New kit a PR own goal for the RFU
ESPN Staff
September 17, 2014
All publicity is good publicity? England's new alternative kit © RFU

The RFU is under fire after the launch of its new kit, and it is not just the price - £90.99 for an 'authentic' England shirt - which is causing anger, nor that the shirt will be replaced in less than a year. The decision to incorporate small rubber grips in the shape of a Victoria Cross into the design of the shirt has led to widespread criticism.

Was it worth it?

  • Marketing departments are paid a lot of money to do many things, one of them being to portray whoever they represent in the best light. Trying to 'sell' an eye-wateringly priced replica shirt with a shelf life of months which is only likely to be worn by the national side a few times was never going to be easy.

    But the decision by the RFU and Canterbury to cash in on the VC was always likely to backfire, especially coming a month after the commemorations marking the start of World War One.

    For all the firefighting yesterday, for all the talk of how the RFU supports other charities - and to its credit it does good work in that field - the message that will stick in the public's minds is one of corporate greed and insensitivity. At some point someone in a marketing or PR department should have been able to take a non-insular view and raise concerns that this might not be such a great idea.

    At £90.99 for a genuine shirt - or a bargain £56 for a presumably less-well-made standard product - it seems unlikely they will sell too many anyway. Which raises the question … was it worth all that negative publicity?

Although the Victoria Cross symbol is not copyrighted and so can be used by the RFU and kit manufacturer Canterbury, Gary Stapleton, chairman of the Victoria Cross Trust, said it left a sour taste that both organisations will earn large sums from sales without anything going to the charity.

Stapleton said the charity was struggling to maintain graves of recipients of the VC. "The slightest bit of research on their part would have shown there is one charity involved with the Victoria Cross and common decency would have made them think: 'Maybe we should contribute something."

In the Times, Matt Dickinson wrote: "It would seem incongruous at best and crass at worst to associate bravery on a rugby field with the sacrifices made by those who have received the Victoria Cross, which is awarded "for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

"Does that equate to the physical challenge of a rugby match? The medal is frequently awarded posthumously."

The newspaper also claimed that a first draft of the press release referred to the Victoria Cross design but by the time the final version was sent out that had been removed.

The RFU and Canterbury issued a joint statement in which they said that "drawing on this symbol of valour is something of which England Rugby and Canterbury are honoured and very proud".

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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