Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” It turns out that when it comes to running a modern-day sports franchise, Coach Lombardi may have been incorrect.
A recent Financial Times article about Manchester United, the fabled Premier League football franchise (or “soccer” depending on where you’re from), brings this to life. Despite the club’s relatively poor performance on the field (relatively being the key word here), revenues jumped from £363.2 million in 2013 to £590 million last year, an increase of more than 60%!
Two main areas of focus have led to this great success for the commercial side of United’s operation:
1. Establishing lucrative, long terms sponsorships
United has proved that the old adage of “striking while the iron is hot” is true. The brand’s secret sauce has been to establish long-term, highly lucrative contracts with sponsors and partners. These include the 10-year uniform manufacturing deal it signed in 2015 with Adidas worth an astounding £750 million and the £559 million uniform logo sponsorship deal with Chevrolet signed the same year. United has modified its approach over time, focusing on fewer global partnerships over a greater number of more local ones. Two things have made this possible for United:
- The company has invested in a 100+ person sponsorship team to secure and support partners.
- It has invested in building a highly respected, highly valuable brand that sponsors want a piece of. According to Brand Finance’s 2018 rankings, Manchester United is the most valuable football brand in the world.
2. Extending the fan experience “beyond the pitch”
Unlike most businesses, sport enterprises are faced with a unique capacity issue: there are only so many seats that can fit into a given stadium, meaning that there is only so much ticket revenue they can generate.
Obviously, raising ticket prices can help in driving revenues up, but there’s a limit to what fans will tolerate. Recognizing this issue, United has committed to extending their experience with fans beyond Old Trafford, the club’s home stadium. To do this, they’ve built an app enabling fans to experience the club from afar, through things such as live statistics during matches, interviews with players and other content. United claims it has become the most downloaded app in 70 countries.
Building a strong brand that’s brought to life through a compelling customer/ fan/user isn’t easy, but as showcased by Manchester United, it pays long-term dividends once the work is done. Furthermore, these things all tie together and reinforce one another: a strong brand is made stronger through good partners and an excellent experience, while a good experience bolsters a strong brand which attracts partners.
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