Premier League marketers give their outlook on the coming season

Barclays Premier League: marketers offer a glimpse of what's ahead for their 'brands'
Barclays Premier League: marketers offer a glimpse of what's ahead for their 'brands'

The Premier League season kicks off on Saturday, but marketing England's top clubs is now very much a global game. By Alex Brownsell and Gemma Charles.

It was ever thus. In any business, marketing departments grow out of a desire to increase awareness and improve sales. Yet, over time, it occurs to said marketers that the product they promote possesses a brand worth nurturing.

That penny is dropping at Premier League football clubs across England. The job of a club marketing director used to be to boost ticket sales and push hospitality packages. Now, the focus is on brand marketing and the aura of the club emblem.

With interest far outstripping even the biggest, 75,000-seater arenas, the vast majority of fans are unable to see their team play first-hand on a regular basis. The challenge for football club marketers is how to sustain the interest of people who don't have regular access to the product itself.

This challenge is keenest in international markets, where the Premier League is a runaway success. The majority of English clubs have racked up tens of thousands of air miles taking on teams in the US, South Africa, Malaysia and beyond on pre-season tours.

In the words of Jonathan Rigby, head of marketing for Manchester United, China presents both the 'biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity'. The focus has shifted from broadcast rights and merchandise sales to experiential marketing, such as the Premier League's recent Hong Kong pre-season tournament, and a global trophy tour.

Football club marketing has come a long way from a few posters in the area around the ground. Marketing spoke to leading Premier League marketers to discover how their clubs handle a rapidly growing global fanbase.

LIVERPOOL FC

Bruce Bundrant, Head of commercial partnerships, Liverpool FC

Texas-born Bundrant was hired by the club in 2007. He will be joined by Graham Bartlett, most recently Nike's UK and Ireland sports marketing director, who starts as Liverpool's commercial director later this year.

In terms of our priorities in the commercial department, it's the final push before the start of the season to drive sales of tickets, memberships and retail.

In partnerships, it's about contractual arrangements for all the partners that will be joining us this season.

We have four tiers of partners. These include our main partners, Standard Chartered and Adidas, and our official partners, Carlsberg, Thomas Cook Sport, 188BET, Jack Wolfskin, MBNA/Bank of America, Lucozade Sport, Maxxis Tyres, Laureate and the Spanish Tourist Board. There are also regional marketing partners and preferred suppliers.

Our partners' ideas and campaigns range from loyalty schemes to offering chances to play on the pitch at Anfield or tour Melwood (Liverpool's training complex).

The markets in South-East Asia are a priority due to our substantial fan support there, as witnessed during our recent tour to China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Also, these markets are important for our main sponsor, Standard Chartered.

We've made great strides in our digital media disciplines, such as our mobile content and apps, LFC TV, the official website and LFC TV Online, which has been broadcasting our pre-season matches, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

BOLTON WANDERERS

Mike Needham, Head of marketing, Bolton Wanderers FC

Needham joined Bolton eight years ago from Great Universal Stores.

The main priority for Bolton Wanderers is to maintain the growth in attendances that we have enjoyed in recent seasons. The average league attendance at the Reebok Stadium has increased by about 4% season on season.

We have some high-profile home games at the beginning of the season and we want to make a good start. We have had the club's biggest marketing campaign to date to promote the 2011/12 season tickets and this has proven successful.

We are also launching a Facebook page for the season, OfficialBWFC, which is in development. It will keep fans up to date with breaking news, videos and tweets from the club.

We've taken our time to develop our social media activity as we wanted to make sure we understood what our fans were looking for from this channel.

Meanwhile, we have a free-to-join membership scheme and, after a supporter has purchased five home Premier League tickets, they will be rewarded with a free home league match ticket of their choice.

Premier League membership is a huge asset, with exposure in 211 countries worldwide and 581m households.

Last season, we moved the TV gantry level and this change increased exposure for partner brands on the LED perimeter advertising board.

We are sixth in a Premier League table of the average media value generated per match, behind only the established top five clubs, meaning we are 'best of the rest' at providing value.

ARSENAL FC

Angus Kinnear, Marketing director, Arsenal FC

Kinnear has worked for Procter & Gamble and was senior group brand manager of youth brands at Coca-Cola GB. He joined Arsenal in 2004.

Our main aim is to make stronger connections with our fans, with particular focus on international markets. While our membership base of 200,000 is one of the biggest in sport, it is a fraction of our global support, which is estimated at 40m.

The primary focus is digital, as we see this as the most scalable way to engage supporters. We have more than 7m Facebook followers, but the growth has been mainly organic, so we are taking a more active role. We have an advantage over corporate brands in that we have no issue creating engagement. People want to talk about and discuss all things Arsenal.

Our tour of Malaysia and China has acted as a real catalyst to our international activity. We knew we had a significant following, but were overwhelmed by the intensity of the welcome. Our primary activity in China was to create an online platform, using local social media. We believe we created a digital legacy we can activate for years to come.

The tour has sparked several conversations with international brands, which see the value of Arsenal in supporting their activities in different territories, and two global partnerships will be announced soon.

We are also working with our partners on activation. Nike's work in the Far East on our 125th anniversary showed how successful we can be about building both a brand and the club at the same time.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Jonathan Rigby, Head of marketing, Manchester United

Rigby, a former adman, plied his trade at Lowe, WCRS and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO before joining United last September.

We're putting the finishing touches to sponsor events and hospitality for the first few games of the season. Over the next few weeks, we'll receive initial tenders from promoters interested in working with us on the pre-season tour next summer.

The marketing team has recently completed a 'Premier League Champ19ns Trophy Tour of Asia', so we're working with our sponsors to agree a global roll-out plan for this. Like everyone in marketing, we are developing our strategy around social media. Our official Facebook following is almost 18m.

As our list of sponsors has increased, so has the workload. We're just finishing an internal restructure and recruiting more people.

With more than 2000 sponsor events around the world each season, we need a big team.

Our most extensive independent fan survey a few years ago showed that we have more than 333m supporters around the world. This includes more than 190m fans in Asia, and almost 40m fans in the Americas and Canada. The US remains a key focus for us, but China presents the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity.

We've been working on promoting football there for several years.

Nike and Aon are our two long-term principal sponsors and Nike is also our partner for developing and selling merchandise.

Global partners such as Audi, DHL, Epson, Singha, Turkish Airlines and Hublot have rights to activate using our IP, player and legend appearances in the 180-plus countries where we have an active fanbase. We have deals with mobile, online and TV partners in 75 countries.

Technology is allowing fans to interact with their idols, the stadium and the club through social media, webchats, virtual tours and interactive video, wherever they are in the world.

It is exhilarating and exhausting, like any job in the global entertainment business.

If you love football like I do, however, then this is probably the best job in marketing, so I feel very lucky.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Emma Taylor, Head of marketing, Tottenham Hotspur FC

Taylor has worked in football marketing for 13 years. She joined Tottenham after a long spell leading the marketing at London rivals Fulham FC.

Brand marketing is a priority for us. We have a great core identity, with a fantastic emblem, but we've been tidying the wider presentation of the brand over the past six months and have devised a set of core guidelines. Also, we're building on the narrative of our brand.

We have a great story to tell and we want to get better at telling it. Marketing must also effectively support the commercial aims of the club. Digital channels such as our website, apps and social media are extremely important.

We have a dedicated resource for international marketing. The Barclays Premier League broadcast platform gives a great profile for the clubs to use.

For Tottenham Hotspur, in the time before the stadium we're all hoping for, we have to try to keep fans engaged when they don't get to see the team play in person very often. There has been a swell of interest since we played in the Champions League last season, and it is about keeping that momentum going off the pitch as well.

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