Whether you look at TV audiences or the growing belief that the game is about to split itself asunder again, football's gravy train looks, in Robert Maxwell's description of the print unions, to have hit the buffers. So, Barclaycard's decision to hand over millions to take over from Carling looks less felicitous timing-wise.
As our sister publication Marketing reported last week, Carling has decided to hitch its bandwagon to a new vehicle -- music. The news surprised me, partly because it looked as though Carling was pumping the money it previously spent on football into TV, and partly because, at least in terms of the scale with which Carling is doing this, it is moving into uncharted waters.
Carling has signed a long-term agreement with Clear Channel, the owner of More Group and various radio interests, but also a serious promoter of concerts and the owner of venues such as the Hammersmith and Manchester Apollos. The exact details of the deal are, as yet, fuzzy, but Carling will get naming rights to tours by the likes of Britney, U2 and Destiny's Child and pouring rights to concerts. It may also be able to add its moniker to venues -- hmm, the Carling Black Label Hammersmith Apollo really rolls off the tongue.
But while the devil is always in the detail, it's the idea of associating Carling with music that has real resonance. While other brands have gone the same route before -- remember when the Hammersmith Apollo was the Labatt's Apollo? -- they've mostly been niche brands exploring niche associations with sub-genres.
That's fine for brands that want to position themselves at the cutting edge. Carling, however, is a mainstream brand and in the Clear Channel roster of artists it looks as though it has found a mainstream fit that is appropriate.
The demographics are interesting too. For all its mass appeal, the football audience is overwhelmingly male and conservative. If Carling is to grow, it has to reach out to new audiences that are younger, male and female, and more adventurous in their thinking and tastes. Within the broad framework of that ambition, however, different artists will expose Carling to different audiences.
Pending its forced sale by Interbrew, Carling's future is uncertain -- which may put a question mark over this deal. But Carling's track record in sponsorship is second to none. Not only was it quick to spot the rise of football as a marketing medium, its wholehearted exploitation of that sponsorship in every possible way was exemplary. That augurs well for this deal.
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