Tag Archives: BRICs

Cardiff City Jersey Debacle: A Taste of the Future Far Beyond Football

Yesterday, after several weeks of absurd yes-we-will, no-we-won’t drama, Cardiff City FC’s owners announced that they will in fact be changing the team’s shirt next season from blue (the colour the team has worn since 1908) to red (a colour the team has never worn before).

The good old days vs. The brave new world

Moreover, the team’s crest will change too, relegating the Bluebird (Cardiff’s mascot) from its former place of prominence to the very bottom, in favour of the red Welsh dragon.

Now, I think this whole episode portends a lot for the future of human civilisation, but before explaining why, I realise that many of my readers are American, and don’t understand why this re-branding is such a big deal.  I’ll humour you for a moment. For my British readers, skip ahead to the awful picture below.

Why it’s a big deal

The changes to Cardiff City are not analogous to, say, the San Diego Padres changing their colours from brown and yellow to brown and orange to navy blue and orange to just navy blue to camouflage. It’s really not even analogous to the Washington Bullets changing their mascot to become the Washington Wizards. Tradition has a role in baseball and basketball but it’s not nearly as dominant as in European football, and very few teams’ identities and traditions are bound up in their team logo or colours (Exceptions would be very old teams like the Yankees and Reds in baseball or the Celtics and Bulls in basketball).

A better, though still imperfect analogy would be if the Green Bay Packers were to change their uniform to a colour that wasn’t green and changed their logo to something other than the iconic “G.” Again though, this would still not be quite as dramatic, given that the Packers haven’t been around as long as the Bluebirds, and they didn’t always wear green.

[ADDENDUM: For my Canadian readers, it would be like the Maple Leafs changing their sweater to red]

It used to be like this EVERY GAME

What it means

The two conflicting sides in this debacle were the team’s (Malaysian) owners –who claimed that switching to red and dragons would help woo potential supporters in Asia — and the team’s fans who felt that such an abrupt switch ignored the club’s history and traditions.

(Incidentally, if the only thing Asian fans look for in a team is a red uniform and a dragon on the crest, wouldn’t they all already support Liverpool?)

Reverse Imperialism, suckaz!

Now, I count myself a Cardiff supporter, and I  was opposed to the kit switch, but I couldn’t help but find the irony a bit amusing. Here was an episode involving Asians and Europeans, where culture and traditions were being disrespected, or at least disregarded, BUT!!! this time it was the Europeans whose traditions were being disregarded and it was the Asians who had the power, money and final say in the matter.

This, I believe, is the first portent from the shirt saga.

The most obvious lesson for the future of course is that, in our globalised world, commercial considerations will usually trump cultural traditions, but this truism is, by now, so banal, that it hardly warrants further analysis.

Rather, what I find more interesting is the battleground on which these struggles take place. Note that, with his immense wealth (around $1.25 billion), owner Vincent Tan thought the best investment he could make to raise the profile of Malaysian sports was in a football club in Wales.

Indeed, wealthy tycoons from all over the emerging world have also decided that English football clubs are the best use of their gargantuan finances.

Interestingly, Air Asia doesn’t even fly to the UK

Just in the top two divisons of English football you have: Blackburn Rovers, owned by an Indian; Chelsea, owned by a Russian; Leicester City, owned by Thais; Hull City, owned by an Egyptian; Manchester City, owned by an Emirati oil sheikh;  and Queens Park Rangers, owned by an Indian and a Malysian.

As far as I know (and I am willing to be corrected), none of these owners have invested any money in domestic leagues in their own country. They certainly have the means to pump a lot of money into football in Thailand. Malaysia, etc. and thus greatly improve the quality of entire leagues in their home countries.

But instead, they see English football as the best arena for their personal ambitions and expressions of national pride.

Now, here is what I find interesting: Despite the incredible national diversity of club owners in the English Premier League and Championship, there are NO mainland Chinese* owners. Why? It’s certainly not due to a paucity of Chinese millionaires or a lack of interest in football. Rather, it seems that football-loving Chinese tycoons would rather bring world-class football players to China (the most high-profile example being Nicolas Anelka) than buy up a team in England and re-brand it to look more Chinese.

And so, here for me is the most telling sign of things to come: As China’s wealth and influence has grown, so has its confidence. But for other Asian countries, enjoying similar economic growth, there is still an insecurity which leads them to seek prestige in Europe and the West, rather than on their own terms.

What exactly does that mean for the future? I don’t know, but I’m sure there will be more colossal misunderstandings, and next time maybe outside the realm of football.

And for those of you taking any schadenfreude in Cardiff City’s plight, be careful. If the Bluebird is an endangered species in this brave new world, the Swan could become one too!

*Although Birmingham City are owned by a businessman who is from Hong Kong

Luxury Bikes for the BRICS!

New format: Idea up front, explanation later.

Idea: Luxury bicycles marketed specifically to emerging economies

Explanation: Anyone who knows me, or who reads my other blog, knows that I will go to great lengths to ride my bike, even if only for short lengths. Because of my appreciation for these machines, I now posit the Maus Hypothesis of Bicycle Appreciation. 

My hypothesis is thus: that the appreciation for bicycles in a given country or society correlates to income along a U-curve. That is, in the poorest of countries, where bicycles are ubiquitous, they are appreciated for their many functions. Here in Uganda, bicycles serve as taxis, pushcarts, and even, as bicycles.

As incomes increase, appreciation of bicycles lowers. Because bicycles are associated with the days of poverty, they are shunned by the new rich who see cars as a status symbol.  But at the highest income levels, bicycle appreciation recovers. Here, people now have time for recreation, and thus view bicycles as fun. Also, in some places, cars have become so passe that they no longer carry value as a status symbol, and in densely populated urban areas, have diminished value as a mode of transport.

Here is how I would visually depict this hypothesis:


Obviously, there would be some outliers on this graph. The US has higher incomes, but lower appreciation for bicycles, due mostly to America’s deeply entrenched car culture, and low levels of physical fitness (although this is perhaps both cause and effect). Additionally, in some poor countries, say Mongolia, cycling has never gained widespread acceptance due to geography or culture. Also, keep in mind that the y-axis plots appreciation not usage of bikes.

It’s mostly in the emerging markets that bicycles face the biggest challenge. I’m thinking specifically of the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and even more specifically of India and China. The BRICS account for over 40% of the world’s population, a quarter of its landmass and most of its current economic growth. Thus, the transport and lifestyle habits of people in these countries will have a massive impact on the future of the planet.

As I’ve suggested, bicycles are by no means scarce in these countries. But as soon as people have enough money, they usually trade them in for automobiles. There might be any number of reasons someone decides to purchase a car, but I would guess that the main one is status. After all, if you live in China or India, and you’ve ridden a bike your whole life, it’s probably because that was all you could afford. If you continue to ride a bike, people will assume your situation hasn’t changed. But driving a car will make it clear that you’ve done well for yourself.

If 1.4 billion Chinese people and 1.2 billion Indians start driving cars at the same rate as Americans, it’s curtains for those countries’ infrastructure and air quality. As in the US, the individual desire for status will probably trump any feeling of societal obligation.

If I’m correct that people buy cars to display their wealth and status (it’s hard to explain any functional benefit to having a car instead of a bike in Beijing or Delhi), the disadvantage of bikes is that they are associated with poverty, rather than wealth.

But not so for the luxury bike!

How is a luxury bike different from any other bike? In the same way that an Acura is different from a Honda: different branding and nicer accessories. A solid bike with a plush leather saddle, brake and shift levers made of chrome or some other unnecessary metal, and the right brand name on the frame could quite effectively convey one’s status.

Coming soon to a bike near you?

The production and manufacture of these bicycles would be the easy part. The branding and marketing would be more difficult. We could either try to develop a brand from scratch, equating our bikes with power and sophistication and recruiting a celebrity or two to endorse the brand. Or we could licence the name of an existing luxury brand, e.g. build our bikes and then paint the name ‘Gucci’ on then (and then perhaps encrust the name with diamonds).

These bicycles would be marketed to the fast-growing middle classes in emerging economies. This segment has shown a high degree of brand consciousness and is at highest risk of buying a car.

Who wants to go in on this venture???