Speaking at the annual Global Leadership Summit at the London Business School yesterday (21 May), the football club’s chief operating officer, Michael Bolingbroke said that leveraging the insight from its “core fans” who support Manchester United as their favourite team has been critical to its commercial success in recent years.
Manchester United has 139m core fans and 333 million followers worldwide, according to research conducted by TNS Sport in 2007.
The Old Trafford-based club, which has been named the most valuable sports club in the world by Brand Finance, proposed that its core fans are “arguably” more important to the club’s long term marketing strategy than sponsors and broadcasters.
Bolingbroke, who was named Manchester United’s first chief operating officer in 2007, warned that football clubs today need to be wary of chasing growth to “make a quick buck” in emerging markets as they could alienate their dedicated fans.
He adds: “Our core fans are not a key revenue driver for a leisure brand like us, but the insight they provide into the club’s values and the atmosphere they generate at Old Trafford are invaluable for driving growth.
“They are arguably more critical to the future of the club than sponsors and the media because we’re using the interactions we have with them to tweak interactions with all the club’s fans globally.”
For Manchester United to make the strategy work, the club is identifying how its core fans want to be treated differently from other segments such as its corporate fans because there are nuances in how they want to experience the brand, particularly during match days and when it comes to selling merchandise.
United has been one of the most active football clubs in seeking overseas sponsorship deals to exploit its global appeal and has recently signed deals with telecoms companies Globul and Du.