A Brand Analysis: Manchester United FC

[This text was originaly written for Contextualizing Visual Practice II, during my exchange at University of Lincoln, 2015]

Based on Old Trafford, Greater Manchester, Manchester United FC is considered one of the most successful clubs in English football. Through 136 years history, the club have won 62 trophies, including the national record of 20 english League titles (Ir.manutd.com, 2015). Also is worldwide know for their success in leagues like UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. This success is support by their global community of 659 million followers, all around the globe (Ir.manutd.com, 2015). Beside all that, Manchester United is the third most valuable brand in the football market, just loosing for the german team FC Bayer München and Spanish club Real Madri FC.

This essay have the aim to see the strategy done by a football club, in this case Manchester United FC, to become a successful corporative brand. From being more than just a local influential club, but a company that not just think in win titles, but also make profit and influences their followers. To understand this event, this essay will try to show how the corporative understand of branding is applied in institutions like sport clubs and how the mentality in this field changed through the decades. Also, it will analyze why and how football clubs became one of the most values brands in the world. In addiction, the marketing strategies to raise their supporters, in consequence their profit, it will also be evaluate.


What is brand?

The modern concept of branding was started to be shaped long time ago. With the advent of fabrics during the First Industrial Revolution, the world was full of products with very similar appearance. “Competitive branding became a necessity of the machine age — within a context of manufactured sameness, image-based difference had to be manufactured along with the product” (Klein, 2000). The necessity to differ one company product from the other was where the brand notion was first applied. This is the firs basic characteristic that forms the concept of brand.

The second was brought by the advertisement. Before the industrial revolution, ads was used as a informational bulletin on the latest invention. After, it was used to shape the image of the brand. It was the principal channel of communication between corporation and consumer. With a name and a image, the advertisements started to create a personality to a brand.

Through the decades, the concept of brand just like we know today was getting more and more complex. In the 20’s the idea of corporation been “persons” and have “souls” was created, and was in the 40’s that terms like “brand essence” and “corporative consciousness” were coined. Consumers could not more differ products without a brand on it, and the agencies noticed that. Brands do not just differ one product from another anymore, they have values and are presented as persons. They have and show feelings.

Since 90’s, corporations like Nike and Starbucks started to see themselves selling a lifestyle, a experience, not just a running shoes or a cup of coffee. Consumers could drink a cup of coffee in their houses, but the experience in drinking a cup of coffee on a Starbucks’s shop was different, at least in a psychological and/or anthropological examination. Advertisements can make a corporation atemporal, because it can adapt their brand identity through generations. They have the power that can make a company so old like Coca-Cola to look like a twenty-years-old adult that is concerned about the environment. Propaganda can give new personalities to old faces.

“Brand is the promise, the big idea, and the expectations that reside in each customer’s mind about a product, service, or company. People fall in love with brands, trust them, develop strong loyalties to them, buy them, and believe in their superiority. The brand is shorthand. It stands for something” (Wheeler, 2006).

It was not strange that this concept of a brand leave the business scope, and began appearing in other organization types. The sport sector was one of those.

Sport clubs as brands

Manchester United FC was founded in 1878 as Newton Health LYR Football Club by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways (LYR) at depot Newton Health. In 1902 it became the Manchester United FC that we know nowadays.

The club was the second football team to enter in London Stock Exchange in 1991, becoming quickly, one of the most valuable brand in the sport business. A lot of different elements can be pointed to understand the success and the awareness that the brand Manchester United FC have around the world, here we will look into somes.

In the early 90’s, the football started to be seen as a new platform in the entertainment business. What was once just a sport, started to become more aware of the influence that had in their supporters and the financial potential it represented. Since the 60’s Manchester United FC figured in the football international stage, but was just in the last decades that started to explore it. It started with a rebranding of it is identity in 2001, by the brand agency Springetts. “Manchester United used to just signify football club. That was in the days before the organization saw its true potential as an international leisure business” (Dowdy, 2003).

This change in mentality of been more than just a football club that act locally, to became a huge and international brand started. The desire to open their own café, the Red Café, in other places other than on their stadium Old Trafford was the first step into making profit through all their worldwide supporters.

Unlike companies like Starbucks and McDonalds, football clubs have a different kind of connection with people. The identification of fan with your loved club is often linked with a emotional state than with rational ones. Sometimes fans of a determinate team support it because a family bound, or because a star player plays in it, or because they fell like a part of a community. Football clubs have this magic that many brands tries to make with costumers through advertisements and products.

“Think local, act global”

Manchester United FC, working as a brand, have more potential to sell something to their supporters than any corporative brand. Just like said early in this essay, brands are almost like persons, they have a soul and identity. Football clubs have it too. Football, more than any other sector, have fans that have this blind faith, and unreasonable expectations by their chosen team. The emotional bond that have between supporters and club outstrip the level of involvement that most of consumers have with their favorite brand or service (Bridgewater, 2010). If a person supports Manchester United FC, hardly, almost impossible, they will change its mind and support another club, even if his team suffer from consecutive relegations.

But, sometimes, this “blind” support not just come from a identification with the club. To see as a global brand, Manchester United had to change the way they done business. “Think local, act global” (Ir.manutd.com, 2015) started to be the new approach. Football players have a huge importance in this mentality. For a lot of people how are passionate about this sport, these players are like heroes, a inspiration to be followed.

In july 2005, Manchester United signed the south Korean football player Park Ji-sung. He was the second asian to play in the club. We can see this strategy in two different ways: one is that his talent was recognized by the club manager in that time, Sir Alex Ferguson, as a important player for the team; the second one is that he was a important marketing movement to collect supporters in Asia. “Think local, act global” was in action. Later, after the retirement of this player in 2014, he became the Manchester United FC ambassador in Asia.

“Football clubs attract global levels of support. Football clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, and AC Milan, at a league level the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga, and at an individual level players such as Kaká, Ronaldo, and Ji-Sung Park, all have significant numbers of fans in all parts of the world” (Bridgewater, 2010).

Footballers can be a open door for new supporters, for new consumers. Manchester United FC in this recent preseason, 2014, made a series of games in the United States. This country have one of the most profitable sports leagues, Major League Soccer (MLS) and American Football (NFL) are one of those, and a high consumer potential. Preseason fixtures started to be used to bring closer the club to their worldwide supporters. It is a marketing strategy. “Think local, act global”.

This internationalization of a club can sometimes be harm. In 2005, Manchester United was bought by the american investor Malcolm Glazer, that already own a NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This movement brought some unpleasantness for some part of the local supporters of the club, making them created a new football club, the FC United for Manchester. It is the lost of identification with the club. This is a issue that occur particularly in the english Premier League in recent years. Making a brand such as a football club global, it attracts another type of supporter to the stadium. That one that is not from Manchester, or even not from United Kingdom. But, looking as a business model, it does not matter.

Manchester United FC is the third most valuable football brand in the world, having a brand value of 739 million dollars (Statista, 2015). In numbers, the 2014 revenue of the club was £433m, divided in three major segments: Matchday, £108 million (25%); Broadcasting, £136 million (31%); and Commercial, £189 million (44%). Sponsorship is the most responsible for this value, £176 million came directly from all different sponsor that pay to have their brand linked with Manchester United image (Ir.manutd.com, 2015).

Beside the revenues of sponsorships and TV broadcast, merchandising is one of the most important thing in the clubs image. They have a vital importance to promote the club, making the brand look real, and not just a idea. With products that goes from jerseys to beer glasses, they are like little part of the club that the supporter can take home. They are products to reinforce the connection between club and fan.

And not just products, but services too. Like early commented in this essay, the desire to open the Red Café in different parts of the globe was the first idea to make the Manchester United a global brand. But it did not stopped there. Megastores, banks, internet channels, everything is related to the club brand, making it strong and present in every aspect of the fan life.

The club revert this profit received through this sections in improvements in their facilities, staff and in hiring new players to strengthen the team. Strong teams represents more titles, more titles represents more revenue in rewards and supporters. Sponsors want to be part of this, and they do not measure cost to do it.

Manchester United have the largest jersey sponsorship in the football world. In 2012, the American automobile company Chevrolet signed a contract with the annual value of £49.2m. Another important brand that will have your brand linked with Manchester United next season (2015–2016) is Adidas. For explore the club’s image in retail, e-commerce, mono brand products and soccer schools, they will pay £75m per year. This corporations use the club image as a platform to achieve different consumers markets. They use the Manchester United FC brand to aggregate the club values with the corporate ones.

In the pre-season of 2012, Manchester United FC participated in the Chevrolet China Cup. This tournament was a marketing strategy for both Chevrolet and Manchester United to promote their brands in a market as promisor as the chinese. Both club and corporation used the football, the interest in the sport, to sell their image to the fans (WhatCulture.com, 2015).

As a hyperreal brand, Manchester United use its image to sell something to their supporter. And here is where sponsorships take advantage of the club fans. Since they relate the corporate with the club image, the consumer that is loyal to his club tends to prefers brands that are linked to their club, their passion.

Conclusion

Manchester United FC is one of the most influential and strong brands in the sports markets. Their strategies not just have the intuit to collect new supporters, but in a long idea turns them into consumers, that buy everything related with the club to support their passion: Manchester United FC. With the strategy to “Think local, act global”, Manchester United can influence all the different types of fans, since local supporters to global spectators that like to see one or other player playing in the pit. Sponsors want to be linked to the club image, a image that can turn these supporters into consumers for theses brands such as Adidas and Chevrolet. Football clubs brands are one of the most persuasive brands in the world. They are emotionally bound to there followers, that have their own reasons to cheers for Manchester United and not for Manchester City, for example. Since this brands, Adidas and Chevrolet, can not have such a deep connection with consumers as this, they try to support the club and have a portion of this profit, even if this means to spend millions of dollars to achieve it. As long as the results in the field and new and expensive players are coming, the fans do not have what to complain about.


References

Bridgewater, S. (2010). Football brands. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dowdy, C. (2003). Beyond logos. Mies: RotoVision.

Ir.manutd.com, (2015). About Manchester United. [online] Available at: http://ir.manutd.com/company-information/about-manchester-united.aspx [Accessed 31 Jan. 2015].

Klein, N. (2000). No space, no choice, no jobs, no logo. New York: Picador USA.

Mental Floss, (2015). A Brief History of Jersey Sponsorship. [online] Available at: http://mentalfloss.com/article/27776/brief-history-jersey-sponsorship [Accessed 1 Feb. 2015].

WhatCulture.com, (2015). Manchester United To Tour China As Part of Pre-Season. [online] Available at: http://whatculture.com/sport/manchester-united-to-tour-china-as-part-of-pre-season.php [Accessed 1 Feb. 2015].

Statista, (2015). Brand value ranking football clubs worldwide 2014 | Statistic. [online] Available at: http://www.statista.com/statistics/234493/football-clubs-in-europe-by-brand-value/ [Accessed 1 Feb. 2015].

Wheeler, A. (2006). Designing brand identity. 2nd ed.