England Netball's sponsorship deal feels like a missed opportunity for women's sport and for sports sponsorship.
Last week England Netball announced a landmark sponsorship deal with Vitality. As part of the arrangement the team will be renamed ‘Vitality Roses’. I say team, I mean country, of course.
The announcement of this deal left me feeling pretty deflated to be honest. On the one hand, it’s amazing that a large brand is making such a meaningful commitment to women’s sport. But on the other, more dominant hand, the fact that brand and rights holder felt the need to rename England’s national team is quite depressing.
At a time when England’s women are enjoying a golden age (quite literally with England scooping the Commonwealth Games gold medal) the most imaginative integration that anyone can come up with is to give the sponsor the naming rights to the team.
I don’t blame England Netball for taking the money, it’s funding will no doubt go into securing the future of the sport as a professional game but this to me is symptomatic of the things that are wrong with the sponsorship industry.
Brands need to find their role in a sport, not just turn up and slap their name in places that, quite frankly, people don’t want to see it.
Why not tell the story of where that sponsorship money is going? Vitality are doing an amazing thing by backing a sport that promotes positive female role models. This is such a powerful message and I wish they’d concentrate on this, rather than looking for a cheap PR stunt by renaming a country.
Playing for your country, in whatever sport, should be the ultimate honour. It’s what you dream of when your in your back garden, local park or school playground. I dreamt of playing rugby for Wales, not ‘Rumbelows Dragons’ or ‘Bet365 Celts’ - I doubt many aspiring netballers will see it any different.
Ultimately, I wish England Netball every bit of luck (unless they're playing Wales) and I’m pleased that they’ve secured a deal of this stature at a time when the market is tough.
But if every sponsorship deal has to resort to granting the sponsor full naming rights of the team, then the market will get a lot tougher indeed.