Football had moved out of the stadium and into the boardrooms a long time back. Teams became advertising platforms as sponsors realised the immense appeal that sports held with the people, and it was only a matter of time before these teams became global brands. I have taken one of the most popular teams of the world’s favourite sport as an example to elaborate this. Here’s a look at Manchester United FC from a global brand perspective.
One thing common about every global brand, be it Apple, Volkswagen or Heineken, is a rich and sometime troubled history. The same is true for Manchester United.
The club was formed under the name of Newton Heath LYR (Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway) in the year 1878. Initially they played against other teams of railway workers, but soon enough they were playing other companies and in 1885 they reached the finals of the Manchester Cup Competition, which they went on to win the year after. The team started severing its ties with the railways and dropped the LYR, and were invited to join the first division of the emerging Football League. Incidentally, in the 1893-94 campaign, Newton Heath were the first team in the league’s history to be relegated to the second division.
The team’s next historic event was in the year 1902, when it was facing bankruptcy. The team captain, Harry Stafford had a chance meeting with a certain Mr. John J. Davies, and together they raised ₤2,000 and managed to save the team. It was at this time that the name Newton Heath was replaced by the legendary Manchester United Football Club, and John Davies became the President of the club.
1909 marked another historic event for the club. The team got a new home. A home that is today known among football enthusiasts as ‘The Theatre of Dreams’. It was in this year that the club moved into Old Trafford.
In 1945, after the second world war, Matt Busby, a former Manchester City player, was appointed as the manager for the club. He had a slow start, but started investing heavily on the Youth Academy, which proved fruitful with the rise of a new breed of Manchester United heroes. The club at that time had a team with an average age of only 22. This team was labelled the ‘Busby Babes’, and they went on to demolish English and European competition.
The Busby Babes had captured attention. They seemed poised to take over the world of football, and football enthusiasts around the world wanted to see them in action. However, in the year 1958, as the team were returning after playing Red Star Belgrade, their plane crashed over Munich, leading to the death of Mark Jones, David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Liam Whelan, and Tommy Taylor. Club secretary Walter Crickmar, and coaches Tom Curry and Bert Whalley were also killed. Duncan Edwards, Matt Busby, and Johnny Berry were critically injured, and Duncan Edwards would die three weeks later. Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower survived but never played again. Four other passengers and two of the crew were also killed, as were eight sportswriters travelling with the team, including former England goalkeeper Frank Swift. The Busby Babes were over. The dream came to a halt, and the entire footballing world was schocked.
In a book called ‘The Treasures of Manchester United‘, Sir Bobby Charlton says, “Before Munich it was just Manchester’s club, but afterwards everyone owned a little bit of it,” while his teammate and fellow Munich survivor Bill Foulkes said in the same book, “The crash started the legend…it built the aura that surrounds the club.”
Matt Busby recovered and set about to rebuilding the club. Bobby Charlton, one of the survivors of the crash was teamed with George Best and Dennis Law (lovingly called the United Trinity) and together the three players along with the rest of the new team went on to win the league in 1965 and in 1968 the team went on to win the European Cup – the first English team to do so. The resurgence was complete and the Never Say Die spirit that fans all over the world adore was born.
In the year 1986, Alex Ferguson was hired as the new Manager for the club, and under his leadership, Manchester United won 13 Premier Leagues, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 10 Community Shields, 2 UEFA Champions Leagues, 1 UEFA Cup Winners Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup and 1 FIFA Club World Cup, adding to the club’s already rich history.
Last season, Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement, and his place was taken by former Everton Manager, David Moyes, who is yet to make his mark with the club.
The brand as it stands today
The brand name is a popular one among people all over the world, regardless of whether they follow football or not. The colour red is a very strong association, and the Red Devil logo, which also happens to be the club mascot and the club’s nickname is something that can be placed easily.
Man Utd has a worldwide following of 659 million with 92 million of these being in Asia alone. This makes Utd often head to the Far-East for its pre-season tours. This was also the reason the club brought in Asian players like South Korea’s Park Ji Sung and Japan’s Shinji Kagawa. Of course they had their say in the success of the club.
United also has a history of creating big names rather than simply buying them. This has been observed in the cases of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Cristiano Ronaldo, and many more. This fact further endears the club to the fans.
According to Brand Directory, the brand value of the club is $837 million and it has a brand rating AAA+. Also, in the previous year, the club has had an income of ₤367 million, which is trailing only Real Madrid and Barcelona.
One of the key strategies that has helped the club reach this position is the ‘regional sponsorship’ policy. Rather than sell their partnerships to a single company on a global basis, United sell these deals several times over on a regional basis across several territories. Today the club has deals with 34 sponsors across the globe, including a noodles company in the Asian markets and an official telecommunications partner in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Thus Manchester United today is not only one of the greatest teams in the world, but also one of the greatest brands. Not many other football teams have cashed in on their rich history, and not many have had such a shocking incident like the Munich Air Crash to mar their success, and even fewer clubs have gone through such events and then reincarnated themselves. All this truly makes Manchester United Football Club a global brand in every sense, and a perfect case for other sports teams to look at.
Author: Arko Mukherjee