The Secret Marketer

Our ‘man on the inside’ provides a view from the top of the marketing tree

Chelsea Football Club reacted with anger and incredulity last week after they were banned from signing any new players until January 2011. The damning punishment was delivered by Fifa, which found Chelsea guilty of “tapping up” a player under contract to another club. The scale of the punishment is unprecedented and the manner in which it was delivered – by fax – was equally stunning. I can’t remember the last time I got a fax about anything important.

Chelsea are certain to appeal against the decision, but for now we should enjoy the prospect of one of the world’s biggest spending clubs losing their wallet. For those marketers out there working on mega-brands, just imagine losing your entire marketing budget for 16 months. How on earth would you cope? It raises questions about the role of today’s marketing director or football manager. The job titles imply a holistic approach, whereas in practice most of their time is involved in spending on new things, whether that is signing new players or the creation of new advertising campaigns. This is supported by an ever more elaborate backroom team of agencies, psychologists, scouts and researchers, all taking their cut of the spending merry-go-round.

Much has been written about how small, challenger brands are able to outperform their bigger spending, more established cousins. Without huge resources, you wouldn’t be so busy running agency pitches and signing off numerous iterations of creative work as you wouldn’t have the money to pay for such extravagances in the first place. As scary as it sounds, you might have a bit of time on your hands to consider those aspects of your brand you could improve at little or no cost. A similar challenge now awaits Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, who will be spending less time courting agents and more time on coaching.

For what it is worth, I predict that Chelsea may benefit greatly from this involuntary period of abstinence, discovering a renewed focus, team spirit and far greater returns from their existing assets. If my predictions are true, the halcyon days of spending at Stamford Bridge may well be over and the Fifa punishment may be the best piece of strategic consultancy they could have wished for.

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