Manchester rivals remain poles apart in brand image league
15 May 2012
On one of the most dramatic days in English football history Manchester City ended their 44-year wait to lift the English Premier League title, beating their city rivals United to the championship on goal difference after an injury time comeback in the final game of the season.
But while the blue half of Manchester will be partying through the summer, here’s a sobering thought for the club and its fans. It might take them another 44 years to equal Manchester United’s dominant brand image on the global stage.
The fact is that success alone is not enough to create instantly strong global brands in football. History and legacy count for a great deal when it comes to capturing the hearts and minds of a global audience.
While television has made the thrills of the Premier League available to audiences around the world, it is in the online and digital environment that brands are being built. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a range of other social media sites are where the big conversations about football take place and where communities of fans who may never have been to the UK, let alone seen a game at Old Trafford, build and share their passions.
Some years ago independent research concluded that United had some 330 million followers worldwide. The results of a more recent exercise, due to be published within weeks, are expected to show a significant increase on that number.
These are massive numbers which have been generated by a combination of factors. And while digital connectivity is a major factor the global obsession with United is the result of many years of media attention, television exposure, great results, fantastic players, legendary managers and the raw emotional narrative of the club’s successful emergence from the tragedy of the Munich air crash.
Despite the multi millions being invested into Manchester City, as we have seen over the past years with Chelsea, current success on the field will not replace years of tradition that have helped ‘craft’ the brand images of the ‘mega’ stars when it comes to becoming a true global brand. Most football clubs remain essentially local brands and that has a significant impact on their commercial potential.
United generate substantially more revenue, from its brand, than its city rival and will continue to do so for many years to come. For any Premier League club to become established as a ‘global’ brand, regardless of the level of financial investment into the team, is a challenge. Developing a brand via the web, on social media or in new media is a ‘building process’, the more data that is out there, the more it gets repeated, represented, linked, referenced and ultimately liked. This means that the classic clubs with long histories of success will continue to be recognised and followed.
While clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal have long traditions that keep them heavily profiled, Manchester City, Chelsea and others can only build their brand on their current success and may never have the gravitas that goes with a ‘traditional team image’.
Unlike star players, history cannot be bought and has to be created. And building the legacy required to become a football mega brand is something which takes generations to achieve. In this respect, Manchester United’s peers are not the other leading English clubs but Real Madrid, Barcelona and even Celtic which has a massive following among the worldwide Scottish diaspora.
Given the massive wage demands and other huge costs of running a top flight club, building a brand is central to the ability to earn a return on investment and remain competitive year after year. United have managed it but it remains to be seen whether their ‘noisy neighbours’ will be able to continually replicate this year’s success.
I will be happy to review the situation in 44 years time!
This is a personal perspective of Patrick Nally, CEO of seminal sports marketing agency West Nally.