After England's impressive record in this year's World Cup, TfL have renamed a station at the top end of the Piccadilly line after the team manager. The temporary renaming of Southgate station to 'Gareth Southgate' lasts for 48 hours, and all will be back to normal by Wednesday. But in the meantime a nation smiles, and those lucky enough to live nearby can pop down for a selfie.
Anyone looking at the promotional photos from afar might assume that the whole station has been rebranded, but not so. Nothing's changed on the line diagrams on the concourse, and the blue stripe above the spaceport entrance still says Southgate Station. But in a really nice touch, the chief roundel on a pole outside the bus station has been amended to read Gareth Southgate rather than the usual UndergrounD, and that's really turning heads. Throw in a cardboard roundel propped up by the ticket gates, and there's no need to descend into the depths to get your photo.
But if you do, that's where you'll find the main collateral. Roundels on the platform have been flawlessly updated through the addition a fresh blue plastic strip across the centre, proving just how cheap and easy this renaming business is. But an additional sticker has also been added, so close to the top of the red circle that it's hard to crop out, proclaiming the support of a well-known credit card company. TfL wouldn't have undertaken this popular stunt by themselves, it's only here because a global corporation paid for the privilege.
The station's usual passengers are delighted, whipping out their phones for a smiley pic. Several other fans have made the trek, mostly young and male, nipping out to zone 4 to grab their own digital trophy. The best place to stand to get the roundel full-on is beyond the yellow line on the edge of the platform, so great care needs to be taken not to step back too far (or else take a diagonal shot instead). Watching the reaction of others, it only takes a few minutes to spot that considerable joy has been instigated through the addition of just one word.
What viewers elsewhere won't have noticed is that most of the roundels down here haven't been updated. Only eight on each platform have the new name, while the three at each end remain unadulterated, as do all those on the far wall on the other side of the tracks. It's a pragmatic decision, expending no more effort than is absolutely required. Why cut into all that marketing profit unnecessarily, when the wider populace only sees the images provided, and the overall outcome remains the same?
We don't yet know how much the credit card company paid for their takeover, nor whether they'd have paid more if England won, although the contract should eventually appear here on the TfL website. For comparison, Sky paid £94,000 + VAT for their GoT binge, Amazon paid £394,000 + VAT to hijack Westminster for a day, and the original mineral water abomination at Canada Water cost £110,000 + VAT. In this case the company also paid for the right to a sponsored message on the Next Train Indicator every 10 minutes, and an announcement which I believe goes like this...
"You may have noticed something a little different about the station today. Thanks to [Credit Card Company], Southgate station has become Gareth Southgate station to celebrate the achievements of Gareth and the England team this Sunday. Thanks for the incredible journey Gareth."
Given that England weren't playing on Sunday, because they'd been knocked out, an over-optimistic pre-recorded message appears to have been used. Also, look at how slyly the credit company gets its name slipped in, despite having bugger all to do with Gareth Southgate, other than being an official World Cup sponsor. If you watch the video in TFL's #SouthgateSelfie tweet, it's no coincidence that the last three seconds are a close-up on the sponsor's name, not the roundel.
Meanwhile the Paris Metro has been celebrating France's World Cup victory by temporarily renamingsix stations, each without any marketing influence whatsoever, because that's how public transport normally works. But it seems sponsor-free is no longer an option over here, indeed in the official press release London Underground's Managing Director was keen to say "This is another great example of how we, and brands, can work creatively together." The appearance of Gareth Southgate station isn't football coming home, simply further proof that austerity is skewing TfL's commercial priorities.