Official kit launches are guaranteed to get fans talking. Whether it’s a classic new take on an established shirt, addition of a new sponsor, or a wildly radical new design, everyone has an opinion. However, when Reading FC unveiled its hoops x stripes look on Monday, it gave the entire town something to get behind and put purpose at the heart of the club.
Partnering with the University of Reading, the club has given up the sleeve space on its new kit to highlight the ‘climate stripes’ that act as a visual representation of how temperatures have risen over a long period of time.
Created by the University’s Professor Ed Hawkins, the stripes compellingly illustrate the rise in average annual temperatures for towns, regions, countries, or continents – quite timely after the recent record-breaking heatwave. Having already appeared on the Reading Festival Main Stage, numerous TV channels around the world, and on the front cover of Greta Thunberg’s upcoming book, the stripes will now feature on football pitches up and down the country.
Now, before just pushing this gesture aside as another sports team’s attempt at ‘doing the right thing’, please hear us out. Given the great number of causes that the club could have supported and promoted, it has decided to do so with one that is very close to its heart. Working in partnership with the local University not only highlights the club’s strong affiliation to the town and its local community but also rightly showcases an institution that is doing amazing meteorological and climate change research on a global scale.
Then there is the shirt itself. Made from Eco-Fabric – 100% of which comes from recycled plastic bottles, the shirt maintains its characteristics during the process of being made, meaning the kit remains completely recyclable. Of course, football clubs aren’t perfect, but considerations and actions like these send out the right message and set the tone for other clubs – and sports teams – to follow.
The great news is that the partnership doesn’t just stop at the kit. The club have worked in partnership with the University of Reading’s sustainability team (and will continue to do so) to hold workshops on what it can do better in this important area. In the accompanying press release, the club talks of ‘a number of wide-ranging carbon-reduction initiatives as part of an overarching Environmental Sustainability strategy.’
In fact, kudos to the internal PR team at the club with their sincere, honest, and transparent release to communicate the partnership. Phrases such as ‘progressive partnership’, the club only being ‘at the start of the climate conversation’, ‘we can do much, much more’, ‘beginning of a long journey’, ‘not an ego-trip’, and ‘we may not be perfect’ all signify a club that does actually care and isn’t trying to greenwash.
Education of both the club and its supporters is a key part of the partnership. Based on some of the initial fan comments there’s still some way to go on the latter. Of course, as with any partnership like this, there will always be opposition, but what the club must do now is show to the fans that this isn’t just a one-off and that it can back it up with physical demonstrations and proof points over the coming seasons.
At a time where Reading FC is going through some well-publicised financial difficulties, giving up sleeve space which carries value to a paying a brand is a bold move that shows the club really is intending to practice what it preaches. What the club has rightly done is placed a value on purpose and the long-term benefits the partnership with the University of Reading will bring to the club and its supporters.
It’s necessary to be mindful that this approach doesn’t just apply to those that bring purposeful benefits. For brands that may not be able to offer wider societal purpose-driven messages and assets, there is still great value in identifying the things that can be brought to the table.
At the beginning of the year, we wrote about the power of partnerships and the need for a change of mindset, with the understanding that value doesn’t only come in the form of currency. Sponsors shouldn’t be entering a new deal stating what they want and asking how much it’s going to cost – that’s not collaboration. They need to think about all the benefits they can offer. If a rightsholder does that in return, then you start forming a partnership whereby each is working together to form the best possible outcome.
In Reading FC and the University of Reading, we see exactly that. The club wants to reduce its carbon footprint and educate its fans along the way. For the university, it’s an opportunity to highlight its meaningful work and take the climate change conversation to new audiences. Together it forms a powerful partnership that is contributing toward the good of society. In our eyes, that’s not just a powerful combination, it’s a top-of-the-table kind of partnership!