Following the recent Test Series win over New Zealand, it’s time to rethink how we market the England national team.
This isn’t about blindly having a pop at the RFL and making vague demands that they do more to raise the profile of the players, it’s about addressing a fundamental issue.
And that is the total absence of a tangible identity.
The world’s biggest international sporting brands have a tangible and marketable identity, based on elements like the team’s badge, kit or nickname.
Let’s look at England Rugby League.
Aside from the well-intentioned, but ultimately unimpactful, #WallOfWhite hashtag, there is little about the team that distinguishes it from the crowd.
The kit is white, the badge is an England flag on a shield and we don’t have a nickname.
Remember, the Lions is Great Britain’s nickname – not England’s – and the unfortunate reality is that in sporting terms the Lions label is now most closely associated with the Rugby Union touring side.
England Rugby League’s total inconspicuousness against a backdrop of successful identity marketing campaigns elsewhere in world sport is an issue we have ignored for too long.
On home shores, look no further than The Three Lions.
In any context, the Three Lions badge is immediately recognisable as England’s football team, while the Red Rose is synonymous with our nation’s Rugby Union side.
This month’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards named England Netball the Team of the Year and their nickname The Roses was referenced throughout.
Sky Sports encouraged viewers to ‘Wear the Rose’ earlier this year, in support of England Rugby Union, while Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions on a shirt’ is still ringing in our ears from this summer’s World Cup.
Internationally, the contrast is even more clear.
The Kiwis, the All Blacks, the Kangaroos, the Wallabies and the Springboks have all cultivated successful brands around which to market themselves.
The fact that I don’t have to tell you which teams those nicknames belong to proves how successful those brand exercises have been.
The double chevron of gold on green is recognisable worldwide as the jersey of the Kangaroos, as is the gold of the Wallabies and the white chevron on black of the Kiwis.
England Rugby League’s shirt simply isn’t recognisable out of context. The white shirt, sometimes with a cross, sometimes without, simply doesn’t stand out.
We have no nickname and no visual identity, nothing that is instantly recognisable as ‘us’ and nothing to hang our marketing and advertising on.
Consider this – England’s current mascot on match days is Grubber the Bear – re-purposed from his days as official mascot of Rugby League World Cup 2013.
Surely, we deserve better? Something that can convert the 32,000 that packed into Elland Road last month into a permanent fanbase.
Firstly, let’s introduce a kit design that is unique in international sport but still representative of England.
How about a red shirt with a white chevron? No other England team utilises red as the prominent colour for their home shirt, and the chevron is historic in Rugby League terms.
Next, the nickname.
Knights is already used as the moniker for our squad of emerging talent and the image is perhaps already too commonly used in our sport.
But there are plenty of other options out there, so let’s start a conversation and come up with something.
An obvious suggestion would be The Foxes. Or even the Red Foxes if we’re playing in red shirts?
The fox is an animal that is already commonly associated with England and isn’t currently in prominent use anywhere in international sport.
But that’s just an idea, and I’m sure there are other more creative options out there that capture the spirit of our sport while still being representative of our nation.
The nickname would then inform the logo, and suddenly we are on the path to creating something unique and recognisable, and something that we can hang our marketing off the back of.
These are all just ideas and all this article is really asking is that we think about it, because an England flag on a shield and a plain white shirt is currently doing nothing for us.
Author: Tom Coates