Brand Health Check: Chelsea FC

The club wants global domination; it's struggling to keep even local fans happy. What can the boys in blue do, asks Ed Kemp.

The success of a football club can be measured in many ways. Since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea FC three and a half years ago, the club has enjoyed unprecedented on-field success and welcomed legions of new fans. In addition, following massive investment in the club's infrastructure, playing staff and management, the bean counters will welcome record merchandising sales, ticketing revenues and sponsorship deals.

Yet the Chelsea FC brand is associated with ruthlessness and arrogance. 'Chelsea has undoubtedly grown its fan base, but has also hugely polarised the football-watching public,' says Gareth Moore, director UK of sports marketing consultancy Sport+Markt. 'It is now the most unpopular team in the UK, even more so than Manchester United.'

On joining the club in 2005, Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon observed: 'With all the media outlets today, it doesn't take you as long as it did 15 years ago to build awareness and brand.' True enough. Yet it can be destroyed faster. The club can preach to the converted through its own media empire - an official website, Chelsea TV and Big Blue Radio - but its reputation is ultimately in the hands of national and international media. Graceless comments, including claims that the 2006/07 Premiership season would be determined by a 'small group of one', have not helped its cause.

Abramovich's board appears to attach little importance to the inherent values of being a 'club'. The hounding out of affable Italian manager Claudio Ranieri in 2004 and now Jose Mourinho have driven a wedge between the club's owners and its loyal fan base, who do not share the club's thirst for dominance in the US and Asia.

The club's handling of Mourinho's departure was equally damaging, though his impact on the brand during his three-year tenure is unclear. For now, the media and fans are choosing to recall his colourful personality and managerial triumphs rather than the character flaws that added to a poor perception of the brand. Mourinho's Chelsea was respected but never loved.

Last week, Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood gleefully dismissed Chelsea's hopes of achieving global dominance as 'bullshit'. Can Chelsea FC learn from its mistakes? We asked season ticket holder and creative director and chairman of Partners Andrews Aldridge Steve Aldridge, and Liverpool fan and chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment Steve Martin.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - STEVE ALDRIDGE, CREATIVE DIRECTOR & CHAIRMAN, PARTNERS ANDREWS ALDRIDGE

Can a football club really behave like a brand? Consumers switch between brands. Fans don't switch between clubs. You support a football club through thick and thin. In American football, clubs are called franchises and that's because they understand that clubs don't adhere to the same rules that apply to brands. Whether you like it or not, Chelsea FC is not only part of the community, it is a community.

At the heart of every club are the players. The players are the talent and attractors of new fans. But they are also the wild cards. I can't stop Frank Lampard grabbing a video camera or Didier Drogba mouthing off to French press.

That unpredictability is also its strength. All the values emanate from the team - glamour, skill and passion. This Chelsea team also has a togetherness and spirit, which flows through to the fans. That said, the club is bigger than any player, manager or owner. Ultimately, whatever happens, the fans keep coming and the game will still be played. However, if you want to be a brand, behave like one.

REMEDY

- Don't wash your dirty laundry in public. Appoint a PR agency to handle sensitive issues.

- Return glamour as one of Chelsea's core brand values. Kings Road beats Finsbury Park or Salford hands down.

- Make the players heroes, not just rich (think Peter Osgood). And celebrate their work in the community.

- Promote Abramovich's commitment to football.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - STEVE MARTIN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, M&C SAATCHI SPORT & ENTERTAINMENT

Chelsea is first and foremost a football club, but the club is desperate to be perceived as a serious brand. That requires a long-term campaign to build a personality and in turn create loyalty among its target audience.

Therein lies the problem. Chelsea's brand personality is schizophrenic, and it plays around with fans' loyalty - never more so than in the past couple of weeks with the dramas around the club's management.

One minute it wants to be the club that Londoners support, the next it wants world domination. Chelsea should stop making sweeping statements and take stock of the issues it faces in the local market, such as having 17,000 empty seats on a Champions League night when other clubs are full to the brim.

Patience is a virtue, and global success as a brand will come with global success on the pitch. A manager who stays for more than a couple of years would help. Arsenal and Man Utd have been the most successful clubs on and off the pitch for years, with managers who have been in place for the long term.

REMEDY

- Focus on increasing local support where they can influence change and encourage potential new fans to visit Stamford Bridge.

- Lighten the tone of communication to be perceived as more friendly among the young and old alike.

- Promote the fact that Chelsea have more home-grown players in their team than most other teams - five of the England starting 11 play for the club.

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