How To Save A Yooyuball Team From Financial Doom
The hum of the under-appreciated ventilation system filled the air of the Deep Catacombs. In what used to be one of the more bustling areas, tourists still swarmed around what few shops remained. It was a warm summer's day on the surface of Neopia Central - a bit too warm for the visitors from the likes of Happy Valley. One of the Deep Catacombs' only selling points nowadays was that at least it stayed cool in the summertime thanks to the ventilation system that snaked around most of the used complex. Visitors and the poorest of inhabitants were as grateful as each other.
A Yellow Grarrl blew softly across the top of the cup of coffee that he clutched in his right hand. It was piping hot, not something that he particularly enjoyed. Gently placing it down on the table that he was sat at, he then rubbed his eyes sorely. He had had a long night. He didn't get into Yooyuball for the maths side of the game. But needs must. Looking wistfully at his counterpart, Mr Humphreys mumbled ruefully, "There's no getting away from the problem at hand... we just don't have enough Neopoints. It's as simple as that." He shrugged. It was all he could do.
"Well," grumbled a Purple Wocky in an out-of-character manner, "I don't know why they think we can do something about that." June was irritated. She scowled at her superior before impatiently tapping her fingers rhythmically on the Café's table. As far as she was concerned, the problem should have been sorted out last year. Or perhaps the year before that. It wasn't news to anyone that Catacombs United were, well, broke. The Yooyuball Team that called the Deep Catacombs their home were notoriously under-funded, having almost ceased to exist on numerous occasions due to their lack of money. The source of the Wocky's fowl mood was the possibility that she might be forced to take another pay cut. It was something she just couldn't afford to do. "We're not businesspets. We're ex-pros. They're the experts. Well, supposed experts."
Humphreys smirked. Although he daren't repeat his Assistant Manager's remark, it was a sentiment that he agreed with. The last time Catacombs United had almost went out of existence, they'd been bought by a couple of local businesspets. Perfectly capable individuals... when it came to business. But Yooyuball was something else entirely and although they did their best, the Team still struggled to get by. The Grarrl took another swig of his coffee before tactfully avoiding his colleague's points. "Back in my day, we didn't need things like sponsorship deals..." United's beleaguered Manager began diplomatically,"...but I'm starting to think that that might be the only way out of this mess."
June paused. "Sponsorship..." she continued thoughtfully,"...is all well and good... but who exactly would you canvas? I mean, the Deep Catacombs aren't what they used to be - and it didn't exactly used to be a lot anyway. There aren't many businesses left... and I doubt we'd have any luck finding a non-local sponsor. Not with our record." They both winced at the thoughts of the previous Season. It hadn't been... great. Catacombs United plied their trade in the Third Division of Neopia Central's Yooyuball Leagues. Avoiding relegation to the next tier in the final game of the Season wasn't the sort of success that companies usually wanted to be associated with. The track-suited Wocky sighed to herself. Really, the duo were lucky to still have jobs at all.
With one final gulp from his cup, Humphreys began to ponder. There wasn't many of anything left in the Deep Catacombs' business and entertainment areas anymore. After Roo Island's almost total destruction a few years ago, the King had decided to offer very favourable business rates and tax cuts to any organisation that was willing to relocate there. His plan to regenerate large swathes of his Kingdom had worked wonders for its economy - to the detriment of the Deep Catacombs. The Guild of Story Tellers, the Poetry Appreciation Society... even the local Coffee Shop had all moved on. The Catacombs were left pretty barren. The Neopian Times still had its Offices in the Catacombs but that was pragmatism - Newspaper Ink doesn't agree with Roo Island's climate. "What about the Coin Shop?" ventured the Grarrl cautiously, it was still there after all.
His assistant rubbed her head sadly before reminding him, "The Coin Shop already sponsors a Team, remember Boss? The Collectors in Division One; their name is everywhere. I know that Skeith is doing very well for himself but I don't see him wanting to sponsor another team." The Coin Shop was one of the few successes of the Deep Catacombs. Business was booming - helped in no small part from the fact that the Catacombs could still do a pretty good deal compared to the rest of Neopia Central when it came to favourable operating conditions. Shop rent was low, with things like the ventilation and permanent-electric-lighting being heavily subsidised.
The suited Grarrl slumped forwards. There had to be someone who wanted to sponsor a lowly Yooyuball Team. His contemplations, though, were interrupted by a cheery voice. "Hey guys, just wondering if you wanted a refill or anything?" piped up an Orange Shoyru, carrying a tray full of coffees and small cakes. She smiled politely, not fazed by its weight at all.
"No, Amber, we're alright..." responded June with a friendly smile, trying to make up for her previous grouchiness. The Wocky and her colleague frequently spent afternoons setting Neopia to rights, sat in the very plush surroundings of the Shoyru's Café. Based in the former premises of the now-departed Coffee Shop, Amber operated it as a satellite business to that of her now Roo Island-based sister. The building had been in the girls' family for some time and it was their intention to keep it that way - which gave the youngster the perfect opportunity to spread her wings, entrepreneurially-speaking.
Suddenly, an idea popped into the Wocky's head. "...Amber... have you ever thought about, maybe, advertising your business... by, say... sponsoring a Sports Team... or something?" June was as subtle as ever.
The Shoyru continued to smile politely. "I'm flattered... that you think this Café is so good that you'd want it to sponsor your team but..." Amber tried to let them down softly, "...Neopoints are tight at the moment and I just don't think I could afford it right now..." A pained expression appeared on her face. "...ask me next Season, okay?" The proprietor scuttled off with a heavy heart. She would have loved to help out her best customers but the way things were in the Deep Catacombs, it just didn't make financial sense. The Shoyru sighed gently. She had tables to serve.
"It was worth a shot..." observed Humphreys with a rueful smile, understanding where Amber was coming from. If he had a company, he wasn't sure if he'd want to sponsor United either. He continued his mental journey through the Deep Catacombs, carefully considering any organisation he came across. Finally, after much deliberation and June wondering if he'd spaced out completely, the Grarrl uncovered the only possibility that he couldn't dismiss straightaway.
Sitting back upright, the Boss put it as eloquently as he could in his awfully gruff voice, "What about the Art Academy?" He tried not to look too pleased with himself.
June raised an eyebrow. "Didn't the Art Academy join the off-shore exodus too?"
"That, they did..." conceded the Yellow Grarrl with an innocent cough. He wasn't willing to give up on the idea though and continued to press ahead with his pitch, "...but unlike the rest of the Art Scene, they still left quite a large presence in the Catacombs. The likes of the Story Tellers and Poets may have only left a small branch... but the Art Academy left an entire school!" It was true. Apparently being underground was just that inspiring. "Their whole aim is to make the world a prettier place, so what better way to get their ideals across then to sponsor a Yooyuball Team? I don't think it's ever been done before."
His assistant wasn't as convinced. "We'd have more luck trying to convince the Neopian Times to sponsor us..." mumbled June to herself in an impertinent tone. It was a well known fact that several rather successful Division One Teams had tried and failed to become sponsored by the Newspaper. She looked her boss in the eye. "...do you really think we've got an Abominable Snowball's chance in Moltara? The Art Academy... wouldn't want to associate themselves with Lower League Yooyuball. I mean, they're into 'passion' and stuff but not the sort of passion that Darigan Yooyus have..."
It was Humphreys' turn to pause. He scratched his head ruefully before continuing his pitch the best he could, "I... know it's a hard sell... but what choice do we have? United need Neopoints... and they don't exactly grow on Trees." He paused again as he observed the look his assistant had just flashed him. Groaning, he pointed out, "That's not what I meant and you know it! Money Trees don't count. Since this is supposed to be our day off... I can't order you to come to the Art Academy with me... but I would appreciate your support. If you want to." The Grarrl braced himself for a barbed response.
The Wocky wasn't in the mood to give one. "Yeah," she replied kindly, "I'll come with you..." June had been Humphreys' assistant for a number of years, getting the job through the kind words of a friend after retiring from playing herself. She had watched her superior put so much of his time and energy into the Club, often whilst not being paid for his services. Despite his seemingly gruff personality, the Wocky knew that he cared about the Team and the Fans immensely. The Club had become an integral part of his life - and the Grarrl wasn't willing to sit back and watch it all fall apart. Not if he could do something about it. June felt the same way. Although being at United had caused her plenty of heartache - and moneyache - it had all been worth it. If only to see the smiles on the kids' faces in the Team's Stadium when they won a match. (It did happen, occasionally.) With her own coy smile she finished, "...if only to see you pretend to be a salespet."
June blinked furiously. Her face was aching so much.
The Neopian Central Academy of Fine Art - to give it its full title - had been based in the Deep Catacombs ever since they were discovered by Professor Chesterpot all of those years ago. Dedicated to making Neopia a more beautiful place by teaching ordinary Neopets everything they would need to make the finest of art, it had flourished. Until King Roo's advertisement campaign. The majority of the staff and funds then relocated off shore, where the Roo Island Academy of Fine Art was established. The original school persisted however - albeit in a smaller form - thanks to its determined Principle. The Techo Mr Humphreys was now tasked with impressing.
"So, as you can see Professor Redmond," concluded the Yellow Grarrl after a lengthy speech, "both Catacombs United and The Academy of Fine Art could benefit greatly from a collaboration. Catacombs financially and your Organisation from the publicity that generally surrounds Yooyuball." Humphreys did his best to be as restrained as possible as the Rainbow Techo lent back in his chair to consider everything that had been said. The Professor's Office was crammed with all sorts of strange pieces of Modern Art, objects that June had been doing her best not to stare at. Unfortunately, the pain of standing there and smiling broadly was starting to affect her willpower. She'd barely uttered a word since being invited into the space by their gregarious host.
The Principle wasn't the sort of Neopet that cared for appointments. The two colleagues had just turned up at the Reception and asked which way his Office was - that sort of behaviour at any other establishment would have probably got them kicked out. The Art Academy though was different and it was that sort of atmosphere that had led to its continued success in such difficult times. Coupled with Professor Redmond's determination and passion, of course. After a tense few moments, the Techo smiled warmly. "It's always been my aim to make this School as widely known as possible... and you are correct in your assertion that Yooyuball is an untapped market art-wise..." he mused happily, "...so I believe we could come to some sort of arrangement. A Shirt Sponsorship Deal, most certainly."
"Thank you, Sir!" beamed Humphreys ecstatically, barely able to contain his excitement. A Shirt Sponsorship Deal would almost certainly bide the Team over until the next campaign and even possibly the campaign after that. And it could be the start of all sorts of different ventures. The Grarrl couldn't believe his luck. Neither could June. The Purple Wocky sighed heavily from relief - and not just because she didn't have to smile anymore. Able to fidget around once more, the Assistant Manger could now start planning for her own future. If she'd been force to take another pay cut, she would have had to leave the Club out of desperation. Leave her friends. Leave everything. Now she could eat.
"Not at all," beamed the Techo back, "I used to play a bit of Yooyuball in my youth... what fun!"
In the dark depths of the Deep Catacombs, the Offices of Catacombs United were based. The Team's headquarters were purposely set up away from the more public areas due to the Neopoints that would have been required to pay for the ventilation and electricity supplies that the Shops enjoyed. Although heavily subsidised, even that was too much for the Club to afford during their barren spells. As such, the Offices were pretty basic but were good enough to get by, the still air being broken by the ripple affect of the ventilation systems closer to the surface. The training facilities, though, suffered from the location. Although the Fans did their best to scrape together enough for the Practice Pitch to have Floodlights to help the Players, that was really their only luxury. Since Official Matches were played on a rented Pitch in the shadow of Neopia Central's Poet Statue due to Safety Regulations anyway, the Club's hierarchy saw no reason to invest further in the base.
Mr Humphrey's Office was no more basic than any of the others but it could feel rather bleak at times. Consisting of nothing more than a desk, two chairs and the odd lit torch, it was in these surroundings that the Yellow Grarrl was expected to plan for every match. He didn't mind though, mainly as he never used to have an Office at all. When he first joined United, he was expected to do all of his planning either at home or on the Practice Pitch. A few weeks had passed since Mr Humphreys and June (mostly Mr Humphreys)'s fateful pitch at the Neopian Central Academy of Fine Arts when the Grarrl walked into his workspace to discover a package waiting for him.
"Hey June!" called out the Boss, holding the box in both hands as he walked down the corridor looking for his assistant, "The new kits have arrived!" Humphreys turned sharply before bursting through the door that led into the Wocky's Office. "Do you want to have a sneak peak?" queried the Manager proudly. June was sitting at her own desk, scribbling away at a piece of paper. She'd heard her boss coming so hadn't bothered leaving her seat, knowing full well that he would find her before the other way around. Putting her pen down, she cleared her desk eagerly so that her colleague could put down his load. Before she was able to respond to his question, Humphrey had already dived into the jerseys. Pulling out a stone-coloured shirt, he grinned huskily, "They look great!"
The Wocky's face dropped when she saw the shirt. Not wanting to hurt her superior's feelings, June answered her friend sheepishly, "You know... what we think doesn't really matter... it's what the Players think that matters..." She did her best not to look at the jersey Humphreys was proudly holding aloft, instead choosing to look, well, anywhere else for that matter. "...we should probably let the Players be the judge of how awesome they look... don't you think?" Although not usually one to pass the buck, the Assistant Manager knew precisely how the Players would react when they saw the shirts. And the expressions on their faces would speak much louder and clearer than anything she could fathom.
Not recognising his colleague's trepidation, the Grarrl agreed. "You're right, June. Come on then!"
On the Practice Pitch, the entire ensemble of Catacombs United's squad were warming up for what they expected to be any normal Morning Training Session. A few stretches here, a few bends there. Into this scene, walked a delighted Humphreys carrying his package and a nervous June purposely keeping a few steps behind him. The Players adopted understandably quizzical expressions upon seeing this but they didn't last very long. Placing the box on the ground, the Yellow Grarrl declared triumphantly, "As you may have heard, Catacombs have been having a bit of a rough time money-wise. However, this is about to change. The Chairpet has agreed a sponsorship deal with the Neopian Central Academy of Fine Arts, meaning the future of this Club is secured for the time being. In this box are your brand new shirts for the new Season, donated by the Art Academy."
The Yellow Grarrl happily pulled out a stone-coloured jersey, holding it proudly for all of his Team to see. As June had feared though, the Players were not particularly thrilled with the garment. The youngest member of the squad was the Team's Goalkeeper, a Blue Shoyru called Cyan. He had grown up in the Deep Catacombs and was generally a sweet kid to be around. Along with Valentine, a Pink Xweetok Defender and the only girl in the Team, the duo had forged a reputation for their perfect manners - even in the middle of matches. As such, they did their best to smile politely upon seeing the shirts whilst averting their eyes. To the ground. Their eyes were joined by the pair that belonged to Daniel, a male Royal Zafara and the most creative Player in the squad. His privileged upbringing brought scorn from his opponents but at least it had taught him a bit of tact. He also received plenty of scorn from his team-mate Biz, a Halloween Lupe with a pretty bad attitude problem that meant he was perfect in Defence. Biz, though, was strangely speechless - although he might have had something to say had he not been so slack jawed. At least Ade, the Red Scorchio who doubled up as the Captain and a Forward, was benevolent. In a long career in Yooyuball, he had worn worse - much worse. As long as it saved the Club he loved, he didn't mind what he wore.
If only the final member of the Team had such a charitable outlook on life. That lack of benevolence belonged to an Island Kyrii who went by the name of Stray, although not even he knew his actual name. Having grown up in the wilds of Mystery Island alone, he had an understandably harsher view of Neopia. It meant that he made a decent Defender, although his boisterousness meant that he was rather uncontrollable and unpredictable at times. Like now. In a single movement, the Kyrii bounced over to his Boss before grabbing the shirt from his hands. Turning it around, he pointed at the sponsor's slogan. "Is this some kind of joke?" he spat, angrily.
It read, in big bold letters: HOW TO DRAW.
Stray wasn't finished. "I play not to draw but to win!" he growled indignantly.
Ade just smiled. "I don't know..." the Scorchio mused, "...drawing is better than losing, I suppose."