An identity crisis can be caused by many things, not least by forgetting who you are, how you got to where you are and what your name is. Your position can be worsened by giving yourself multiple names, multiple identities and by trying to appease to all of the people all of the time. That approach, as we know, never works. The best way to progress is to be true to yourself and stand or fall on those terms.
We have such a crisis in the Eastern half of professional rugby in Wales. It’s not the same in the Western half as the pair down there have it spot on: the Scarlets have carried forward their own club’s nickname that has been in used for decades and are proud of the heritage that has allowed them to grow into today’s outfit, whereas the Ospreys are a team named after the bird on the Swansea RFC club badge, owned 75%+ by the chaps who owned Swansea RFC in 2003, playing in Swansea but confident in their new ‘Ospreylian’ identity. And, let’s be fair, it works for both of them very well. Each have attracted new investment and each is (most importantly) secure in its identity, even though the average crowd of the Ospreys since 2003 is pretty much identical to that of Cardiff’s.
Or is that Blues, the Blues or Cardiff Blues? Well, to fully understand what it is then you have to look at how it has arrived at what it is today, where it’s come from and where it lives. And then remind yourself of what supportive chant rings around the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on the rare occasions that the home team does something positive.
Those presently marketing Cardiff Blues will tell you the Blues were 10 years old in 2013, having been formed in 2003. In one regard, they’d be right to note that but it does rather ignore the birthing process. Therefore, to 2003 we go.
We had 9 ‘professional’ clubs in Wales, in the sense that they paid players to play rugby, but the professional game was leaving these clubs behind simply because of money. After the Rebel Season of the late 90s, it was obvious to all that change was needed in the Welsh game so a Kenyan / Englishman / Australian / Kiwi called Moffett was hired by the then technically bankrupt WRU to force change. The WRU wanted 4 teams, the then 8 clubs (as Caerphilly had left negotiations) wanted to go into 5 teams – three mergers and two ‘standalones’, who would each forgo over £1m in payments to maintain their status. Who were those 2? Llanelli (i.e. the Scarlets, see above for their branding) and Cardiff.
Cardiff were the first of the 5 to launch their new brand (key word, brand) in July 2003. Our club, the standalone, was to have a new brand to run a ‘rugby region’: Cardiff Blues
The responsibility of the club towards this ‘region’ wasn’t immediately apparent as the Moffett inspired events of 2003 were very rushed but, over time, things became a little more clear. The club was to have the local responsibility of the development of the game through the clubs most local to it and the split of the clubs between the now 5 teams meant that Cardiff was to look after all of the junior clubs in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.
This cosy plan took a little derail when, in just September 2003 so one month into the new season, Pontypridd RFC went into administration. It couldn’t keep up its financial commitment to the team it then owned 50% of – Celtic Warriors. In fact, it was Celtic Warriors who loaned Pontypridd RFC money that summer to pay wages so it should have been obvious to all that Pontypridd RFC should have acted as Caerphilly had done by stepping away from the professional game. It couldn’t meet its commitments.
That loss of the Pontypridd 50% share in the Celtic Warriors meant that the WRU went into bed with Bridgend RFC (through Leighton Samuel). This was never going to work, however, and the WRU bought out Samuel at the end of that season and shut down the Celtic Warriors. This meant that the local clubs under that development plan were to be shared equally between Cardiff Blues and the then Neath-Swansea Ospreys.
The crucial part to note here is that nothing actually changed at Cardiff Blues because of the loss of the Celtic Warriors, other than the fact that the club paid £312,500 to the WRU for the WRU to be able to afford Samuel’s charge for his 50%. That season, such was the fact that a standalone club was what Cardiff Blues were, the jerseys of the first team were the change jerseys from the previous season with the new branded badge simply sewn over the old Cardiff RFC badge.
So that’s the birth of Cardiff Blues. It’s just a brand of Cardiff RFC, owned by 100% by Cardiff RFC as it is a standalone club, designated to developing rugby locally. Both brands – Cardiff RFC and Cardiff Blues – are managed by the same company (now named Cardiff Blues Ltd, but previously Cardiff RFC ltd, to appease the terms of the latest Rugby Services Agreement with the WRU). Nothing changed, nothing has changed – other than a new Director has taken a seat on the board (Martyn Ryan) by buying £500,000 worth of shares.
If we fast forward to 2015, through two Roger Lewis contracts and another Moffett resurrection, has anything actually changed from June 2003 before the launch of the new brand? No. Nothing at all. The structure of the club is exactly the same internally as it was then. The external change is that the club is now also a ‘Regional Organisation’ member of the WRU – so it now has double the votes at EGMs / AGMs. Plus, let’s not forget, the club barely survived the easily predicted disastrous ‘rental’ of the Cardiff City soccer stadium.
To answer the question, therefore, Cardiff Blues is the professional brand of Cardiff RFC. A new brand, definitely, but one yet to hit the heights of the ‘old brand’. Those ticket buying supporters of the team will go to Cardiff Arms Park, either through the Gwyn Nicholls gates or past the clubhouse which houses countless pictures of Cardiff RFC legends, to watch their team play at what is undeniably the home of Cardiff Rugby. The team is called Cardiff, plays in Cardiff, in original (Cambridge-ish Blue and Oxford-ish Blue, for the second ever version of the club’s playing kit from the 1890s was based on the University colours) Cardiff colours, owned by Cardiff and with a crowd that chants Cardiff.
Which obviously leads us to question why there is ever the need for ‘the Blues’ or ‘Blues’ at all. Few, if any, in Welsh rugby will be unaware of what the organisation of Cardiff Blues actually is. Few who understand their Welsh rugby history will be unaware of the flow of players to Cardiff over the years from all over Wales and further. Fewer still will be fooled into thinking that this is anything other than the modern version of Cardiff RFC. Those who are new to the game, or who previously supported a rival to Cardiff RFC, will arrive at Cardiff Arms Park to be surrounded by images of Cardiff Rugby past and present, interlinked seamlessly, all showing the message of ‘this is Cardiff Rugby’.
So, for us, now is the time for honesty. Now is the time to recognise that this is truly Cardiff Rugby and to drop any marketing suggestion of otherwise. The reach of support for Cardiff has always been well outside of the city so the notion that this move will alienate support in any kind of relevant numbers is naive and misplaced. Nobody is alienated by Cardiff Rugby, unless they are a supporter of a rival team and, if we are honest, the number who qualify for that group is dwarfed by the untapped potential of the brand Cardiff. This, of course, applies more so to Corporate Sponsors than it does to the retail punter who will mostly get his fix through the free to air TV coverage.
Now is the time for the club to market itself outside of the Arms Park as it does inside it – as a continuation of Cardiff RFC. The history of Cardiff RFC needs to be recognised on the website, the marketing of the club needs to include Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Neil Jenkins and so many others to show that this is a club with history, roots and a past worth celebrating.
Cardiff need to follow the example of the Scarlets (the nickname of Llanelli RFC for decades). They are a continuation of the ‘old’ brand and the new brand of Cardiff Blues is Cardiff RFC writ large. The global recognition of Cardiff Rugby, with its association with the National Stadium and with famous past players, should be a Marketeer’s dream, it should be a Golden Ticket to a PR company.
Everybody in Wales knows what is ‘Cardiff Blues / Blues / the Blues’ so now should be the time for the club to drive itself forward with all of the tools it has to its disposal. After all, even our friends still living at the Cardiff City stadium have recognised ‘our City is Blue’.