Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Americans bring 'fresh' marketing to English clubs

"In England," wrote Ridge Mahoney in USA Today, "football fans have been accustomed to their clubs being almost community organisations, with management using revenue mainly to acquire players and hold ticket prices steady. Many see the American owners of Manchester United, Liverpool and two other English Premier League clubs as nothing less than threats to a treasured part of English culture. European soccer has never been a pure business."

Sean Hamil, a lecturer at the University of London's Birkbeck Sports Business Centre and a board member of Supporters Direct, a publicly funded body that helps groups of fans buy ownership shares of teams, told Mahoney, "It's always been about the glory on the field. Fans are unhappy not because (new owners) are American but because of an instinctive distrust of big business people" being in soccer."

For all the angst in English soccer over US marketing tactics, few sports leagues in the world have been more effective at popularizing or commercialising their product than the Premier League.

"Revenue, especially from TV, is soaring," Mahoney noted. "Corporate sponsors' logos dominate the fronts of team jerseys. Most clubs have prominent partnerships with online sports betting and gaming companies. And a bank's name now is part of the league's name (it's officially called the Barclays Premiership) ... The worldwide passion for soccer and the expanding marketing opportunities that surround it have made the sport's top leagues overseas increasingly attractive to super-wealthy US investors."

However, "the American investors see their type of aggressive marketing as a way to extract untapped revenue in European soccer strongholds and they see a range of marketing opportunities in the USA and Asia. The Liverpool brand is 'very underdeveloped,' [new US co-owner]`Hicks says. '[Gillett] and I view the growing globalization of sports differently' than previous majority shareholder, Doug Ellis. We very much want to build a brand, particularly in Asia, but also in North America and South America, as well as Europe' ... [Premier] League CEO Richard Scudamore welcomes his league's American investors. 'They do bring some freshness to it in terms of marketing,' he says. 'The presentation and the materials, yes, but also the raw, brash enthusiasm of it. Your marketing is much more direct than ours in many ways.'

"It's not as if the Premier League is lagging on the business side. League figures indicate that each week of its regular season, which runs from late August to mid-May, its matches are watched by 76 million fans in nearly 200 countries. During the last five years its annual revenue has doubled to $2.73 billion, according to a report by the accounting firm Deloitte Touche. The figure will rise when a three-year, worldwide TV deal worth nearly $5.5 billion begins next season. At an average of $1.83 billion a year, the money from the deal won't match the NFL's annual average of $3.7 billion. But the Premier League's deal tops the national deal of any other US pro sports league."

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