Battle of world football brands

Because of stiff competition, football clubs are exploring commercial activities off the field and in the international arena. But they risk devaluing their sporting origins.

In just a few days’ time, this year’s football European Champions’ League will begin. In an expanded format, designed to meet the needs of Europe’s larger clubs and media companies, 32 teams will compete to establish or maintain their place at soccer’s “top table”.

The increasing commercialisation of the sport has received much coverage in the UK, as football clubs seek to expand their activities beyond their traditional sporting core. In more ways than one, the nature of the game is changing and, as it changes, so does the nature of the skills and concepts necessary to ensure its continued development.

But clubs must realise that if they extend, as well as managing their commercial and sporting activities, they must also nurture and develop international brands.

Some clubs have already taken this on board. For example, Josep Nuñez, president of Barcelona, in justifying the signing of Frédéric Déhu – a Frenchman – this June, told La Vanguardia newspaper: “We want to be leaders in terms of audience and France is a very important country in that respect.”

While acknow-ledging that this was a complementary, rather than a principal aim of the signing, Nuñez was nevertheless facing up to facts. Last year, for example, Barcelona made its team shirt officially available for sale outside Spain for the first time. As a result, 25 per cent of revenues came from overseas.

Another team to have seized the international initiative is Juventus of Turin. This summer, the club commissioned a structured market research survey of the “properties” of each of its players, with a view to developing a role for them beyond the confines of their traditional, on-field classifications. The survey is to be repeated twice yearly, and its main objective is to identify qualities which are most attractive to potential commercial partners, but which will simultaneously contribute to a more controlled management of all elements of the Juventus brand.

Given the increasing money the game is earning, there is a danger the sporting base of football becomes submerged, a problem which Uefa head of club competitions Thomas Kurth recognised. “The risk is that football could degenerate into some kind of ‘Holiday On Ice’,” he told Les Echos newspaper.

While one hopes that competitions such as the Champions’ League will not develop into simply another entertainment brand, stripped of their competitive essence, it is nevertheless the case that in striving to maximise their potential, clubs will increasingly be compelled to call upon traditional tools of brand management – and do this on an international stage – if they are to succeed in a commercial, as well as a sporting sense.

John Shannon is president of Grey International.


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