“That’s the big challenge,” says Matt Scammell, associate global sponsorship sales director at the club, talking at Dreamforce in San Francisco.
“It’s all about working with our partners to activate not just globally in terms of visibility but making it locally relevant to every market and all the fans we have around the world. Using online and mobile we can develop more intimate relationships [because with every interaction] we build up knowledge about who that fan is and what type of content they like to consume,” he adds.
The club has 659 million followers around the world, according to Scammell, and is particularly popular across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. While its following in North America is more modest this is the club’s highest growth area thanks to increased interest in the sport from the youth market.
Scammell says social media is one of the most effective channels for boosting engagement with fans globally having generated more than half a billion interactions on Facebook alone since joining the platform in 2010 and it is one of the key ways it looks to build customer data.
“We want to turn followers into addressable individuals,” he says. “It’s all very well having 60m fans on Facebook but we really need to know more about them so we can interact with them and share their contact details with our partners.
That makes truly valuable followers and means we can have more successful digital campaigns.”
When Sir Alex Ferguson retired last year, for example, the club encouraged fans to write farewell messages and share their details before selecting the best comments and publishing them in a book and presenting it to the former manager at the next game.
“That delivered over 100,000 responses so there was a really strong level of engagement,” says Scammell. “We captured the information of all those people meaning they become much more of an addressable individual.”
“We want to turn followers into addressable individuals. It’s all very well having 60m fans on Facebook but we really need to know more about them so we can interact with them and share their contact details with our partners.”
The way in which information is acquired also dictates how the club chooses to communicate with fans going forward because it will target a 65 year old season ticket holder based in Manchester differently to a 17 year old in Asia that interacts with the club using Facebook on their mobile device.
“How we acquire an email address might dictate how we communicate with that individual, for example,” he says.
“We can then see who communicates with what and what the conversion rate is so we continually refine what we’re doing. This applies not just to our communications at Manchester United but for our partners too. By building up more information on every one of those email recipients we can understand what type of promotion is going to work best for each individual contact. The more we do it, the more information we pull together and the more successful we can be.”
The club’s income from global sponsorship deals was up 49 per cent last year with regional deals including STC in Saudi Arabia and PepsiCo in parts of the Middle East and Asia coupled with global deals with Nike, Aon and DHL boosting sponsorship income to £135.8m in the period, up from £90.9m a year earlier.
This total is set to rise further in the coming years thanks to its shirt sponsorship deal with Chevrolet, which is worth £50m a season alongside its Adidas kit deal which begins in 2015 and is worth a record £75m a season.
Manchester United is using a number of Salesforce platforms including Exact Target, Buddy Media and Radian 6 to achieve this view of customers.
“The different components we’re using help us enhance the way we communicate with our followers, tapping in across multiple platforms which makes it easy and practical for us to deliver everything from one place and time zone in Manchester.
“We are able to target people in different languages and across different demographics… and we can communicate with them much more effectively as we treat them as addressable individuals which means we are capable of providing better digital campaigns with our partners.”