HULL City fans are no doubt waiting before they pop the Champagne corks over the FA’s decision to block a name change to Hull City Tigers – because chairman Assem Allam has repeated his threat to walk away from the club.
My experience suggests that such a departure from his £75m investment is as unfeasible as the case for rebranding the club in the first place. There is no firm academic evidence that a name change to Hull City Tigers would elevate the club’s fortunes in lucrative Far East markets.
But let’s not be too harsh on the Allams. They are people with a long and respected business pedigree in the East Riding of Yorkshire who undoubtedly saved the club from closure.
Let’s face it, the Tigers have an interesting history that includes David Lloyd locking them out of Boothferry Road and Phil Brown singing end-of-season on-pitch karaoke. The Allams have made the club credible and charismatic, with a great squad and manager, without losing that colourful reputation.
They stepped in and ploughed a huge amount of resource into the club, but their commercial opportunities are limited. They do not own the KC Stadium so in order to recoup some of their financial investment, they needed to explore lucrative pan-Asian markets. They were sincere in their efforts to do so and were committed in the idea until the end.
It’s not as if the Allams haven’t tried other avenues. Hull City Council refused to sell him the stadium freehold so he could develop, as he has stated, “a sports park” on the site. This decision led to the loss of, as Allam said, a £30m windfall to spend on the infrastructure of the club, to increase the stadium by 10,000 and to have commercial activities around the stadium – a self-financing future.
Now that the FA has stepped in it looks like the idea of Hull City Tigers will remain just that. So what happens next?
I firmly believe that once Allam knows for absolute certain that these measures cannot be implemented, he will end the posturing and demonstrate the practical nous which has driven his business career. He cannot, and simply won’t, walk away from such a big investment.
Selling a football club is not easy. They will hope to recoup a large portion of that and there aren’t many investors waiting in the wings to take over.
If current form continues, Hull City will cement their place in the Premier League next season. They stand to earn millions and have an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley to look forward to. If they get through that, and I have to be careful here, they are looking at a European place. Replicating Swansea’s success in Europe next season will bring in millions in revenue.
Then, there’s the Hull City of Culture in 2017. The eyes of the world will be on the city, and Hull City will receive another major hike in the recognition stakes. That sounds like the makings of success to me, and Assam Allam will want to be at the helm. But it won’t be easy.
He faces a long PR battle to regain the trust of supporters following some very ill-judged public remarks about their battle to keep the club’s name as Hull City Association Football Club. He has also revealed himself to be out-of-step with supporters of football throughout the country, once suggesting he would rename Manchester City as Manchester Hunter.
This battle of wills will not be the last in modern football. Clubs like Cardiff City, Leicester and Leeds United have all undertaken re-positioning which doesn’t always sit comfortably with football supporters. The game of football should be for the fans, not simply for brand consultants. Things like name changes, new shirt colours, ground names and the Kit Kat Crescents of this day and age may sound good on paper, but football doesn’t always work like that.
In the case of Hull City, there needs to be a cooling-off period. The Allams should go down in history as the people who saved the club, not the ones who tampered with the name. Ten years ago they were playing Kidderminster Harriers. Similarly the fans who have fought such a strong media campaign against a name change should be commended for forcing football to wake up and smell the coffee.
• Rob Wilson is a football finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University.