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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.

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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)

http://www.meettheboss.tv/broadcast/?contributorFullName=lander-unzueta&mediaTitle=the-power-of-branding&mediaFileId=316&chapterSeek=0

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The 50 highest paid footballers in the world

18 Feb

Study done by Futebol Finance out of Portugal.

Doesn’t reveal too much, except that top players enjoy the tax benefits of the Spanish system. Also some very average players earn some very good money out of the game.

Happy reading.

http://www.futebolfinance.com/en/os-50-maiores-salarios-de-jogadores-de-futebol-20092010/

Is ‘Uncertainty’ holding back African football?

2 Feb

One thing that can’t be disputed is that African football is visually a very exciting footballing feast, both on the terraces and on the field of play. Unfortunately, what seems to follow African football at every turn stops it becoming the force that it could well become. An unnerving element of ‘uncertainty’ flows through African football and this level of uncertainty is not just limited to the performance of its players on the field but also the events off it. We don’t need a more compelling example than the unfortunate events involving the Toga team bus in Angola at the start of the ACN (African Cup of Nations) or the erratic quality of the goalkeeping on the field!

But what will it do to damage the perceptions of African football and its hosting of this summers World Cup? Well you could say that African football was in the midst of an upwards turn. Pele famously predicted by the turn of the millennium that an African nation would be champions of the world – that hasn’t happened yet but every major league is now littered with top African talent and now the biggest sporting event in the world is coming to town.

Also Puma have recognised the power of Africa, the energy, colour and passion that goes with the football and aligned its football brand against the whole continent. Many positives exist in the region and associations are extremely powerful, yet people still ask questions and there are some underlying uncertainties which so far have held back SA2010 from having the buzz and excitement at this stage which previous tournaments enjoyed.

The events that occurred in Angola; the incident with the team bus and the subsequent banning of Togo from the next 2 tournaments has increased this feeling. Lingering questions remain and feel unanswered; the safety and security, the logistics and organisation of the tournament, the reaction of the communities to incoming spectators are all elements that add to the list of unknowns. Hopefully the World Cup will be the start of a prosperous and exciting period that firmly puts these questions to bed. The pressure is most certainly on for SA2010, I hope they can handle it, and finally show to the world that there is nothing to be uncertain about anymore.

Protecting the end-to-end experience

23 Jul

An interesting image broke a few weeks ago of the US mens Olympic Basketball team in their new Nike designed uniforms. The offending piece centered around mens coach Mike Krzyzewski covering Dwight Howards adidas sponsored footwear – blocking the 3 stripes from display. Further controversy surrounded the image was directed at Howard, who while holding the ball blocked the Nike swoosh with his dangling arm.

Nike have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on sponsoring the US team and it’s in their best interests to protect where possible the whole experience from head to toe. In team sports it should be expected that individual stars have their own deals that can often compromise the exclusivity and impact the teams endorser stands to gain.

Take for example Ronaldinho (Brazilian sccer star), at Barcelona he was head to toe a Nike guy, they used him in almost every campaign piece – such is his iconic status and reach. This week Ronaldinho signed for AC Milan, an adidas endorsed team. Adidas immediately announced that they had pre orders of 11,000 Ronaldinho shirts within 2 hours of his shirt number announcement. Nike, like most sports brands, would rather a situation exist where an authentic end-to-end Nike branded experience can be communicated to its audience. Until last week that was exactly what happened whenever he stepped out for FC Barcelona. In contrast Ronaldinho now dones the 3 stripes, with limited visibility given to his Nike sponsored boots.

Past rumors within sport marketing circles tell stories of certain brands paying big money to keep their major stars contracted to teams that have endorsement deals with their brand. The ability to control the whole experience is a scenario any sports manufacturer would want, as the ultimate platform to showcase their brand.

I predict the ability to control this seamless experience to become even more of a prevailing trend in the years to come.

check out full US basketball piece here:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/olympics_blog/2008/07/nike-vs-adidas.html

http://www.cnbc.com/id/25513177

Nike buys authenticity?

7 Dec

Nike announced recently that it intends to buy rival company and dedicated football brand Umbro. The terms of the deal are yet to go through but still look likely despite a late intervention by Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley to buy 9.9% of extra shares. One of the key reasons Nike is giving as to why it went for Umbro is that it will offer authenticity in the key market of football, something they don’t have.

Nike is a relative new comer to the game, having only started seriously in the early 90’s. Compare this to great rival adidas which has a rich history in football spanning almost 70 years. Now I have no idea of Nikes plans with Umbro and I don’t know how they intend some of that magic authenticity to rub off on their own football related products. In fact does it really need it? Nike has been relatively good at playing the upstart challenger to adidas over the years, coming from no where to be within percentage points of being the worlds number one football brand. Their passion for innovation and signing some of the games key characters have driven the category forward.

I hope they don’t intend to get rid of the Umbro brand, I think the market needs Umbro to challenge the big boys, its pure football stand point is refreshing and yes it does have authenticity. But it doesn’t have Nikes character or dynamism, my feeling is that they have bought Umbro to put one over adidas. When they both sit down and announce their figures Nike can lump Umbro in with theirs, and I’m quite sure that combined figure would have Nike as the world’s number one football brand.