Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of Scoop.it! Football Finance

Posts Tagged ‘Marketing’

So, is it really ‘goodbye Bluebirds, hello Red Dragons’?

Posted by John Beech on June 7, 2012

Like the old joke about anti-social behaviour in a lift, what is happening at Cardiff City is just plain wrong at so many levels.

The root causes of the problem lie in Sam Hammam’s decision to build a new stadium, the resulting deep financial difficulty that Cardiff got themselves into with Langston and the Damoclean debt hanging over the club as a result, and Peter Ridsdale’s decision to involve the club in what was, from the first, described as a ‘strategic marketing alliance’ with Malaysian investors (1).  As he said at the time, “It will be a long-term alliance.  It will include youth development, it will include the opportunity to explore the whole fan base.  It will certainly include sponsorship.  We are already talking to them about shirt sponsorship and stadium naming rights without any definite conclusions at this stage.  We are also talking about their assistance in trying to put this club on the sort of financial footing that we would have liked to dream of when I first arrived at this football club.

Needless to say, there was no public talk of the shirt sponsorship involving what has just been announced.

Indeed, as recently as 10 May Dato Chan Tien Ghee said, in an open letter to fans, wrote:

The new club crest and home colours which were being discussed were intended to demonstrate the symbolic fusion of Welsh and Asian cultures through the use of the colour red and the predominant featuring of a historical Welsh dragon under the Cardiff City FC name. This would have been a springboard for the successful commercialisation and promotion of the club and its brand, driving international revenues and allowing us to fund transfers and success locally, thereby giving the club the best chance of competing at the higher reaches of competition.

This was not meant as a slight in any way shape or form on the club’s traditions or history which we recognise are the lifeblood of any club. It was intended as a positive change to allow us to adapt and embrace the future. Notwithstanding a number of rumours there were no further plans to turn the stadium red or make other radical changes. ” (2)

His use of “were being discussed” and “would have been” must have suggested to many, including myself, that the rebranding of club with a change in shirt colour and change in logo were now a dead duck, a not unreasonable understanding as he continued In the light of the vociferous opposition by a number of the fans to the proposals being considered as expressed directly to our local management and through various media and other outlets, we will not proceed with the proposed change of colour and logo and the team will continue to play in blue at home for the next season with the current badge.

He kept his word for less than a month.

In his open letter he also alluded to the current instability in the club’s business model thus: “It is clear to all concerned that the club simply cannot continue to function and exist in its current state, effectively losing large amounts of money each month, while acquiring more and more debt.”  No one can reasonably disagree with view.

In the debate that has broken out in the last couple of days since the announcement of the decision to do a U-turn (3), or to use the language you might expect from someone engaged in a ‘strategic marketing alliance’ – “Following a comprehensive review of wider supporter feedback via email, letters, media coverage and polls run via the official Supporters Club and Media Wales and as a consequence of the above commitment, Cardiff City Football Club will also reactivate rebranding proposals with a view to exploiting and maximising its brand and commercial revenues in international markets” – attitudes seem to have become polarised into two camps.  On the one hand, what is happening is a Faustian pact which involves selling the soul of the club.  On the other, the club’s survival depends on a business plan that will result in untold wealth pouring in from new fans in the Far East.  As is so often the case, it is difficult to engage in debate regarding the relative merits of these two views because they are based on different meanings of the word ‘club’ (4).  The present attempt at debate assumes that these are two mutually exclusive and opposed views, and that there are no other possibilities, no room for overlap, and no possibility of compromise.  That certainly seems to be the view of the Malaysian investors.  Which raises a number of issues in itself.

It suggests that the future of the club hangs on the fickleness of future supporters in the Far East who a) would support a club in a red shirt but not one in a blue shirt, and that b) providing the club’s shirt is red and has a dragon on it they will support in sufficient numbers to pay off the rest of the ‘Langston debt’, reinvigorate the club’s fortunes (in both senses of the word), and allow the investors to see a return on their investment.  As to a), I think this is simplistic and over-stated.  As to b), I can understand the Malaysian investors looking to the marketing success of Manchester United, but they might better have a word with Balram Chainrai, or those behind the K&K Shonan Management Corporation (5), erstwhile ‘saviours’ of Plymouth Argyle.

What is happening at Cardiff is little short of seeing owners who view a club as a commodity which can have some brand value spray-painted onto it to make it stand out from the rest.  A simple question to Dato Chan Tien Ghee – if the key to your success lies in owning a red club, why didn’t you buy a red one?  If the answer is simply ‘Well, Peter hadn’t got a red one in his briefcase to show us’, God preserve us.

Others have tried this drastic rebranding, with some commercial success.  An obvious example is that of SV Austria Salzburg, which Red Bull bought and rebranded as FC Red Bull Salzburg in 2005, complete with change in club colours and logo.  The new club has enjoyed considerable success since the takeover, but the old club had also, and that is where the comparison begins to break down.  Red Bull bought an already successful club and turned it into an even more successful one.  But in doing so they alienated fans to such an extent they started a new club, which they called SV Austria Salzburg, and which has already climbed, Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester style, from the seventh tier of the Austrian football pyramid to the third tier.

I’ll leave my final thought to the SV Austria Salzburg fans who are reported as having raised this banner in the past few days.

Posted in Cashflow, Debts, Fans, Investors, Marketing, Merchandising, Ownership, Stadium, Strategy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Manchester United and the Monkees

Posted by John Beech on October 3, 2011

A comparison that doesn’t fully stand up to scrutiny, I promptly concede, but the ‘soulless’ way Manchester United is run as a business must trouble many a fan of what was once ‘the beautiful game’, and has often in the past been referred to as ‘the people’s game’.

An article in the Financial Times really caught my eye (1) – an interview with Richard Arnold, United’s Commercial Director by the redoubtable Roger Blitz.

It wasn’t the business plan that Richard Arnold was setting forth was other than a sensible one in business terms, but here was someone who has ‘sold his football soul’, if, that is, he had had one.

It was the calculating and almost cynical way he viewed his ‘customer base’, and the language he used.  Here was someone who made no distinction between running a sports business and running any other kind of business – a distinction which I believe to be vital (and bear in mind that I have been teaching and researching sport management, working in a university Business School, forponsored over fifteen years).  Yes, there is much common ground, but sport businesses are a distinct variety of business, not least because their customers see themselves as having psychological ownership of the product.

God help the present and future fans of Manchester United who are to be milked like a cash cow, even when incurring charges on their club-s credit card.  And just how comfortable does Sir Alex Ferguson (see my previous posting) feel working for them.  I caught sight of him, appearing, rather incongruously, in a video shown last week at the annual Labour Party conference.  He has long been a Labour Party supporter, and, for the benefit of overseas readers of this blog, the Labour Party for many, many years played Left Half in British politics.

Another football supremo also caught my eye since my last posting- the peerless Peter Ridsdale.  He was claiming that “he yearns for a life out of the public eye” (3).  Had this claim appeared in the form of a press release by fax from some rural hideaway out of the public spotlight?  No, in fact he was sitting “sipping coffee in Cardiff’s Mercure Holland House hotel” giving a press interview.  How torn the Spinmeister must be in deciding whether to follow his yearning.

Posted in Globetrotterisation, Marketing | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The changing face of Premier League shirt sponsorship

Posted by John Beech on September 15, 2011

The news the other week that Manchester United had secured a lucrative sponsorship deal with DHL for their training kit (1) rather caught my attention.  It wasn’t the unique (?) case of training kit being sponsored – I would expect this to be a one-off, with all new shirt sponsorship deals having a clause requiring exclusivity over all shirts.  It was the fact that a global courier service was the sponsor.  Their business is truly global, they have previously sponsored sport (2), and a Premier League club would give them global ‘reach’.  No doubt we will see UPS signing up next season – they too are already into sports sponsorship (3).  They actually offer a handy application form on their website – commercial managers of football clubs get typing!

The news that QPR have finally signed up not one but two shirt sponsors (home/away kits) (4) allowed me to complete this season’s entries into my Premier League shirt sponsorship database.  More on this in a second, but I must warn you that the official QPR website has followed the Times in charging for content other tasters – a distinctly retrograde step and hardly fan-friendly.  Do these clubs need ‘naming and shaming’?

Two initial views of the data show some interesting trends.  First, some data on the country of the sponsor.  The graph is a tad grainy as presented I fear, but clicking on any of the images will open it up to a rather more legible size (I kept them small on the posting itself so as not to slow downloading).

Very broadly there seem to be three periods  apparent: from the start of the Premier League a steady-state period to roughly to the end of 1997/98, with sponsors falling roughly equally into the UK and foreign categories; a period from then until 2006/07, when foreign sponsors started to turn away, before starting to return; and the most recent period, showing a return to a roughly equal split.  I would have to admit that I can’t see a simple obvious reason for this trough of foreign sponsorship in the middle period.  Do any readers have any thoughts on this?

While the Premier League began with almost half the clubs sponsored by locally-based companies, there has been a slow but steady decay.  This I would simply attribute to the rising cost of shirt sponsorship, with foreign-based multinationals better placed to pay higher fees than the likes of, for example, the splendidly named Reg Vardy Motors, sponsors of Sunderland roughly a decade ago, and now part of Evans Halshaw.

It shouldn’t be assumed that ‘local’ necessarily means a UK company.  For example, Peugeot sponsored Coventry City for their first five years in the Premier League – the Peugeot 206 was at that time built at their Coventry site.

Secondly, data on the sponsor’s sector.

The graph shows the four most frequently occurring sectors over the two decades.  Financial services are just the largest grouping at 13.5%, closely followed by breweries at 12.8%, although, if the breweries are combined with the occasional sponsorship by spirits and cider manufacturers, alcohol manufacturers, with a combined total of 13.8%, slip into top spot.

It’s clear that financial services have grown steadily as sponsors over two decades, but gambling, the Johnny Come-Latelys of PL shirt sponsorship, is very much in the ascendancy.  Together the two sectors now sponsor 13 of the 20 clubs.  The early days of the Premier League saw a much greater diversification among shirt sponsors.

Finally a look at the Top 4 v. the rest of the Premier League clubs.  One would expect the clubs which have pretensions of being global brands to attract global sponsors, and this is indeed the case.

By playing more televised matches, especially when qualifying for the Champions league, the Big 4 have consistently attracted more foreign sponsors than the other clubs, generally two to three times more.  By being able to play a global market in attracting sponsors, they have been able to push their sponsorship charges up, and so increase their financial muscle.  There is thus a double effect of reinforcing their dominant position, by greater TV revenues and by greater sponsorship revenues.  Whatever happened to competitive balance?

Posted in Marketing, Revenues, Sponsorship | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Are our biggest clubs really global brands?

Posted by John Beech on December 9, 2010

You certainly notice the presence of Premier League clubs in Kenya (where I’ve just been on a somewhat delayed ‘summer’ holiday).

Can any Manchester United fan supply the vintage?

Curio seller in the middle of nowhere, Kenya. Can any Manchester United fan supply the vintage?

Well, of the predictable few.  Arsenal are, on the basis of an entirely unsystematic and unscientific survey of shirts and baseball caps and a pretty small sample, the clear number one English club of choice for Kenyan fans, followed not so far behind by Manchester United, with Chelsea a poor and third. That was it really. I did see Liverpool mentioned on a sandwich board outside a bookies, but no shirts. In fact the only other shirts were either local Kenyan clubs or Brazil.

The presence manifested itself not only through shirts, but also by slightly crudely painted club crests on cafés, and, in one case, the rather unexpected ‘Gunners Hairdressers’.  Presumably their Boro Primorac isn’t that popular with customers.

Apart from the fact that I found in yet another country only the famous few were present, two things struck me.

First, what did the clubs actually gain from their presence?  I would suspect that those wearing shirts had not contributed to direct sales, and that few Kenyans were avidly using the online club shops.  They certainly weren’t buying tickets for the games.  And how did a baseball cap with ‘Fly Emirates’ as the obvious feature do anything for Arsenal (as we passed, I didn’t even spot an Arsenal logo)?  Again only a suspicion, but I doubt that Arsenal have been leveraging up their price to Emirates on the basis of this particular exposure.  If there was any return, it was for the sponsor but not for the club.

Secondly, the presence of so many hand-painted logos might be seen as some sort of compliment to Arsenal, but the unlicensed use of logos said something about the nature of the clubs’ presence and the weakness of any commercial basis.  It was a kind of artificial presence.  The Arsenal or whichever brand did not have a presence on a par with that of a truly global logo such as Coca Cola.  And that’s probably the point – Coca Cola has an enormous presence in Kenya through their products and the infrastructure to support and develop the sale of their products.  Any unlicensed use of their logos would stamped on by locally-based Coca Cola staff,with the zeal of the IOC spotting that I had mentioned that event which is taking place between 2011 and 2013 in the UK capital by its conventional name.

Because of the lack of product presence, other than, that is, the intangible product presence through broadcasting, it’s hard to justify even the biggest Premier League clubs as global brands in any conventional sense.  The sale of official merchandising at the café (or hairdresser) can only be a dream.  The opening of Manchester United shops in the Far East, for example, is the first steps in becoming a truly global brand, but it is frankly just scratching the surface of an enormous potential market.  To be successful, these clubs will have to produce a radically different marketing mix with new 4Ps (product, price, place and promotion).

Posted in Broadcasting rights, Marketing, Merchandising, Sponsorship | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Run that past me again?!?

Posted by John Beech on December 3, 2010

As someone whose heart wanted England to get the 2018 World Cup, but whose head didn’t (in a nutshell, and amongst a number of reasons, we can’t afford it) I naturally had mixed feelings about our failure to win today.  ‘Failure to win’ is of course a massive understatement.  We presumably only attracted one vote from the other 21 FIFA Exco members.

FIFA, not known for its transparency, provides few metrics in its evaluation reports (available here).  They do however give a range of ratings related to risk.  Perhaps we had submitted a bid that was too risky.  Well, have a look for yourself:

ENGLAND NETHERLANDS / BELGIUM SPAIN / PORTUGAL RUSSIA QATAR
LEGAL EVALUATION
Government documents
Government guarantees Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Contractual documents
Hosting agreement Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Host city arrangements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Stadium agreements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Training city agreements Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
Confirmation agreements Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Overall
Overall legal risks Low risk Medium risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
OPERATIONAL RISK
Competition
Stadium construction Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
Stadium operations Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk Medium risk
Team facilities Low risk Low risk Medium risk Low risk High risk
Competition-related events Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk
Transport
Airports and international connections Low risk Low risk Low risk High risk risk Medium risk
Ground transport Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
Host city transport Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
Accommodation
General accommodation Medium risk Medium risk Low risk Medium risk Medium risk
TV
International Broadcast Centre Low risk Low risk Low risk Low risk Medium risk
NO. OF VOTES
Round 1 2 4 7 9 11
Round 2 2 7 13 10
Round 3 11
Round 4 14

The rating of ‘High risk’ occurs only three times in all the ratings for 2018 and 2022 contenders – twice for Qatar and once for Russia.

It would seem that, far from being risk averse, the FIFA Exco members favoured risky bids!

Of course, I’m falling into that old trap of assuming that they behaved and voted in a rational way.

So, if it wasn’t content that wooed them, perhaps it might have been style.  No metrics here, but my impression was that we had come to the party with just the right blend of banalities and photogenic children that had worked so well in Singapore.  Certainly our effort was no more nor less vomit-inducing than the oppositions’.  Certainly it was no less contrived.

Inevitably we come back to the process of selection as the root cause of England’s failure.  We didn’t jump through the right hoops.  We didn’t pound the ground or press the flesh hard enough.  We trusted Jack Warner.  We were naïve.  The core question is which of those are things we should not be happy with.

As we wake up the next morning, sadly free of the anticipated hangover, criticism continues to focus on the role of our media.  It was Panorama and The Sunday Times wot dunnit.  Whether it was or wasn’t will be endlessly debated, but that misses the point.  Having a free press with a healthy body of investigative journalists who are happy to point out that the emperor has no clothes is something we should celebrate rather than lament surely, even if we don’t like the outcomes.  There is a need to distinguish between the process of selection and the outcomes of that process.

As for the outcomes, there could have been (from all the countries in the world) far worse choices than Russia.  Have a look at this clip of their plans for stadiums.  Mind you, it would hard to find a less appropriate choice than Qatar to be the host of football’s crowning glory.  I’m sure many a fellow academic is already planning their research on the socio-cultural impact of 2022 on Qatar.  I suspect that either fans will stay way (I would recommend Amnesty Internationals’ latest report on Qatar before you book your flights) or Qatar will unleash a lot of unwelcome behaviour in its hotels, which will test their public relations arm to the limits.

As for the media, there are in fact examples of both excellent and diabolical commentary.  Topping my list of excellent commentary at the moment is Declan Hill’s Stumped, Unanswered Questions and an Organization with a Credibility Death-Wish, closely followed by David Conn’s contribution, Jens Sejer Andersen’s contribution, Paul Kelso’s contribution and Ian King’s reflections over at TwoHundredPerCent. Dishonorable mentions must go to the Daily Mail, and to an amazing attack on the ‘eight villains of the piece‘ by the Guardian, although the last of these appears to have been removed from their website.

If there is any criticism to be made of our media, it is that they raised our expectations too high.  The strength of our bid technically may well have encouraged them to do so, but they didn’t seem to have noticed that the decision is made not by a committee of wise and rational men, but rather by a group of malleable football D-listers.  The evidence was there, thanks to journalists like Andrew Jennings, but was perhaps not given the prominence in mainstream media over the years that it deserved.

Posted in 2018, Journalism, Marketing, Media, Public relations | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

The trouble with new stadiums 2

Posted by John Beech on July 8, 2010

[See also The trouble with new stadiums 1, which looked at the argument that "We’re a club with ambition and we need more seats to reflect that ambition".]

The second case put for building a new stadium is:

  • We’ve got the wrong sort of stadium.  We need one better suited to maximising our revenue streams.

The first part of this argument I have no real problem with.  Virtually all English football stadiums are either ‘new’ (less than twenty years old) or ‘old’ (from the Victorian era), and, if your club’s stadium is in the latter category, then it is almost certainly suboptimal for players, fans and revenue generation.  Remember, I’m a Pompey fan, and Fratton Park was a disgrace for a Premier League stadium.

‘We need a better one’ in these circumstances can then seem perfectly reasonable.  However, there are two key questions a club needs to ask itself: a) Can we afford it? and b) Is this the most effective way of maximising revenue streams?

I suspect that in 99 cases out 100 the answer to the first question is a resounding ‘No!’.  Show me the clubs which already have the financial reserves to consider spending on a new stadium!  The new stadium will have to be financed, and if the club is worried about failing to maximise its revenue streams it needs to have a cast iron case that new revenue streams will be sufficient to even cover the cost of the loans needed to finance the new stadium.  Of course there will be exceptions, but it is worth bearing mind that even Arsenal, with a clear need for a bigger stadium and a sound business plan to finance it, have struggled because of the drop in house prices, and the subsequent difficulty in selling the houses on the stadium site.

If you want to maximise your revenue streams, the basic strategy model which is used for deciding the best way to grow your business is one called Ansoff’s Matrix.  This model considers whether to look at existing or new customers, and existing or new markets.  (There is a useful visual representation here which makes it much easier to follow.)  The 2×2 nature of the matrix results in four possible strategies, each with differing levels of risk.

The safest is ‘market penetration‘ – developing the sales of existing products to existing customers.  In other words, the simplest and most effective growth strategy for the vast majority of clubs, which have empty seats on a match day, is to try and get more bums on seats.  Clubs like FC United of Manchester have tried interesting tactics with pricing to achieve this, such as varying the price that fans pay to get a season ticket (see 1 for a discussion of imaginative ticket pricing, and 2 for FCUM’s approach).  Experimenting with different pricing strategies, such as BOGOF (buy-one-get-one-free), is quick, easy, low risk, and provides a useful indication of whether growth is possible – if you can’t get more bums on seats with this kind of approach, where’s the rationale for a new, bigger stadium?

Next two to consider, of medium risk, are:

  • Product development - developing new products for existing customers
    In other words you find new goods or services to sell to your existing fans.  I’ve blogged before (see On clubs and club shops) on what I see as an unimaginitive range of merchandising that club shops offer, and clubs could do a lot more with this medium-risk strategy that does not require vast capital investment.
  • Market development – developing finding new markets for the existing products
    In other words you recruit new fans.  Clubs do make efforts here, trying to encourage whole families to attend games for example.  More could be done, and again without vast capital investment.

The final strategy is the one with the highest risk – Diversification, in other words, moving into to some other area to find new customers to buy new products.  It’s here that the new stadium certainly raises it’s ugly head – without a new stadium we don’t have the right facilities to be able to do this, the proponents moan.  Of course, they are right, but they fail to recognise the attendant problems.  The problems with this case are twofold.

The first is the obvious argument that it is the highest risk strategy, and comes at the highest cost.  It simply does not make sense to attempt it until all the lower risk, lower cost strategies have been tried.

The second problem arises with what exactly the new products to be sold to new customers are.  A good rule of thumb is that the nearer the ‘fit’ with the existing product – in our case, football matches – and the nearer the fit withthe market – in our case, football fans – the better, the lower the new risk.  Why, oh why, then, do clubs who pursue this strategy look to build a new stadium complex with a hotel, restaurants or shops?  Could it just be that they think they are already in these businesses through their experience in ‘hospitality’?  I would suggest that there is a gulf of blue water between ‘pies & bovril’ and even prawn sandwiches, and I know I’m not alone in this view!  Similarly they see themselves as involved in ‘events management’ and see a connection between operating on match days and running conferences.  As someone who attends both, I would again argue that there is deep blue water between attending a football match and attending a four-day conference – they are world apart in terms of customers and the service these customers are looking for.  I would argue that the poorness of fit is every bit as big as it is with running a supermarket.  In a nutshell, building the new stadium with a conference centre attached is as sensible as an existing conference centre which is in poor financial shape deciding to build a new conference centre with a football stadium attached to ‘maximise revenue streams’.  Even if you sub-contract the running of the new business ventures, you’ve set up two poorly fitting businesses on the same site – not a recipe for success.

I’m sure you realise, and I readily, that I am generalising (and I’ll be looking at some exceptions in a later posting).  There is one way of lowering the risk in a diversification strategy, and that is to diversify into something which, for example, the owner is experienced, an area in which he made his fortune which is he is in danger of turning into a small fortune.  That is, with one major exception, which I will be looking at in my next posting in this series.  To give a wee hint as to what I see as the one exception that does not reduce the club’s risk, I’ll just remind you of the third case that is put when a new stadium is proposed:

  • There’s this amazing property deal we can do.  We’ll sell the old stadium for redevelopment and there’ll be loads of money to build the new one.

Posted in Assets, Marketing, Merchandising, Revenues, Stadium | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Protecting sponsors

Posted by John Beech on June 17, 2010

My third World Cup posting has resonances much nearer to home; just bear with me.

Ambush marketing – the piggy-backing of events by companies who are not official sponsors (there is an excellent overview of the phenomenon in sports events here) – hit the news at the last World Cup, with Bavaria, the Dutch lager producer, engineering the celebrated orange lederhosen stunt (1 if you are unfamiliar with this).

Bavaria (see, more free publicity – which I regret, but it’s too contrived to write ‘ a certain Dutch beer manufacturer) have capped that incident in spite of FIFA’s best endeavours to protect the official World Cup beer sponsor (am I alone in thinking that is in itself just a tad absurd?), Budweiser.  Forty women sitting together in orange minidresses became this World Cup’s version of lederhosen (2, and for the prurient who find the incident hard to picture 2)

Bavaria have certainly achieved some success.  A Google search on ‘FIFA world cup beer sponsor’ currently finds Bavaria (remember, they aren’t) squeezing out Budweiser (who are) from the number one slot.

The whole issue of ambush marketing like this needs to be seen from two perspectives.  First, there is the need to protect sponsors against it.  The case is a clear one from a business perspective.  An official sponsor expects exclusivity in their marketing campaign, and pays for it.  If the event organiser does not stamp out ambush marketing he is not providing what the sponsor has paid for.

The second perspective is how the organiser goes about the ‘policing’ of potential ambush marketing.  Obviously prevention is the best policy, but, when ambush marketing does take place, how can the organiser best retrieve the situation?  In a sense they are on a hiding to nothing – too little reaction, the ambusher will be encouraged to try again; too much reaction, and the ambusher will get additional free publicity.  FIFA are in danger of veering towards the second course.  They are pressing criminal charges (3), which is logical from their perspective, but this is giving the story legs (and bear in mind that we are talking shapely legs in minidresses), with two of the women on bail, with passports confiscated (4).  The fact that they do not return to court until June 22 ensures that the saga, with attendant publicity, drags on.

It seems unlikely that the women involved were entirely dewy-eyed innocents.  The stunt was highly organised, and has other ethical connotations as it seems to have involved the illegal sale of corporate tickets – ITV’s pundit Robbie Earle has already lost that job as a result, although it is suggested that he will not be charged (5).  The saga has now grown to the extent that the Dutch Foreign Minister has weighed in, “describ[ing] the arrests of the two women as “disproportionate” and said it was wrong that they could face prison for “wearing an orange dress” to the stadium.”  She rather misses the point – it isn’t quite as simple as ‘wearing an orange dress’ now is it?

FIFA are facing a lose/lose choice.  Go soft and the story will die, but sponsors will be reluctant to pay for sponsorship in the future; go hard and the sponsors will be happy, but the Dutch government will turn the two women into martyrs.  The real problem for FIFA, however, is that Bavaria face a win/win scenario.

What strikes me in all of this is the rather surreal nature of what is going on.  Understandable it may be from a business perspective, entertaining it may be, but should a major issue in football revolve around lager and minidresses?  Bovril and flat caps maybe, but not lager and minidresses surely.  ;-)  It is just another manifestation of the incongruities that commercialisation has brought to the beautiful game.

The example of commercialisation, protecting sponsors and English football that I mentioned at the beginning revolves around the awarding of a 2012 Olympic football venue to Coventry (6).  The surreal is summed up in the two opening sentences of the Coventry Evening Telegraph report:

COVENTRY’S Ricoh Arena has been chosen as the new Midlands venue to host Olympic football matches in 2012 after Aston Villa pulled out.

The home of Coventry City will be renamed the City of Coventry Stadium for the 2012 games and all branding will be removed from the stadium.

To Coventry people, and football fans throughout England, the newish home of Coventry City FC is ‘the Ricoh’.  Pulling down branding (and of course putting it up again a couple of weeks later) will make no difference to this, although it may well see Ricoh looking for a better price when sponsorship come up for renewal.  It has to be done to protect Olympic TOP sponsors such as Panasonic however.

Just a little bit hard to see how exactly the scurrying around on the roof of the Ricoh by workmen will be ‘helping to build a better world through sport’ though.  Commercialisation and sport make strange bedfellows at times.

Posted in 2010, Ethics, Marketing, Sponsorship | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Sign of the times

Posted by John Beech on April 19, 2010

Did you know that “PepsiCo has tied up with Microsoft Advertising to launch a digital campaign“, and furthermore that this is part of Pepsi’s ambush marketing strategy?  No?  Well, it’s all reported here, and it’s to do with the World Cup!

If ambush marketing is a term you are not familiar with, my colleagues Nick Burton and Simon Chadwick define it thus: “Ambush marketing is a form of strategic marketing which is designed to capitalize upon the awareness, attention, goodwill, and other benefits, generated by having an association with an event or property, without an official or direct connection to that event or property” (1).  To be blunt, it means using an event as a vehicle for your advertising without going through the tiresome business of signing up (and thus paying) to be an official sponsor.  One of the most famous examples dates from the World Cup in 2006, when Dutch fans wearing lederhosen with the logo of Bavaria beer were forced to take them off if they wanted to enter the stadium, Budweiser being the official beer sponsor of the vent (2).

Ambush marketing is not something new then.  It has become part of the post-commercialised football scene.  What does surprise me though is the scale of ‘legitimacy’ it has now achieved – that a joint ambush marketing strategy is so openly discussed, without any reference to its (un)ethical dimension.  It’s acceptance as part of the football business does little to restore any remaining vestige of the increasingly inappropriately-called beautiful game.

Posted in Ethics, Marketing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Pack Up Pompey?

Posted by John Beech on December 10, 2009

Well, according to the club itself in a statement issued this morning, “The club is not going into administration. If that were the case it would have happened at the end of September or early October. This week alone, HM Revenue and Customs were paid £2m and other historical arrears are being dealt with on an ongoing basis” (see 1 for full statement).  The qualification after the blunt denial at least confirms that what we all knew is true – these are deeply troubling times for the club.

Also in the statement we find “Much is happening behind the scenes but constant malicious rumours and speculation do not assist with the proposed major long-term funding that is currently being put in place“. Far be it from me then, a Pompey fan, to add to that speculation.

However, it is interesting to note that a denial from the club of impending Administration does not always mean that Administration is not so far away.  The denial is certainly not a classic contra-indicator, as in “The Board has complete faith in the manager”, but a cull through my records turned up the following denials, although to be fair it turned up a much larger number of denials that turned out to be correct predictions:

Pompey is not alone among Premier League clubs to deny, at various times, rumours of impending Administration.  These include West Ham, and last season Newcastle United were moved to deny that relegation would lead to Administration.

Certainly Pompey fans do not need to panic, but they should perhaps treat the reassurance with just the merest dash of caution.

Posted in Insolvency, Marketing, Public relations | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

 
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