Opinion: Names on rugby jerseys are inclusive and should be adopted more widely

England captain Owen Farrell talks to All Blacks coach Ian Foster. Credit: Alamy
England captain Owen Farrell talks to All Blacks coach Ian Foster. Credit: Alamy

The Autumn Nations Series has seen England, Scotland, Italy, and Japan opt to wear players’ names on their jerseys in a bid to bring fans closer to the players.

The Rugby Football Union led the charge claiming they hoped their decision would encourage other teams to follow suit.

“We are delighted to be featuring player names on the back of England shirts for our men’s international Test matches this autumn. We hope this will lead the way for us to consider names on shirts to further promote our world-class England international players participating in other international tournaments across the men’s and women’s game,” RFU chief Bill Sweeney said prior to the Autumn Nations Series.

“While fans and players will always take ultimate pride in flying the flag and wearing the rose to support England rugby teams, we think player names on shirts may have the potential to bring fans closer to the international stars of our game and we look forward to seeing the reaction to this initiative.”

Scotland, Italy and Japan did follow suit, donning names on the back of their jerseys, something which is more common in sevens rugby but rare in XVs.

With almost a month of action completed, Planet Rugby takes a look at how the decision to wear names on jerseys has fared.

Inclusivity

Names on the backs of players pushes for inclusivity for new fans ranging from a basic understanding of the game to no understanding at all.

The names allow for the quick identification of the players themselves, which some may argue is already achieved through position-specific numbers. However, those newer to the game may not know who is in the starting line-up or even the wider squad, for that matter.

As a result, fans can pick up on which players resonate with them in terms of style or skill set. For example, casual viewers may follow popular players such as Marcus Smith and track him on the field, gaining a better understanding of the role of a fly-half whilst they learn the rest of the team through their accessible names.

Ownership

Names on jerseys encourage more ownership from players and fans. From a player’s standpoint, particularly at Test level it is a battle to get into a starting position and a war in most cases to keep it. By putting names on jerseys, there is a full realisation that the shirt has been completely earned by them for that specific game.

Former Maori All Black Bryn Hall touched on the topic earlier this year, claiming that he was on board with the concept.

“For us as players, I know really enjoy it. I’d love to see that happen, and so it’s maybe something that can happen in the future, hopefully,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

Marketing and revenue

Another significant pull for names on jerseys. Football makes brilliant use of this by selling players’ shirts as a major revenue source.

Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Manchester United in 2021, where the club reportedly sold £187 million worth of shirts with his name on the back only 10 days after his arrival.

Admittedly that is an extreme example given the mind-blowing popularity of the star, but it clearly underlines the marketing and revenue potential.

Consider how many clubs and unions in the rugby sphere are struggling financially around the world. There needs to be innovative ways to generate interest in the sport and, through that, improved revenue. Names on shirts could be the start of that.

Unfortunately, given how new the concept is in practice, it is too soon to say for sure whether it can, in fact, make a significant enough impact on revenue. However, this is certainly a start.

The concept itself, outside of traditionalists trying to hold on to what the game has been for an extended period, has few flaws and it is time for rugby to innovate and continue it push to be more influential around the globe.

Given that names on shirts may be welcoming for new fans, gives ownership to all parties and could generate more revenue, it should be something considered across the board, with the 2023 Rugby World Cup a target to springboard the concept and, subsequently, the game.

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