Globalisation and Sports Branding: The Case of Manchester United

Article excerpt

Abstract

In 2005 Manchester United was taken over by US businessman Malcolm Glazer, in part because of the club's brand name prominence in the global sport of soccer. This paper examines how Manchester United rose to a pre-eminent position in world football through its on-field performances and its off-the-field management strategies. It shows how the club took its storied history into world markets to take full advantage of globalisation, the opportunities extended through the English Premier League's reputation and developments in global media technologies. Astute management of club resources is identified as the major factor in global brand management.

Keywords

soccer

Manchester United

globalisation

global brand

Executive summary

May 2005 will go down as a watershed moment in the storied history of Manchester United, when US businessman Malcolm Glazer bought financial control of the fabled English football club. A major reason for the takeover was the club's position as arguably the most prominent global brand in a sport that has proven worldwide appeal.

The purpose of this case study is to examine how Manchester United evolved out of its position as one of two provincial soccer teams in the city of Manchester to its current status among the best known brands in sport.

To capture the richness and depth of the Manchester United appeal, Aaker's (1996) brand identity model was used to cull the major resource factors contributing to the club's strong global marketplace presence. In addition, and because global sports brands, like their product counterparts, function within their global and industry contexts (Gerrard, 2003), these structural influences were evaluated to provide balanced perspectives on the club's strategy.

The primary methodological tool was document analysis. This involved an extensive review of the literature and in-depth analyses of Manchester United's annual reports (2000-2004). Documentary data reliability and validity were checked and supplemented with information supplied by the club's marketing director, Peter Draper, and its communications director, Phillip Townsend.

Results highlight the interaction between global, industry and resource factors in Manchester United's evolution from provincial to national to global brand status. Its key success factors are unsurprising for a sports brand--on-field successes. But its commercial success and sports icon image emanate from a club that has combined an attractive on-field playing style with astute off-the-field management. This includes extensive leveraging of the club's name through branded products and services that raise its market profile nationally and internationally, and proactive marketing that takes prime advantage of industry developments that have moved English football into the global arena through worldwide media.

Brand heritage emerges as a critical brand identity factor, with a club history based on local talent development, supplemented with management-inspired signings of star players. This has produced, perhaps uniquely in football annals, a series of player icons that has elevated the Manchester United profile but which was skilfully managed to maintain the club's core team-oriented concept.

The lessons derived from analysis of Manchester United have direct relevance to sport management: how to raise and maintain club profiles in national and global contexts; how to leverage brand names commercially to complement on-field success with off-field activities; and how to harness technology to broaden appeal. The most critical factors however are resource-based. On the field, management has maintained its focus on producing an attractive product--attacking football. This has endured through continuous renewal of player resources and their moulding within the team concept. Off the field, an alert, marketing-oriented management has taken full advantage of that success. …