On 8 September 2016 Turkish football giants Fenerbahce announced a sponsorship deal with Japanese company Sanrio’s most famous character, Hello Kitty. In an official speech introducing the new agreement, the General Manager of the team’s Fenerium stores, Mümtaz Karakaya, framed the business partnership as one that aims to attract a certain fan demographic:
“Değerli konuklar, hepimizin de bildiği gibi Fenerbahçe’miz sadece erkeklere ait bir spor kulübü değildir. En az erkekler kadar kadınlar, kız ve erkek çocukları da kulübümüzün birer parçasıdır.”
“Dear guests, as we all know Fenerbahce is not a sports club that belongs only to men. Women, girls, and boys are—as much as men—all a part of our club”.
An Unlikely Partnership. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fenerbahce.org/detay.asp?ContentID=51972
Fenerbahce Chairman Aziz Yildirim and His Family Share a Moment With What Apparently is Not a Cat. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fenerbahce.org/detay.asp?ContentID=51972
To prove his point, Mr. Karakaya recalled a match on 20 September 2011 when, due to the team’s punishment, Fenerbahce played in front of a stadium full of 55,000 fans; only females and children under 12 were allowed in. In recognition of this unprecedented game, the club has celebrated 20 September of each year as the “International Day for Women’s Fenerbahce Fans”. Clearly businessmen weren’t the only ones delighted by this PR work, with Fenerbahce player Jozef de Souza noting that “This is also a good partnership for fathers like us. We can present these products [Hello Kitty products] to our children and see their happiness”. Of course they can “show their happiness”, mainly because happiness for children means material goods in this day and age. But Mr. de Souza implies he irecognizes that this partnership can also be seen as making Turkish football more family friendly, which is—of course—a positive development.
Fenerbahce’s Female Fans. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2015/09/20/dunya-fenerbahceli-kadinlar-gunu-kutlandi-621460
In choosing to use Hello Kitty’s cat/girl (which is apparently not a cat at all, bizarrely) in football, however, Fenerbahce are not alone. In March of 2015 Italy’s famous AC Milan inked a similar deal—note the male figure as a devil in contrast to the female figure of the Hello Kitty, which is ironic seeing as how Hello Kitty was once rumored to be—of all things—an homage to the devil. It might be a move on the part of the club to distance themselves from the “femaleness” of the Hello Kitty image; as Bleacher Report reminded us AC Milan fans didn’t know what to do with a sponsor that is “not exactly the most ‘macho’ option out there”. On social media sites, it is clear that while Fenerbahce fans don’t really know how to respond either, fans of their rivals certainly do.
Boys and Girls in Milan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/kits/210668/ac-milan-announce-exciting-new-partnership-deal-with-hello-kitty.html
Football fan culture is a male dominated one all over the world and Turkey is no exception to this. One small example will suffice: While fans of Besiktas take pride in saying “A man doesn’t support a team with colors” (their colors are black and white; Fenerbahce’s are Navy and Yellow and Galatasaray’s red and yellow), Galatasaray fans respond with “A man doesn’t support a team with wings” (an uncouth reference to pads, since Besiktas are known as “the black eagles” and Fenerbahce “the yellow canaries” while Galatasaray are “the lions”). With fandom being so closely related to masculinity, it seems inevitable that social media was flooded with images poking fun at Fenerbahce’s new sponsor. I have chosen some to share below:
Some images, like this one of a pink bus, feminize the entire team.
The caption reads “Fenerbahce’s 2016-2017 Team Bus”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/4
Another image portrays the team and its players in a child-like light.
Robin Van Persie’s Lonely Walk. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/10
This image taken from a match of a masculine human canary–with the banner reading “The Boss Of Europe”–loses (all) of its “oomph” when the Hello Kitty face is plastered over it.
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/10
Other posts poke fun at specific players. The most common target is their sexuality:
Fenerbahce’s Dutch coach Dick Advocaat may be reconsidering his decision to come to Istanbul after this unflattering image came out. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/23
Here we have Fenerbahce’s much-maligned goalkeeper Volkan Demirel (Left) and Robin Van Persie (Right). They are portrayed as modeling the team’s new jerseys–Home on the left, Away on the right. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/23
Because Mr. Demirel is a favorite target of opposing fans, he was the focus for many of the jokes going around social media. Below are two other examples:
Here Mr. Demirel is portrayed in a pink Hello Kitty car with the caption “Should I pick you up from home my looooove?”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/25
And here we have a despondent Mr. Demirel, looking frustrated after conceding a goal. A pink bow is photoshopped onto his head with the caption “Hasan Ali, you never come back on defense…” This is a reference to Fenerbahce defender Hasan Ali Kaldirim; the message, however, implies something about the goalkeeper’s sexuality. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/fotohaber/spor/hello-kitty-sponsor-oldu-sosyal-medya-yikildi/31
While the sponsorship deal clearly lends itself to ridicule in a sport geared towards the male viewer, it was a female actress—Selin Sekerci—who got the flack for a Tweet poking fun at the sponsorship agreement (she subsequently had to apologize).
Im Sure Ms. Sekerci Was Surprised at the Response to Her Tweet From Irate Fenerbahce Fans. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/selin-sekerci-fenerbahcelilerden-fenerbahce-2307764-skorerhaber/
I mention this to show that the kinds of jokes floating around social media, although playing at gender and sexuality, are not only being made by male fans. To discuss online reactions to the sponsorship deal solely in terms of misogyny and sexism may miss the point. It is the mindset of industrial football that made the Fenerbahce brass think that this was a good idea (keep in mind, AC Milan themselves were hard pressed for a sponsor before they reached an agreement with Hello Kitty). When money becomes the guiding factor in football—and not the game—we end up with awkward situations like this one, where a brand represented by a cartoon image of a British girl (NOT cat!) dominates the football headlines.When this happens it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it will result in many (sometimes tasteless) jokes, either.