cannot be changed back immediately.  Cardiff, however, have made no apologies and have pushed forward despite fan recoil.

The whole tradition ordeal brings to mind scenes from Fiddler On The Roof, and the situation adds another talking point to the discussion surrounding decisions made by owners with regard to major and wholesale changes in the club without consulting the fan base.  Does an owner who has put large amounts of personal fortune into a club have the right to change things as he sees fit?  Red Bull obviously has no issue changing everything about a club from a marketing perspective, as they now own at least four separate clubs around the world that share the same marketing and branding layout. Despite this, it seems counterproductive to brand a club internationally at the expense of many local fans who will be the ones filling the stadium and paying the ticket prices.

Hull have floated in and out of the Premier League recently, and who is to say they wont be relegated after this season?  Branding and marketing smaller clubs internationally is a tough sell and there is some logic and rationale to shortening the name; however, with clubs like Barcelona and Chelsea not seeing an issue with the “FC” at the end of their names, and clubs like Sunderland who indeed have an ‘AFC’ in their name that is almost never referenced, it is possible that Dr. Allam is alienating a potentially more important fan base in favor of appealing to one that may not be won over.

The drama is yet to fully play itself out and supporters have a year before the ‘City’ portion is supposed to be taken out of the official name and so much can happen over that time.

What do you think about Hull City AFC potentially changing the club’s name? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter or Facebook.


Reporting on the business side of the world's game.