The recent trademark ruling against Arsenal, allowing a fan to continue selling unofficial merchandise, is probably wrong and will I hope be reversed on appeal.
However, this ruling, combined with the mighty Manchester United announcing a sharp downturn in merchandising revenues, confirms our view that football clubs are not brands.
Heresy, I hear you cry. Of course a football club can be a brand – look at the loyal following. But how can they be? What unique associations are conjured up in our minds when we hear the name?
Man Utd probably means football success, but what happens when success declines? Surely, the days of supporters blindingly buying up products with the club’s name on it are over. OK, a shirt is useful and associates you with a club. But what does Man Utd add to the tomato ketchup or the tricycle it brands? Nothing whatsoever.
I know that many European football teams are beginning to embrace the concept of marketing – presumably part of their task is to turn endorsement into brand. Is this possible? They have many channels open to them and have become expert at retail, e-commerce, TV broadcasting and the newly emerging t-commerce, spectator management, etc. But how you define a sustainable difference between Man Utd and Arsenal in the age of global supporters’ clubs where provenance has no influence is hard to imagine.
Needless to say, I would love to have a go.