Page last updated at 13:55 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 14:55 UK

Curse of the shirt: predicting crunch victims

By Martin Shankleman
BBC News

Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United players sport their sponsor's logo

Over the years, all sorts of unorthodox predictors have emerged to signal that a company is in financial trouble.

A fish tank in the reception was long held by some accountants to be a harbinger of bad news.

More recently, any corporate links to the business body the CBI could foretell trouble ahead.

If a company chairman was appointed president of the CBI, the fear was his own business could soon be on course for the rocks.

Take Rentokil, a stock market darling until its boss Sir Clive Thompson took the helm at the CBI in 1998.

Crunch-prone clubs?

But has the credit crunch produced the best new indicator yet - the tell-tale football shirt sponsorship deal?

Just consider the evidence. When Manchester United signed up with AIG two years ago, could the Old Trafford side have foreseen that the US insurance giant would soon be teetering on the edge of financial oblivion?

An outcome which can only tarnish the image of the Red Devils, by association.

There are uncanny parallels elsewhere. Newcastle United is inexorably linked with the biggest banking failure Britain has seen in 150 years, Northern Rock.

Mike Ashley
Failed bank Northern Rock sponsors Mike Ashley's Newcastle United

The bank's name is still proudly displayed on the black-and-white striped shirts of the Toon Army - given the parlous state of the both the club and sponsor the link seems strangely apt.

West Ham are now sponsor-less, having hitched their wagon to XL Travel, which crashed in spectacular fashion last week stranding thousands of tourists abroad.

The Upton Park side has now ditched the XL name, presumably it does not want to be associated with a company which has bought misery to thousands.

Although some Hammers fans may think their sponsor's legacy corresponds to some of their team's more woeful performances.

Added together, it suggests that a number of England's leading clubs have become little walking adverts for credit crunch casualties.

Unluckiest club

And tracing back through the records, the trend has been around for some time.

Manchester City must have rued its links with the insurance company First Advice, part of the ill-fated Accident Group which collapsed in 2002, and sacked all its staff by text.

And the implosion of MG Rover brought a premature end to its links with Aston Villa in 2004.

But the club that seems to have the least luck with sponsors is Charlton Athletic. During its premiership days, the south London side teamed up with Allsports, the sports good retailer which crashed into administration in 2005.

Charlton bounced back signing up Llanera, a property firm specialising in the Spanish market. But that deal blew up last autumn when Llanera collapsed owing 500 million, ironically because it failed to reach agreement on re-financing with a number of banks including Lehman Brothers.

Given the failure of analysts to predict many recent corporate casualties, some might think they would do worse than closely monitor the activities of those firms that sponsor football clubs.

After all, who knows where "the curse of the shirt" will strike next?




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