The onus has always been on sports societies to secure clothing sponsors, but University of Cambridge Sport looks set to finally implement a Uni-wide deal for sports ‘stash’ with talks at an advanced stage. “We are discussing a potential relationship for supply of teamwear and athleisure wear for University sports clubs and a linked merchandising arrangement that will bring resources back to help fund students sport,” commented Director of University of Cambridge Sport Nick Brooking last Friday. Reports suggest that the “merchandising arrangement” will involve distributing a major sports brand’s gear bearing the University crest. A proportion of sales revenue will replace the Sports Service as the chief source of income for sports clubs, the funding for which is reportedly to be completely terminated in the next three years.
No contract has yet been signed, however, and timings are still subject to discussion after what appears to have been a rigorous negotiation process. “This has been run through the University procurement process, Sports Committee and in conjunction with the University Brand Protection Officer,” Brooking went on, tentatively. “We have had a great group of students involved in the consultation and design process and it is now hopefully in final stages.” The former University of Hertfordshire sporting director refrained from further comment.
Nike is allegedly the company involved, already responsible for the University of Oxford and numerous Cambridge sports and college clubs in conjunction with sportswear suppliers Kitlocker. On the Light Blue side, Nike is currently only a leading brand of many including Adidas, Joma and Helly Hansen for some Hawks gear. Major sports such as rugby union and tennis are also not included under the Kitlocker umbrella.
It is thought societies will have to opt into this clothing contract, allowing them to remain with or gradually phase out any deals already in place while presumably still benefitting from commercial sales.
Reaction and Analysis
On one level, this reform is long overdue and can only be welcomed. The collegiate system makes sports provisions uniquely complex, but Oxford have long had this blanket arrangement in place with an official retailer, the online OU Sport Shop, providing an advanced and comprehensive platform for profiting from the University’s illustrious sporting history.
Beneath all the history, prestige and blue wool, many clubs are running at a loss or only just managing to break even. Funding is being divided among more sports than ever, and more teams are getting involved in BUCS with all the expenditure that entails. At the same time, clubs, particularly women’s, have been increasingly hard-pressed to find sponsorship deals – the women’s rowing team went without contracts this year, as did the Women’s Lacrosse Club, and after a particularly profitable deal with Bluebridge Education subsidising training, transport costs and Varsity, CUAFC’s women’s teams were sponsored only for the Varsity Match through their partnership with Cambridge United FC.
Grants have been adjusted for struggling clubs – lacrosse received £3000, up from 2016/17, with the Sports Centre also allowing for delayed payments. It’s important to note that there’s not really anything like the culture of alumni donation to Colleges, and so it’s up to membership fees to make up the numbers. Netball were unable to find any sponsorship this year aside from a small payment from Fresh Minds Talent. Treasurer Chloe Cunningham told me the club ran at a loss in 2016/17, only breaking even this year thanks to increasing subscription costs and charging for league and cuppers entry. Along with hockey, subs can be upwards of £100 a term. Few collegiate grants cover that kind of outlay. Jesus’ pretty openhanded Douglas Timins fund typically provides £100 a year for Blues athletes. Subs are restrictive and excluding. Treasurers have tried to ease the pressure; CUAFC introduced a split sub system this year for their women’s seconds, where players paid four £30 payments across Michaelmas and Lent depending on their game time. Players who can’t afford to give up every Wednesday for a BUCS match away at Nottingham have been given a chance.
It’s been an unacceptable and unsustainable situation for a University always dogged by accusations of elitism. But if this deal goes through, Cambridge Sport may finally have more money in its coffers, and clubs will have a reliable source of income that should take the pressure off students.
But make no mistake, even if this contract goes through wholesale changes are still desperately needed in the way the University supports sport. We thought we had a watershed moment back in 2013 when the new £16 million, state of the art sports centre was unveiled, a game-changer for a University being increasingly left behind by sporting-powerhouses like Nottingham, Loughborough and Durham. Instead, we got a money-making machine. While the Sports Service loosens its purse strings for netball and lacrosse, the majority of both clubs’ expenditure goes into hiring facilities at the centre. The USC has a set of high-tech watt bikes, but as I remember cyclist Rob Walker pointed out in an interview last term, nobody at CUCC can afford the £200 membership to use them.
Stash will also not necessarily be cheaper – indeed, we’ve seen some clubs really thrive from one-on-one dealings with clothes sponsors. The Lawn Tennis Club have had a [ADD: fruitful] relationship with PlayBrave since 2015, the firsts and seconds receiving an array of free gear in return for a bit of social media publicity each matchday. It is a perfect fit with the company’s image as a higher end tennis brand supplying regular club players, members of top end private lawn tennis clubs. The kind of micromanagement you can have by working on a society-by-society basis can yield a far more mutually beneficial relationship. In recent years, though, this has been the exception rather than the rule. And the struggle to find general sponsors will remain. We’re yet to catch Oxford on that one.
CUAC Women's Captain Tiwa Adebayo
"I think that the general kit deal is a really good idea because it will ensure that the cost of kit is cheaper across the board, ensuring that sports are more accessible. I think it’s also really positive to have a uniform sporting identity as a university in order to promote sports in a cohesive way both inside of and outside of the university.
"I do hope that this kit deal will also be the first stages of a more concrete uni wide sponsorship deal which will help support all university sports teams. I believe that in the long term the most viable solution to the sporting sponsorship crisis within the university is to market sports as one entity."