SHEFFIELD UNITED’S decision to remove the name of Jessica Ennis-Hill, the city’s world famous Olympian, from the Bramall Lane end of the ground in favour of a little known estate agent is an embarrassment. How the mighty are fallen.
The announcement this week that the Jessica Ennis Stand has been rebranded The Redbrik Stand is the result of what now looks like an ill-thought out and cynical attempt to piggyback on Jessica’s Olympic gold medal glory of 2012.
If the strategy had been to name the stand after her for a season in recognition of a world-beating achievement in the heptathlon at the London Olympics, then fine. But it wasn’t. Her name has been emblazoned across one end of the ground for three seasons.
It was assumed that was because United were proud to be associated with an Olympian who has an affection for the red and white half of the city. Presumably, like Jess’s gold medal, it was here to stay. That is what usually happens under such circumstances.
Not so. Jessica’s achievement was only being honoured until someone could be found willing to cough up enough sponsorship money to fill the space.
As George W Bush will now tell you, launching into something that seemed good at the time without having worked out an acceptable exit strategy is not a great idea. United’s management look, not for the first time, foolish. What next? Sponsorship of Derek Dooley’s statue in front of the South Stand?
Of course times move on. Since Olympic gold, Jessica has added a hyphen and Hill to her name after getting married and then last year giving birth to son Reggie. She said on the club’s website: “It was a real honour to have had the Bramall Lane Stand named after me in 2012. However, I completely understand the need for Sheffield United to recognise the valuable contributions of its sponsors and want to wish the club and the team all the best for the forthcoming season.”
Ennis-Hill, who has recently returned to the track following the birth of her child, is expected to compete at next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. What if she were to repeat the feat? That would be even more extraordinary. Not extraordinary enough though for the Redbrick Stand which will be starting the second year of a three-year contract.
Sheffield United is a business as well as a football club. Of course it has to generate revenue where it can and sponsorship of its stands is a profitable way to do that. It should stick to what it does best.
Removing the name of a world renowned gold medal-winning athlete who lives just a few miles from the ground in favour of commercial opportunism, leaves a bad taste. Ennis-Hill didn’t ask the club to name the stand after her. That was another piece of opportunism designed to make United look good. The problem was it didn’t make any money.
Jessica is a world-class athlete. A classy woman who conducts herself with class. The key word here is class. United’s senior management should get some.