Why brands cannot get enough of the Premier League

NBC poster of Tottenham's Gareth Bale at Times Square in New York
NBC poster of Tottenham's Gareth Bale at Times Square in New York

Despite numerous scandals involving high-profile players, the Premier League grows ever stronger, as does its appeal to marketers, writes Alex Brownsell.

Shadows appear to have been creeping over the gleaming global brand that is the Premier League for some time now.

First it suffered in the after-glow of the London 2012 Games, when consumers appeared to unanimously decry the spoilt prima donnas of the Premier League in favour of the more earthy virtues of amateur sportsmen and women.

Football bosses have also faced waves of negative publicity around the conduct of high-profile players, from driving while disqualified to – in the case of former England captain John Terry – court cases following alleged racial abuse of fellow professionals.

And yet, the Premier League juggernaut continues to increase pace, and its allure to brands is undiminished. Take Barclays, which today launch a campaign to promote its title sponsorship of the league. Managing director of brand, reputation and citizenship David Wheldon insists, "There is so much that is good in football, and it should be celebrated."

Dizzying battle

Consumers in the UK have been exposed to a dizzying marketing battle between Sky and BT, with both broadcasters claiming to offer the most must-see matches.

Its international presence burgeons with each passing year, too. Over the summer, Liverpool played in front of a record-breaking crowd of over 95,000 in Melbourne, Australia. Stadia in countries such as Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have also been packed out to get a glimpse of visiting English teams.

Any brand worth its salt would take a look at the Premier League [as an opportunity].

According to Rob Sellers, a director at shopper agency Dialogue, the Premier League players have become "rock stars" at the heart of an almost unrivalled global content machine.

"Football is still the heartbeat of people in the UK," adds Sellers. "Look at Twitter trends at any given moment: it’s what people talk about, and scandal is all just part of the tapestry of those conversations. Any brand worth its salt would take a look at the Premier League [as an opportunity]."

However, Sellers questions the effectiveness of official sponsorship deals for all brands, in particular those specifically targeting a UK audience: "As long as you tell a story and make it believable in a football sphere, you can say what you want. It is so hard to regulate around football."

US appeal

Antony Marcou, group managing director at sports media marketing business Sports Revolution, agrees that, as the Premier League evolves, its appeal will resonate with a different type of brand.

He cites the huge potential for growth in the US, where the Premier League secured a $250m, three-year deal with broadcaster NBC to screen half a dozen live matches each week, and major brands such as carmaker Chevrolet have already invested in deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Unlike the NFL or Major League Baseball, the Premier League has genuinely global coverage.

NBC supported the new deal with a major marketing campaign, including a giant poster of Tottenham Hotspur star Gareth Bale at New York’s Times Square as well as a comedy viral showing what might happen if an American football coach got a job managing in the Premier League (below).

"Football is going to become the fourth biggest sport in the biggest market in the world, and that is huge," says Marcou. "It opens the Premier League up to more US brands because, unlike the NFL or Major League Baseball, the Premier League has genuinely global coverage."

However, Marcou warns that alleged abuse incidents such as those involving Terry and Liverpool star Luis Suarez will not be tolerated by US brands, where marketers are very "nervous" of issues surrounding race.

There remains a risk that football could spoil its own party. However, if it avoids these pitfalls, and despite the protests of disillusioned naysayers, the Premier League brand looks set to grow ever stronger, and brands will continue to flock to it in the hope of exploiting its global prominence.

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