Over the past decade, the word 'metatarsal' has found its way into the vocabulary of most football fans, following the foot injuries suffered by David Beckham and Wayne Rooney that threatened the England team's chances of glory at the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals. Today, the term 'super-injunction' seems to be following a similar course.
Successive scandals involving players have emerged, despite their best efforts to keep the press from reporting on their off-field misdemeanours. In 2010 alone, England team-mates John Terry, Ashley Cole, Peter Crouch and now Wayne Rooney have all ended up on the front pages for the wrong reasons. Over the past few years, other members of the squad have also faced many and varied accusations, ranging from infidelity and missed drug tests to common assault and petty theft.
With England lacking a principal sponsor since Nationwide walked away in July, The Football Association has been left struggling to sell what should be one of the sport's most coveted branding opportunities. However, the extent to which this is down to players' pecadillos is debatable.
'The allegations surrounding some of the players have an impact on England's media appeal, but the reason brands are distancing themselves is all to do with the team's performance on the pitch,' says Antony Marcou, managing director of sports media agency Sports Revolution. 'Had they performed brilliantly at the World Cup, brands would be falling over themselves to be associated with England, but, as it is, their media stock is at an all-time low.'
Access to fans
Nonetheless, industry experts agree that, if brands take the long view, the England team is still very much prime sponsorship property. 'There is no doubt a sponsor can be disappointed in the short term by individual actions within the team or even the team's recent poor performance,' says Steve Madincea, group managing director, sponsorship consultancy PRISM. 'The England national team, while it has its detractors, is probably the greatest unifying platform within the country. Therefore, a committed long-term partner will quickly realise how to capitalise on that euphoria and have their sponsorship deliver tangible and intangible results for their brand.'
Pippa Collet, managing director at Sponsorship Consulting, agrees. 'There is a surprising amount of positive feeling around the England team,' she says. 'The concept of teamwork is good, as is the perception of the team rebuilding.'
While the team may be in the doldrums, the image of the England fan has improved considerably. Hooliganism is largely a thing of the past and England's supporters follow the team in greater numbers and with more passion than perhaps any other nation.
After the squad's hapless exploits at the 2010 World Cup, many believed that only a sparse, angry crowd would turn up to watch the side take on Hungary in a friendly at Wembley in August. Yet, there was a healthy attendance of more than 72,000, and the few jeers were easily drowned out by the cheers.
'It's also worth thinking about what this says about the media appeal of national federations in general - not just The FA,' adds Marcou. 'In today's game, it is the Champions League, La Liga and the Premier League that offer true global appeal for sponsors. National federations logically appeal only to national brands. It is a very vertical offer, so that also limits The FA's options when seeking new sponsors.'
Where football is concerned memories are short. Fans can soon be placated by a run of good results, or begin grumbling again after a few defeats. Similarly, they will forget players' off-pitch misbehaviour. After all, Beckham's alleged infidelity while playing for Real Madrid did little to stymie his rise to national-treasure status.
Furthermore, while brands considering sponsoring England will take the image of the players into consideration, access to the fans remains the single-most important reason to get behind the national team, justifying the multimillion-pound spend it takes.