Sporting Colours

To the wider public, sporting scandals can seem pretty trivial. It’s something you learn to accept when you strive for a career in sport. That a very vocal section of the world thinks your chosen field offers nothing to life. It doesn’t help that sport has its own section of the news, or TV channels dedicated solely to it.

One of the recent-ish scandals, if you can really call it that, in sport revolved around a simple change of shirt. A colour change. From blue to red. For Cardiff City, back in 2012. The fact that it felt like a big deal back then possibly shows just how fall the world has fallen!

But in reality, it was a big deal. Even considering, as we’ve discussed over the last couple of days, colours being meaningless, it was a big deal. For football fans, colour is part of the lifeblood and identity of a club. Just imagine, for a second, that Manchester United announced next season their home strip was going to be purple? You can’t, right?

The Cardiff change, who have since reverted back to blue, was designed to make them more marketable in the Asian market and represent Welsh pride better. The fans saw it as a kick in the teeth, a demeaning of their entire history. If you didn’t follow the story, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that there were a lot of angry and emotional people from Cardiff boycotting the club. The sceptic in me points out they all returned in their droves when the club won promotion to the Premier League, but I’ll ignore that.

People got very upset about it. And I think I would have done too if Everton were changing their colour (although more pink away kits would be greatly appreciated), but does it actually matter? What does colour bring to sport? And is it important?

The obvious place to start is TV coverage. Colour makes it easy to tell the difference between players of opposing teams, which has unquestionably aided the consumption of sport by people who otherwise wouldn’t watch. I still get annoyed that tennis hasn’t got an enforceable law that requires both players or teams to wear different colours. As a spectator, spending half of my viewing time trying to determine whether it’s Gavrilova or Bacsinszky is very annoying and wastes valuable time enjoying the match.

Ease of spectators is obviously a huge consideration for sporting officials and TV crews. But it doesn’t explain why people get so worked up over colour (that, I’ll point out, I’ve already addressed – identity is everything to football fans, even if you don’t understand that), and nor does it go anywhere towards understanding whether certain colours are more successful than others. Statistically speaking, and this sentence might kill the Everton part of me while delighting the Lancashire one, red is the bests. During the Athens Olympics, there was analysis done of the four sports (boxing, taekwondo and the two wrestling categories) that randomly assign their competitors red and blue outfits. It found that the red players won 55% of the bouts, rising to 60% when only considering matches deemed to be too close to call beforehand.

Statistically speaking, and this sentence might kill the Everton part of me while delighting the Lancashire one, red is the best sporting colour. During the Athens Olympics, there was analysis done of the four sports (boxing, taekwondo and the two wrestling categories) that randomly assign their competitors red and blue outfits. It found that the red players won 55% of the bouts, rising to 60% when only considering matches deemed to be too close to call beforehand.

England’s two most successful football clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool, both wear red, which adds fuel to the, assumingly red, fire. But does red make a difference? Psychology suggests the colour is intimidating and can put opponents off, which might go some way to explaining the Olympic results, but it doesn’t work for football.

The winners in any given football match, as depressing as it is to admit, are usually the ones with more money to spend on players wages. They can attract better players, which, as logic suggests, will mean they win more games than they lose. Soccernomics proved that the winners of the league, i.e. the club who performs best over the year, are usually the ones who spent the most (or second or third most) on wages.

The obvious exceptions are Leicester, and wonderfully they play in blue, proving that even now in the era of money, tactics and consistency can breed success. If we glance across the channel, the only hugely successful European teams who play in red are Bayern Munich, Ajax and AC Milan. Real Madrid play in white, Barcelona in dark red and blue, Inter Milan in blue, Juventus in black and white.

So, if you are in a one-on-one randomly drawn match, then if you choose red you can feel pretty good about your chances. But over the course of a longer period of time, colour makes less of a difference and financial weight comes much more into it.

Which nicely allows me to say once again that colour is meaningless, however we do get rather emotional about it. My articles all seem to be ending like that this month!

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