As clubs look to compete on the global stage, Asia remains the focus for those trying to boost their profile, with the economic growth in some parts of the continent proving to be a huge draw for potential sponsors.
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester have all courted Asia with high-profile exhibition tours over the last four years, keen to nurture a fan base and long-term market for shirts, memorabilia, tickets and in-house TV channels as well as to attract local commercial partners.
With the exception of Manchester United, no other Premier League club has managed to a convert the millions of fans that turn up to watch the matches into engaged followers.
However, this is changing and clubs are using their upcoming tours to drive CRM initiatives. For some clubs, better understanding these fans is now the crucial aim of their pre-season tours.
Adam Raincock director of communications at Synergy Sponsorship says clubs are starting to think of touring as part of a wider integrated strategy to develop their brand’s overseas.
He adds: “I think most clubs recognise the power of data as the majority of sponsorship deals include access to club databases. What does exist is a huge gulf between the global reach of the top Premiership clubs and the rest.
“Data is only a result of brand growth for football clubs so clubs need to start by looking at themselves.”
It’s a thought not lost on Queens Park Rangers, which is underpinning its first tour to the far east with a raft of new Facebook initiatives to drive fan sign ups in Malaysia as well as capture data from ticket sales.
Becky Grote, marketing director at Queens Park Rangers, says driving interactions with the club’s Asia fans is “by far our sole objective.”
She adds: Having only secured our Premier League status on the last day of the season, we had to delay making any firm plans for our tour until the last minute. This has meant that our strategy has had to remain realistic to reflect the time constraints we had.”
For Arsenal, the club has cultivated a “very large digital fanbase” in China, which it is working to incorporate into a wider CRM system to drive its marketing activity.
The team will visit Asia this summer for matches against local sides in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong as well as clash with Premier League rivals Manchester City in Beijing next month. It follows the club’s first trip to Malaysia and China last summer.
Charles Allen, head of marketing at Arsenal, says the club has appointed its first “guy on the ground”, Tony Gu to lead its tour activation efforts in the region.
Allen says the strategy is about creating value for sponsors by engaging western brands who want to go into China and Chinese brands looking for Western expansion.
He adds: “At Arsenal we have reach and penetration but limited organisational capacity, we are a small business in London. The tour gives us a real chance to connect in person with fans out there and continue to build digital activity that is so core.”
Simon Mould, head of sponsorship at Liverpool FC shirt sponsor Standard Chartered, says that Premier League clubs are “undoubtedly” starting to introduce strategic elements to their pre-season tours. The company is giving the Merseyside club access to its “extensive customer base, branch network and communities” to help leverage strategic gains from the data it collects.
Clubs are now thinking strategically about where they can go to collect data and with sponsors prepared to pay significant amounts of money to market their products to Asian fans, CRM will be the key battleground for Premier league rivals to become global sporting brands.