Brand is a dirty word in football. When used by clubs it’s evidence of how the game has changed, becoming less a working-class pasttime and more a globalised, multi-million pound industry. When used by a player, like Rohan Ricketts (how did that trial go in the end Rohan?), it makes them sound like a cock.
To be a brand is to have an image to protect and make money from, and the idea that our club exists to make money is a tough idea to swallow, but it’s an issue that was raised on Friday when Norwich forced a local brewery to stop selling a particular brand of beer. The beer, entitled ‘On The Ball’, came with a green and yellow label and the Norwich City badge, and it seems that it is the use of the badge which really forced the issue.
Which, when you think about it, is understandable. The point of view of the club is clear. If they can’t control their image, especially now we’re going to be attracting global attention like never before, then the potential for harm is out there. Even though this beer is made by a fan and is only really sold in the local area, it isn’t licensed by the club and with the badge on it, it does suggest endorsement. What is interesting, though, is the language used in the letter sent by Norwich to Colin Emms:
“immediately cease using any of the club’s intellectual property, in particular the club crest and the words ‘On the Ball'”
Is On the Ball intellectual property of the football club? Would this beer have remained on sale if it was simply called On The Ball and not branded with the club badge? And can the club claim intellectual property to a song that is older than the club is?
Once you begin to take issue with intellectual property, it’s hard to see where the line gets drawn. Several businesses in Norwich have set up with green and yellow colours and many use the word Canary in their names – kebabs, taxis, snooker to name just three. Are these businesses now infringing intellectual property, implying partnership or endorsement with the club (that anyone with a brain realises isn’t there).
How far does this go? Is On The Ball City copyrighted? I’m fairly sure I’m allowed to sing it whenever and wherever I please – is this a liberty kindly extended by the club or is it something I should seek permission for? Is it ok if you’re implying connection to the club but not trying to make money from it?
This site, for example, talks about Norwich, will occasionally put up youtube videos (copyrighted by the FA/Premier League/Football League), will post pictures, will link to articles and generally discuss all things NCFC, but I don’t try to make any money from this, so I should be fine, right? What about sites that do? What about ontheballcity.com, for example, who sell advertising and at one point sold t-shirts with OTBC on them. Is that intellectual property? What about websites that sell green and yellow t shirts with Norwich related slogans or pictures on them?
The point of all this is that while some things are rightly protected by the club, somethings belong only to the fans. While David McNally is spot on to want to protect revenue at the club, to help grow and provide money for the first team squad, the idea that On The Ball is somehow the property of the club is a bit offensive to many fans. You would hope that the club doesn’t get overzealous in its aim to protect and grow its revenues, because it is ordinary fans, the life blood of the club, who could suffer.
Otherwise, if you read one thing today, read this by Chris Lepkowski, a journalist from the midlands who covers WBA. A brilliant look at the way twitter/blogs/news now and the rest has affected transfer gossip this summer, something I will shortly be covering with regards to a certain goalkeeper…