Can one sponsorship deal destroy over 100 years of brand building?

21 Dec

Arguably the most famous and most successful football brand has recently gave up what made them so special. ‘More than a club’ is what set FC Barcelona apart: it is what they stood for, how their club was ran, how fans connected with the club and each other, and it is how the brand was recognised the world over. It is a powerful idea, and at its most believable, has propelled FC Barca into the upper echelons of sporting power. It has enabled them to stand out, not just in Spain but also on the world stage.

Their recent decision to take a world record sponsorship fee in exchange for shirt exposure has seen them pass over the rights to the sacred jersey. This has meant one of the last remaining traditional assets of the modern game has finally passed over to the money men. Football is not quite the game it once was, and it has not been for some time; commercialization has long been hammering at its purity and former innocent core. What magnifies the importance of this announcement is that Barca were always perceived as, ‘more than a club’, they did things differently, with a purpose and for the purity of the shirt. They are seen as a symbol of Cataluna, with their army of fans entitled to part ownership in the club – as a result the shirt belonged to them . The recent decision to sign over the shirt to the not for profit Qatari Foundation is a final stake in the ever increasing chasm between football supporter and club.

Not much is left that is untouchable anymore in the game of football. The traditions built up over years are almost completely gone. Nothing is untouched by the commercial juggernaut. It seems all we have left are the cathedrals that the clubs call home, but as fans of new builds such as Arsenal will testify, it is not far from becoming an all-out sell off.

Shirts are an obvious source of revenue. For big clubs they are attractive properties, providing vehicles for sponsor partners to gain awareness on big European stages, as well as in domestic competition to create accelerated awareness and activation through the vast media and digital coverage it brings. Barcelona have long been lusted after by the corporate world for their reach and ability to cross national boundaries and transcend beyond their sport into pop culture.

For decades they had managed to maintain what the shirt stood for and kept it special for their fans. Their gesture a few years back to pay UNICEF for the right to wear their logo on the Barca shirts was genius. It proved the point that they where ‘more than a club’, seeing their role far beyond the action on the field, they understood the impact they could play in the world. Their decision to take £25m per season off the Qataris proves that they are just like any another club; the money is useful and it will enable them to continue to compete against their commercially driven rivals. The bigger issue is whether it was worth dismissing the Barca brand for all it’s worth, by striking this deal, ‘more than a club’ is no longer believable. The rich history that took over 100 years to build into this defining thought and propelled Barca above its peers has been seemingly broken down overnight. Unfortunately, that seems to be the shortsighted nature of football management these days.


Reaction to Sponsor behaviour depends on where the consumer lives

21 Dec

Really interesting post from Sponsor Crunch (

They have recently done a survey on consumers attitude towards BP and their continuing association with sporting property. It is most interesting to see how the American and British consumer differs. The Brits, who clearly associate BP as a British firm, are a lot more forgiving of BP and their recent endeavors off Americas coastline. In contrast, the Americans are more cynical.

One thing they do have in common; they see the value that big business like BP can offer properties who are not-for-profit or self generating in nature. What should be learned from this survey? Well, consumers are actually quite forgiving, especially if you are linked with sponsoring / giving money to organizations which exist to put right what you have been doing wrong.

Anyway, see for yourself here:

Source: Sponsor Crunch

Foresight goes along way: is Puma positioned to win at South Africa 2010?

12 Jun

This summers World Cup is perilously close. The big sporting goods manufacturers have unveiled their strategies for the competition and last minute injuries are hampering on pitch preparation on a daily basis. Team shirts have been launched; some made out of recycled plastic bottles others made the conventional way. Player, team and brand led campaigns are under way, some making more noise than the others. Nike has again focused their strategy around the individual with a mind blowing ‘write the future’ ad, which is seemingly everywhere. It’s very much focused on how one man can become hero one minute, villain the next. Adidas being adidas prefer to focus on the value of the team, queue ‘every team needs a spark’ and the history of the shirt to understand where they are coming from. Throw in for good measure a reminder that football is not just about performance and seeps into other areas of popular culture and we see Daft Punk and Noel Gallagher hanging out with David Beckham and various other international travelers in the Star Wars bar.

The above-mentioned brands are the obvious candidates for major activity around SA2010, adidas being official sponsors and Nike being the omnipresent competitor. What though of Puma? They laid their cards out for this tournament a long time ago (almost 10 years previous), in fact many where questioning the logic behind such a decision. The tournament in South Africa is seen as the defining moment in what they have intended all along. Puma’s alignment with Africa has long been questioned, almost primarily and naively for its focus too much on a single continent, a continent that has always flattered to deceive. Certainly the rationale behind this decision was not to sell replica shirts in Africa; instead it was a much deeper long-term approach to building a clear positioning for Puma and Puma football. What they have done is very smart; quietly and confidently planting the foundations of a strategy which is only now becoming obvious to the outside world.

Approaching the tournament they are ideally placed to steal the prize, not by ambushing the marketing side (appearing as if they are an official sponsor) even though they will, but by being much smarter than that. The whole brand has been adapted and created to feel like it comes from Africa, the communications, the promotional campaigns, the product and the values and energy that it takes from the continent. It has smartly aligned the continents love and passion for football and built a football offer around this, framing it with the simple message ‘love = football’.  The smartest thing they have done leading upto the last few months is to actually change their brand mark, replacing the iconic Puma stripe with a cut out of the African continent. This is smart, consumers and web 2.0 brands are used to this but for a more traditional brand to change a sacred mark is something else – imagine Apple taking away the apple or Coca-Cola the ribbons.

(the Puma identity with Africa cut-out, plus the love = football idea)

Without using dirty tactics, they are in a position where they could be perceived as ‘the’ sporting brand of the South African world cup. Additionally not being officially aligned with an organisation like FIFA means the brand can stay flexible and cool enough to do things radically different. Synonymous with what is going on in Africa, in tune with customers and timed to perfection. As the intrigue builds in African football; with the run-up to this tournament and the performance of its players in major European leagues, so to does Pumas strength and stock rise in the football category. Could it be finally time for others to step aside and let Puma take the top prize?

From Local Events Company to Worldwide Entertainment Brand

10 Jun

that is how Lander Unzueta, CMO of FC Barcelona described how his small brand has changed in the last 50 years.

Really interesting interview in which he talks about how the power of the Barcelona brand and how the back drop of the globalisation of soccer has driven his brand to worldwide domination.

Coutesy of Meettheboss TV, sign up and view below

More here (sorry couldn’t embed directly from the site)


The final word on the ball (a lesson from the NBA)…

7 Jun

…and then we can let the games begin

Also, as an aside, if adidas want to send me one, I would be happy to give it a whirl!

A very nice article from 3 years ago. This talks about how the NBA gave into player power and reverted back to the old style leather ball from a newly introduced composite one. Now, I am not saying this is what FIFA, adidas or anyone else should do. Innovation is progress and some of footballs innovation in recent years is really rather impressive. I am merely highlighting what others have done when the users of the ball kick up a fuss.

Make your own minds up…only not just yet.

(original, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Graphic to explain the Nike v adidas v Puma story

6 Jun

Great graphic piece here. Explains the story of the worlds 3 sporting brand powerhouses.

(right click to save)

Found at Meet the Boss


a footballers brand values

3 Jun

A friend of mine recently reminded me about the Michael Owen dossier that was sent round to clubs last year and the amount of values that where attached to the forward. Thinking about it again, I was amazed at how many words where thrown at this man and how any potential partner (be it club, sponsor, etc) would interpret these.

Values are generally something that the outside world pays little interest in. They act in a business sense as a guiding framework internally for how a company, acts and conducts itself in the normal day-to-day. Of course, it is important to note that if the reality of how that business behaves is compromised (think Enron or the recent BP scandal) then consumers start to point at these so called guiding values and question them. We have a phrase which is ‘don’t boil the ocean’ when you create values and guiding principles for businesses, meaning lets get concise and singular with these things. If you don’t, you haven’t got a hope in hell of anyone remembering them.

Maybe that wasn’t the point of his agency, instead it seems like they wanted to reassure everyone that this super human stands for and delivers on all of the 21 things listed. I think more than likely someone has got the brand dictionary out and just landed on some words that sound about right and fill up a page.

Does anyone out there have any other examples of agencies doing similar things? Would love to see them