Manchester City had one of most successful runs in Premier League history last season, with an 18-match winning streak that helped the team secure the title five games before the end of the season.
The club, which has been on an upward trajectory for a number of years, finished at the top of the table with 100 points, 19 points clear of second placed rivals Manchester United, having won 32 of its 38 games.
But when CMO Nuria Tarre joined in 2015, she admits she wasn’t a Man City fan. In fact, she wasn’t even a football fan.
With a background in telecommunications, aviation and tourism, Tarre is the first to admit she’s “definitely not a sports expert”. But her appointment as CMO of City Football Group, which also owns New York City FC and Melbourne City FC among others, came at a time the sports group was looking to increase its fame off the pitch and appeal to a wider fan base.
“What’s interesting about our model is we’re trying to get inspiration from other industries and build a leadership team that is very diverse with very different backgrounds,” Tarre tells Marketing Week.
“If we want to grow faster we can’t do the same thing the others do; we need to innovate and think differently. We’re trying to learn what works best in other sports, in entertainment, in digital and media, to not only be able to serve and to propose the best experience possible to the fans that come to our games in Manchester, but to connect with our fans globally in a way that is meaningful and relevant.”
While she admits the group doesn’t have all the answers, she says the right answers will come from “bringing ideas to the table, looking at what works in other industries and reshaping the model”.
This means going beyond the 90-minute game to connect with fans as much off the pitch as it does during match days. The club recently launched an eight-part documentary series on Amazon Prime, which takes fans behind the scenes of its record breaking journey to become Premier League champions during the 2017/18 season.
We need to keep exploring the evolution of the digital landscape and find the best way to serve the purpose of the brands that want to partner with us.
Nuria Tarre, Man City
‘All or Nothing’ features exclusive footage with manager Pep Guardiola and the team and aims to provide fans with unfettered access in an “open and transparent way” that she says mirrors the club’s values.
“What we’ve done as a club is open the doors and let [Amazon] get in, which from an organisational point of view has been quite challenging because it had access to the dressing room, the game, the game at half time, which is something that never happens,” she explains.
She says the series has had a broader appeal than expected, which goes beyond its own fan base.
“It has connected really well with a wider football audience – fans from rival clubs have gone on social media and are saying ‘I wish my club had done the same thing’. It’s a great way for people to know more about who we are and how we do things.”
Rather than doing the same for another season, Tarre says it is likely Man City will try something different and that it is already looking at other brand partnerships, content forms and new ways to tell stories.
She is especially interested in exploring opportunities in digital, as well as working with influencers to “find the best way to serve the purpose of the brands that want to partner with us, and to serve our own purpose, which is to grow our audience and connect with them and our fans more globally and keep growing, generating revenue if we can”.
Tarre says Amazon’s and Facebook’s move to buy rights to stream live sport is both an “interesting opportunity, and a challenge”.
“How much access do they have to football fans, how do they tell stories, are they going to limit their role to the 90 minutes?” she asks.
“But for us as well, we are content producers and content owners and when partnering with brands like them do they become a partner or a competitor as we look to engage with fans?”
Widening the goal posts
Tarre also sees it as her duty to raise the profile of women’s football. Man City has made a number of moves to help accelerate this, from being the first to live stream the women’s games on Facebook Live in 2016 and having the first T-shirt sleeve partner, to tripling engagement with female fans with its ‘Same City, Same Passion’ campaign.
Yet women’s sponsorship remains a challenge and brands seem reluctant to dip their hands into their wallets.
“We know there’s not much revenue yet and there’s a lot more to do, but we believe this is a long-term shot,” Tarre says. “We think there will be more brands interested [in the upcoming women’s World Cup in 2019] but there is also an opportunity for us to invest a bit more and understand what content works.
“I don’t think the media has done its job in giving visibility, but hopefully it’s just a matter of time before brands become more interested.”
Nissan and Tinder are two of the brands that have invested in Man City’s female team, although sports brands are proving especially difficult to bring on board. But Tarre is optimistic this will change – especially as the women’s athleisure trend takes off.
“Women influence a lot more purchases than they used to and as they do they influence brands, so I think there’s going to be a lot more brands interested in engaging with women,” she says, citing Nike, Adidas and Puma as brands that are doing this best at the moment.
“Everything is changing very quickly. It’s evolving fast and I think we’ll be driven by the athleisure trend. Women’s fashion is more relaxed and sporty and as this comes I think there’s a true opportunity for brands to be engaged with sports organisations.”