This week, Reading FC revealed their brand new 22/23 season home kit, complete with a ‘warming stripes’ shirt sleeve that is designed to highlight the increasing temperatures and impact of climate change over the club’s 151-year history.
The shirt, which is designed in partnership with the University of Reading, sparked a debate at Hatch HQ over whether it was a good idea or a well-intentioned fail, so I thought I’d write up our discussion and ultimately share the things we feel Reading (and any brand making this kind of move) need to do to avoid this just being an own goal.
1.Back It Up
The first thing that needs to cross your mind is whether this activity is a one-off or if you as a club/brand are really buying into the cause and making sure every possible aspect of your activity is eco-friendly, or at least on the road to becoming that way?
If your Chairman drives a 4×4 diesel or, like most clubs, you’re launching three new shirts every season in non-recycled material, you just need to be as transparent as possible and highlight it as one step on a long journey.
2. Tie in the Community
Football fans are the heart of any club, so why not involve them and their community in a piece of activity that takes it wider than just the club? What can you do within the local community to support and encourage climate change action on your doorstep? It might be on Reading’s radar for the future, but fans are much more likely to buy into something that impacts their day-to-day lives.
3. Avoid Conflicts
Consider your other partners and wider activity. Are you involved with brands who, despite their potentially best efforts, are not aligned with a focus on the climate change agenda? If so, you might want to rethink those partnerships or at least include an activity with them that loops them into the conversation, too.
Reading’s front of shirt sponsor is Select Car Leasing – not an ideal partner to have front and centre of your climate change statement activity.
4. Don’t Make it a Token
While it’s fine if this is the first step towards a greener future, if it’s the only step a club ever makes then it becomes a PR gimmick. Any time a club makes a statement like this all eyes will be on future activity, so it’s important that this is factored into long-term plans and becomes a genuine value of the club.
Any future activity, partners, and even day-to-day operations of the club come under greater scrutiny in these situations.
Reading’s head of commercial has acknowledged this and says the club is using its partnership with the Uni to make sure this is a long-term strategy.
“We are not perfect, but this is the start of a journey. We will not aim to change the world overnight but we want to aim to reduce our carbon footprint as a football club and give our fans the opportunity to come with us on the same journey.”
All in all, we’re absolutely in favour of football clubs taking on more responsibility over things like climate change and sustainability, and using their highly engaged audiences to drive positive change. But, with our PR heads on, there are some really easy pitfalls that need to be considered and avoided if clubs and brands want to make it work.