The global football landscape may just be about to change.
A decade ago, the Major League Soccer found itself on the brink of oblivion with dwindling attendances and just 10 teams nationwide. Fast forward to 2013 and it is a very different picture. A poll by ESPN in 2012 showed that more than a third of Americans described themselves as fans of MLS, an increase of 24% in just five years and a 33% rise since 2002. Attendances also continue to grow at a steady rate, with the Seattle Sounders recently posting record attendance figures of 44,038 per game.
The quality of the league has always been a criticism leveled at MLS – and not without reason. There is no doubt that it has improved dramatically, but two recent announcements may finally establish the league as a global property and see football truly living up to its billing as ‘the global game’. Although none of this will happen overnight, in time it could present sponsors with a platform from which to deliver fully-integrated campaigns across both North America and Europe – not to mention Central and South America.
A clause in David Beckham’s MLS contract gives him the option to pay $25 million to start an expansion franchise upon retirement. Miami has been identified as the likely city and LeBron James – one of the country’s most high profile athletes – is reported to be a major investor. Elsewhere, Manchester City, in partnership with the New York Yankees, have announced the acquisition of the MLS’ 20th franchise - New York City Football Club.
Add to these NBC’s deal to show Premier League games – worth a reported $250m (£157m) over the next three seasons – and the scale of football’s potential in the United States begins to become clear.
There is no doubt that Beckham, LeBron and the owners of both Manchester City and the Yankees have the financial clout to attract high-profile players, but they must be careful not to fall into the trap of the leagues in China and Australia (and to an extent the MLS itself), where ageing superstars of the world game see one last payday.
If the league is to be taken seriously by fans and sponsors alike, there needs to be a change of strategy in the acquisition of players. It is likely that Manchester City will pave the way for their youngest stars to be loaned to New York, and, as the quality of the league improves, others in the Premier League may follow, seeing it as another way into the lucrative US market. But, I believe the biggest opportunity, both from a league quality and commercial perspective lies in Central and South America – particularly Brazil.
At present, many of South America’s brightest stars make their way to super-rich clubs of Russia and Eastern Europe before securing a transfer to one of the major European teams. The MLS must seek to position itself as a viable alternative for the brightest young talents.
A South American star making their name in the US could be a valuable asset for the league. Whilst the FIFA World Cup in 2014 may come too soon, the emerging economy of Brazil, in particular, could unlock big brand investment into the United States – helping to accelerate what is already a meteoric rise is the popularity of ‘soccer’ in the US and launch it as a truly global property.
Maybe only now are the building blocks in place for the US to take its seat at football’s top table – an open goal for sponsors in the United States and beyond.
For years now, brands have been trying to get celebrities and sports stars involved with their activities. From kit deals to paid appearances, celebrities have enjoyed a good relationship with sponsors.
With the huge growth in social media – especially Twitter – stars can now talk to legions of fans who are ready to lap up any message they can get. A single tweet from Justin Bieber could change the fortune of a brand forever. So, could we be heading into an age in which stars will only get sponsorship deals if they have a digital presence?
Go Daddy sponsorship sees 12% increase on social traffic
Over in the US, Go Daddy (of web-hosting fame) signed a deal with Danica Patrick and her NASCAR team. Now, Danica isn’t a top driver: she’s been on pole a few times and won a couple of races, but she’s not exactly a world-beater. What makes her sponsorship offering different is that she has huge commercial asset in the form of 900k+ Twitter followers, when the average NASCAR driver only has between 100 – 400k.
Go Daddy have leveraged the social media savvy Danica (she also has Pinterest and Facebook accounts) to make her fans and the wider NASCAR community aware of Go Daddy’s involvement. Plus they made the car green, which I imagine helps.
The results? Go Daddy saw an increase of 12% in traffic to their site from social sources in a single month, and the stats continue to go up. In comparison, when Rihanna was sponsored by cosmetics company Cover Girl, they only saw a 3% increase. And yet Rihanna has 3000 times as many followers as Danica… Then why was this sponsorship so much more successful?
Well, both Danica and Go Daddy aligned their tone of voice: Go Daddy spent plenty of time interweaving their brand message with Danica to create story-led content, and were careful with what they tweeted. As shown above, Danica’s mentions of Go Daddy are integrated rather than interruptive; rarely does she tweet an ad-like call to action on behalf of the brand.
Twitter followers as a commercial asset
Who is commercially more valuable, Wayne Rooney or Theo Walcott? They both play international football, they both score goals (one more than the other), they both play for two huge clubs and they both have large Nike sponsorship deals. Rooney’s more valuable though, right? In a world where a player’s every move, word and decisions are consumed by fans – having a brand message put through a huge star helps to spread the campaign a little further.
By having a Twitter account, Rooney can assist with that message – Walcott can’t.
An example of this comes in the form of Jack Wilshere. After deleting his Twitter account in mid-2012 and with it, the 1.5m followers he had, Jack returned to Twitter in March with a more stylised profile. Low and behold, 2 months after re-joining, Jack unveiled the new Nike* England kit:
Whilst it can’t be shown to be true, it’s highly likely that sponsors were pushing for Jack’s return to Twitter. His club, location, nationality and ability create a perfect storm which Nike would love to use in the future.
Accordingly to Dorron Solomon, who looks after the social media output of some of the world’s most expensive superstars, sponsors are now starting to take notice of the social collateral that their players have (especially when it comes to the number of followers):
“[Sponsors] are definitely starting to make it a priority. Every single campaign that’s run online has to be justified and one of the easiest ways to do that is with stats. When you consider that any brand – whether that’s a major sports sponsor or not – has the option of going to a paper, billboard or TV for guaranteed views with a campaign, they’re taking a risk by running it on social, where only engaging content will succeed. If you can place an advert in a prime newspaper location that has a readership of 700k you need to be sure that you can get at least that online.”
Clubs are also beginning to realise the power that their players’ followers have. During the transfer season, Arsenal were faced with a problem that every other club bar them had already experienced: their new signing, Mezut Özil, had more followers than they did. When asked whether this represented an opportunity for Arsenal to reach into a new demographic, Richard Clark, Managing Editor of Arsenal Media Group (which manages all digital, audio and visual outputs) said:
“The club doesn’t seek to exploit the players. If there’s something that the club is doing that we would like them to help promote, we just ask, they’re quite responsive. Usually we just let them get close to their fans.”
You may remember a few years ago now, Snickers asked a number of celebrities, including Rio Ferdinand and Ian Botham, to tweet about their product.
Now, whilst Rio and the rest of the stars had the decency to use the #spon to highlight that the tweet was paid for, it didn’t stop an online furore, with fans tweeting asking what he was talking about, why he was doing it, with many complaining about being advertised to. Whilst the Advertising Standards Authority ultimately ruled in Snickers’ favour, it’s more than likely in the near future that brand-sponsored tweets from stars are going to be more regulated.
What this means for everyone
Going forward, will brands now start picking and choosing their ambassadors less on who they are or what they do positively on the pitch but more on their ability to write in 140 characters? We’ve already seen this in parts, Paddy Power recently chose the controversial and fairly average footballer Joey Barton to represent them in their ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ campaign.
Why Joey? Because his ‘Tone of Voice’, his infamy and his willingness to speak out fits well within the remit of the campaign (which later proved to be a huge success).
With legal issues likely to occur in the future, it’s vital that brands start integrating their star assets with a brand story that can be curated over time. Fundamentally, if brands can start including their fans as well as their stars into their message, then we’ll be seeing some true social engagement.
Many sports stars and athletes like to avoid the commercial side of the game as much as possible, it’s unlikely that you’re going to see a Paul Scholes or Frank Lampard selling Head & Shoulders to strangers on the internet. However, with over 50% of the Premier League players on Twitter now and as more and more micro-content is consumed by the fans who live and breathe the sport, more pressure will be placed on these individuals to not only perform on the pitch, but off it too.
The Barclays Premier League is arguably the most marketable and commercially appealing property in world sport. Estimates suggest that there are more than 1.4 billion Premier League club supporters worldwide, whilst a staggering 4.7 billion people are said to have watched at least one game on television last season.
Predictably, this type of reach comes at a premium for potential sponsors. Last season, Barclays Premier League clubs generated the highest football shirt sponsorship figures in Europe, with total annual revenue reaching almost €150 million – an average of €7.4 million per club in the top flight.
Manchester United’s ground-breaking shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors is thought to be worth $70m (c. £45m) for the first full season, with small increases thereafter, whilst Liverpool’s deal with Standard Chartered has an estimated worth of somewhere around £20m a season – truly eye-watering figures. But for the majority of their Premier League peers, these figures are unimaginable – with many clubs at the lower end of the league registering deals in the low millions – and others struggling to find major sponsors at all.
The gulf, it seems, is big. And growing.
There are signs that the shirt sponsorship model in the Premier League is changing, with clubs finding new and innovative ways to sell their rights. Last season, QPR sold their home and away kit separately to two Asian airlines, Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines, whilst this season, Tottenham Hotspur have sold their shirt rights to HP and AIA for league and cup games respectively. In a tough economic climate, creating narrower rights packages for shirt sponsorship increases the pool of brands that can have the budget for such deals and also reduces their risk.
In 2003, Atletico Madrid signed a deal with Columbia Pictures which used the shirt to promote a selection of new film releases over the course of season, meaning that shirt designs were in constant flux (resulting in, amongst others, the monstrosity below promoting Spiderman 2). Whilst this particular example is perhaps rather extreme, it raises the question as to whether there than can be a role for shirt sponsorship by brands that have an evolving proposition, with messaging changing on the shirt several times within a single season.
The Premier League remains one of few top-tier world leagues in which only one sponsor can be featured on a shirt, and whilst the idea is said to have been floated to Premier League chairman to permit multiple sponsors, it seems that it is unlikely to go through – the argument being that this would further increase the ever-widening revenue gap between those at the top and bottom of the league and potentially devalue the position of the main shirt sponsor.
In case you were wondering, the most sponsors that we could find on any individual shirt was 13 – take a bow Mjällby AIF of Sweden.
Whilst on the point of multiple shirt sponsors in the Premier League – it is clear that there is currently little appetite, but that is not to say that this ‘unused’ inventory should be left completely empty. There is certainly room for the FA to follow UEFA’s lead in permitting clubs to use space on the back of the shirt to support their chosen charity. The Premier League has truly global reach and influence, with the unique potential to ease the marketing burden on charities and to give them the exposure that they so desperately require to continue to operate. Chelsea promoted their Right To Play message in the Champions League, whilst Fulham carried messaging for their Foundation during the club’s Europa League campaign.
Football treads a fine line between realising its global commercial potential and retaining its local integrity. This is a challenge that should not be underestimated. Football is an expensive business, and with fans demanding success on the pitch, sponsorship revenues are critical…but these self-same fans are loathe to see their club (and indeed their sport) sell its soul to the highest bidder. In the last 12 months, we have seen two relatively high profile deals at Bolton and Newcastle both of whom signed controversial deals with payday loan companies. Bolton felt the full force of fan influence, being forced into a rather humiliating last minute change of sponsor.
English Football is now a global commodity. China has the most Premier League followers of any country at more than 300m, with India second on 147m, while the audience across Africa is estimated at 290m. It is easy to see why the idea of a 39th game is of such great commercial appeal and why Premier League clubs now have commercial partners from all corners of the globe.
What is clear, is that in the coming years we will see clubs becoming more flexible and creative with shirt sponsorship – increasingly looking to break up rights to increase their revenue. While the sponsorship market has remained buoyant in the face of economic uncertainty, logic would suggest that there are fewer organisations in the market for larger sponsorship deals. By offering a greater range of rights packages, clubs can ensure that the pool of potential sponsors remains wide. For these reasons, we expect to see an increasing number of clubs following Tottenham’s and QPR’s lead in looking to sell shirt rights for different types of games – home, away, Capital One Cup, FA Cup and maybe even for pre-season tours to the most lucrative global markets.
Question is: how far will clubs go off the field to ensure that they can afford to compete on it?
The merits of a loyal customer base are well explored in consumer marketing. Some suggest that it is 6 to 7 times more expensive to attract a new customer than retain an existing one, whilst the impact of a longer term relationship on the bottom line is clear to see. Brands will fight tooth and nail to ensure that they retain their share of your wallet.
In the sporting world, rights holders are often guilty of assuming loyalty amongst their consumers – the fans. Sports fans are, on the whole, unique; few would defect to a ‘competitor’ if they felt that they were more successful, that ticket prices were lower or that the overall in stadium experience was of a higher quality. And with decreasing reliance on match-day revenues to generate cash due to the size of broadcast and sponsorship deals, there seems to be little incentive for the rights holder to nurture this relationship.
A ticket – or, more specifically, a season ticket – is an expensive and considered purchase which carries with it a significant opportunity cost. The price elasticity may be less sensitive than with other consumer goods, largely due to the tribal and passionate nature of the average sports fan, but it is still very much a key factor in decision making. No rights holder wants an empty stadium – it not only contributes to a decrease in overall revenue but begins to devalue their brand.
Step forward the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. The Sounders put the fans at the heart of everything that they do, and what they have created is one of the most sophisticated and well thought out fan engagement programmes that I have seen in any sport.
Now in its second season, the MatchPass programme is helping to create a closer relationship between the club and its 32,000 season ticket holders. Its primary function as a ticketless swipe card for entry into home games is nothing new. What makes it stand out is the rewards programme that it feeds. The card is swiped at each food, beverage and merchandise transaction to earn points and unlock exclusive rewards such as stadium tours, signed merchandise or a chance meet a player on the field after the match. In addition, members also receive exclusive discounts on the items they buy when using the pass. The card can be preloaded with credit for a completely cashless experience and can be used throughout their CenturyLink Field stadium.
MatchPass is also helping the club to shape positive behaviours, with fans encouraged to arrive 30 minutes or more before kick off for an early-bird points bonus.
The Sounders are not just improving their relationship with their supporters but also making themselves a more attractive proposition for sponsors. Data collected provides valuable customer insights into purchasing habits and match-day behaviour, whilst reward programmes can help to encourage product trial and generate loyalty – extending the relationship outside of the match-day environment.
Rights holders around the world should take note. You can’t assume loyalty. You need to earn it.
How much should you pay for a ticket to a football match or gig? In the past, the answer would have been simple: whatever the seller sees fit to charge you. However, the act of a company, brand or team selling access to their assets has developed substantially in recent years. Slapping a one size fits all price on an asset (and hoping for the best) is no longer an appropriate concept in this social era of consumer choice, and various companies, sports teams and bands are recognising this.
But the point isn’t just that ticketing is changing to absorb changes in consumer behaviour – it is fundamentally being driven by business priorities. In recent times, there has been a steady increase in pioneering pricing strategies, honesty payments and social media-influenced purchases, as parties in the sports and entertainment industries look for ways of maximising revenue through innovation. In industries such as live sport or music, with large fixed costs driving a high minimum cost per match or event, these innovative pricing strategies can represent a win-win for consumers and companies alike.
The Digonex pricing strategy is one approach that is spreading through American sport, and is beginning to be adopted by British sports teams. Described catchily as a ‘fan driven pricing system for event ticketing that scientifically changes prices based upon econometric and behavioural principles’, the system allows for ticket prices to be changed daily depending on market conditions. Similar to booking a flight or ticket to the theatre, the system allows for the flexibility to alter prices for every game dependent on demand.
Following a drop in attendances, brought on by collective belt tightening across their fanbase, Derby County were the first British sports team to test this pricing strategy. Having received special dispensation from the FA (usually clubs can only alter prices for four games per season), it is already proving a success, with attendances noticeably on the up. Tickets for all games are made available at the beginning of the season, meaning sensible Rams fans can book their tickets for big matches in advance to save them purchasing a more expensive ticket closer to the game. In order to appease season ticket holders, Derby have also ensured that ticket prices never drop to a price that would represent better value than a season ticket.
Cardiff have followed in Derby’s footsteps by adopting Digonex and Bristol City are soon to follow. Two Premiership rugby clubs are reported to be close to adoption of the system and the spread is expected to continue to major European sports teams. And why wouldn’t it? When fans can get cheaper tickets, and clubs can benefit from larger attendances and higher revenue on seats that would otherwise have been completely empty, everybody wins.
More recent examples are ‘pay what you want’ schemes for specific matches, dreamt up as a response to tricky economic circumstances and dropping attendances. Mansfield Town saw a doubling of their attendance when adopting the scheme for a game in 2010 and Brentford FC are running a similar promotion for a match against Stevenage in February. Supporters are able to pay whatever they want to for a ticket for the match (over £1) and 50% of any excess over £5 will be passed on to the ‘Sport Relief’ charity. In all these cases, the point is that the tickets would otherwise remain unsold – with no revenue to the club and no bums on seats. With minimal costs to the club involved in hosting an extra fan, this will boost club revenue and help fans out during tricky economic times – while also possibly introducing new fans to the club and generating goodwill through the donation to charity.
These innovative pricing schemes aren’t all just about direct impact on revenue though. Over recent years, there has also been an increase in one-off sales schemes by sports teams and bands as a way of reaching new audiences and/or showing themselves in a positive light. Most famously, Radiohead made a bold move by relying on ‘honesty payments’ for their ‘In Rainbows’ albums in 2007. Denounced and praised in equal measure, opinions differ on whether that move was a financial success. It is clear that money was not the primary driving force behind the idea, and similar moves have become increasingly prevalent around sports.
The evolution of social media is also having an effect on ticketing, with AEG, Malaysia Airlines and KLM examples of brands leading the way with inventive schemes. As an attempt to take on Ticketmaster, AEG have introduced their innovative ‘AXS’ ticketing service. As well as making life difficult for touts by seeking out automated servers purchasing large numbers of tickets, they have introduced a system that allows purchasers to reserve adjacent tickets for friends through Facebook for concerts, shows and other events. Alerted by Facebook, these friends have 48 hours to purchase these tickets knowing that they will be sat next to their mates. Again, it looks like everybody wins. Fans will have a better time sitting next to their mates (and not having to shell out on their friends’ tickets with the inevitable sluggish paying back process) and companies have a happier crowd. This may not directly impact on revenue, but it is likely to have an indirect effect on consumer morale.
Malaysia Airlines and KLM have gone one step further by attempting to socialise the art of booking and taking a flight. When booking a flight, users are reminded of friends who live close to their destination and informed of any friends who may be making a similar journey. Users also have the opportunity to share their itinerary, and through the seat selection process, are able to select seats next to Facebook friends. This clearly comes with a few privacy/stalking implications but the concept feels like a landmark step forward.
Why are these ideas on the increase? In each of these cases, the innovation behind the schemes opens doors to opportunities that benefit each of the stakeholders in the exchange. With Digonex, previously unsold tickets are more likely to be taken up, satisfying fans and helping the club put bums on seats. In a similar manner, the schemes by Malaysia Airlines and KLM give the airlines unique selling points, and the flying experience is enhanced for those making the journey. With the subject of rising ticket prices forcing itself towards the top of the sporting and entertainment agendas, this sort of innovative use of assets can help to maintain and develop healthy relationships between purchaser and seller.
With 19 league defeats so far this season, Ipswich Town aren’t going to win many accolades for their performances on the pitch. However, faced with the launch of their new kit, the Championship side demonstrated creative ability which should make any club sit up and take notice.
To publicise the kit launch, the Tractor Boys headed to Easton Farm to record a tongue-in-cheek viral that hugely entertained football fans across the country. In the film, goalkeeper Arran Lee-Barrett (who needs a bit of practice if their ‘goals against’ column is anything to go by) can be spotted diving around the farmyard and striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas is filmed dribbling around milk containers. The club’s legendary attacker John Wark also makes a cameo appearance dressed as a farmer.
There’s obviously something in the East Anglian water, as their local rivals Norwich City took a similar approach in 2011, when they brought a bit of Italy to Norfolk with the launch of their Errea kit, through a viral that included Paul Lambert scanning the Gazetta dello Sport.
Why we love it
The football romantics amongst us will remember when kit launches were a rare event that would lead to genuine excitement. They’re now held on an annual basis, with most Premier League clubs producing three kits a year (has a third kit ever been worn?).
Despite plenty of opportunities to experiment, the majority of clubs still rely on a tried and tested way of getting mum and dad to part with their hard-earned cash. Chelsea recently displayed the usual activity undertaken by the majority of clubs, who rely on a photo with a handful of stars (normally including one who has been linked with a move away from the club) posing with the kit behind the club crest. Such launches usually incorporate a video, which in this case contains some particularly profound soundbites from Gary Cahill – “you’re used to seeing Chelsea in a blue strip innit” – and Juan Mata – “every team has a different kit.”
Ipswich Town haven’t taken themselves too seriously and have been willing for fans to have a bit of chuckle at their expense. The viral has been rewarded with over 124,000 views on YouTube to date with football fans quick to register their praise:
“Brilliant! Funny and engaging. Absolutely genius advertising and it doesn’t break the bank, very sensible of Ipswich. Well done!”
“I’m a Brighton fan, but I have to say this is quality!”
“Great idea and good to see a bit of humour instilled in football.”
The viral also received coverage across football forums and media outlets, with Ipswich Town’s retail manager Lee Hyde stating that it was another way to help the club interact with fans:
“It’s fantastic to interact with the fans through social media and social networking nowadays. The viral kinds of feeds from that.”
I won’t be heading to the Ipswich club shop anytime soon, but I definitely take my hat off to them and hope that one day my team Tottenham realise that marketing club merchandise doesn’t have to be quite so straight-laced.
The new adidas f50 miCoach is the first ‘boot with a brain’. The new boot integrates a miCoach Speed Cell into a cavity in the sole which captures and records 360 degree movements and key personal performance metrics.
The boots capture data including speed, average speed, maximum speed, number of sprints, distance, distance at high intensity levels and active training time, which it then transmits to tablets, PCs and Macs using a wireless link.
The miCoach internet platform allows players to upload, track, analyse and share their miCoach data. Once the sole preserve of sophisticated GPS systems, this allows any park player to monitor their performance, identify areas of improvement and compare their stats to those of their mates, teammates and the real professionals.
And as each player improves their performance on the real pitch, they reap the benefits on the virtual one. ‘Avatars’ (virtual personas) take part in a new social football video game – and the only way to build your avatar’s skills and level up is by doing the work in the real world. ‘Gamification‘ is a great way to engage this target audience and adidas have nailed it.
This is the biggest innovation in football boots since adidas launched the Predator. But, with its integrated digital and social elements, this will have a far broader and deeper impact.
For the first time, it gives every player the ability to analyse their own performance, track improvements and compare themselves to not only their mates, but also some of the greatest players on the planet. It is this integration of both professional and amateur players and an accessible, easy-to-use platform, which incorporates social media, that creates a truly unique and engaging brand experience for the consumer.
By putting ‘performance’ at the core, adidas enhances their positioning as the world’s leading performance brand. No matter what your ability level is from occasional 5-a-side player to Lionel Messi, there is always room for improvement and adi will help you get there.
This ‘boot with a brain’ creates engaging content and puts adidas at the centre of a global dialogue around performance. It has brought together football’s elite level with its grassroots in a way that pushes the thought that adidas enables you to be the best you can be.
What the brand says
The adidas vice president of global football, Markus Baumann, says ‘We have been working to develop a boot with a brain for some time and what we have produced will revolutionise the football industry.’ He goes on to say ‘What makes the boot unique is that for the first time you will be able to compare yourself to some of the best players in the world.’
However, this summer I made a new, and even more exciting, discovery – @Joey7Barton. With Barton’s tweet that “somewhere in those high echelons of NUFC, they have decided, I am persona non grata” attracting significant media coverage (in fairness, more for the revelation that Newcastle United were letting him go, than the flowery language), I was lured into his Twitter world. There I found Joseph Barton, the footballer philosopher, offering up daily quotes from Nietzsche, lyrical poetry from The Smiths, and reviews of his trips to London museums.
Surely this wasn’t the same player I’d seen drag Gervinho off the floor by the scruff of his neck during the first game of the Premier League season at Newcastle? And yet, whilst the red mist is still prone to descend, the rehabilitation of Joey Barton is in full swing, helped in no small part by his ability to create his own brand on Twitter. Yes, many remain if not unconvinced then at least a bit confused by his culture vulture social media persona, but there’s no doubt that without Twitter, he wouldn’t have been able to convey it to the world as he has done.
Of course, the phenomenon of sports, and in particular football, stars as brands in their own right is by no means a feature borne of the Twitter age. Remember, Twitter is only five years old, younger than brand Beckham and younger still than Gazza, Kevin Keegan and George Best. Indeed, footballers have been commercial entities in their own right for years (and see this amusing history of their attempts to cash in on this).
George Best lends his name to Best Potato Crisps
And yet I do believe that Twitter has brought something new to the party. It gives footballers a way to convey to the world who they want to be, no longer restricting their public image to that carefully defined by their club and publicist, or by the tabloid headlines. Whilst these were the channels through which a footballer’s brand would be built in the past, players are now able, in at least some small way, to bypass them, possibly defying an image crafted by a PR, or using Twitter to defend the on and off the field transgressions reported in the papers.
But whilst I may love the fact that Twitter allows footballers and famous individuals to talk directly to me (and, I accept, their thousands, or indeed millions, of other followers), the interesting question is whether using Twitter can significantly build a commercially successful personal brand. Will it impact upon the value and nature of sponsorship deals and endorsements? At the moment, not really. Nike terminated its boot contract with Joey Barton in 2008 after he was imprisoned for assault, and the deals have not exactly been forthcoming since then.
Twitter might be a good place to start building your brand (and a forum for – declared – advertising by celebrities), but it is most definitely not where it ends. A Twitter personality is still only one small element of a footballer’s commercial arsenal; the money follows skills on the pitch, good looks, big clubs and to a certain extent, the ability to stay out of trouble (though brands have shown themselves willing to stick by big names even when scandal has descended in the past).
However, that is certainly not to say that footballers should stop tweeting – mainly because without Joey Barton’s philosophical gems my days would most definitely be that little bit worse! Click here for a fun infographic of sports stars on Twitter, and try the following for some insights/hilarity from some of our favourite footballers:
It’s 20 years since the Premier League was launched and to mark the occasion, we’ve put together an infographic suitably laced with factoids illustrating the League’s journey from domestic breakaway to global superpower.
Having worked on sponsorships in and around the League since its inception, it’s been an extraordinary journey both to have witnessed and to have been part of. The incredible transformation on and, above all, off the field is what I hope we’ve captured.
Off the field, my personal favourite factoids are the League having no title sponsor in its first season (owing to disagreements between the clubs) and the staggering 9900% rise in Manchester United’s annual shirt sponsorship income, from Sharp’s £200k endorsement in 1992 to today’s £20m Aon deal.
On the field, it has to be United’s dominance of the title (which of course has driven their off-field success), the proliferation of overseas players, from a mere 11 in 1992 to 337 last season, and the perfect symmetry of the 11 current and 11 former clubs who featured in the inaugural 22-club Premier League (great quiz question by the way).
Maybe the conventional wisdom is correct. But one thing “Moneyball” (in my opinion the best Sports Business book ever written) taught us is to ignore conventional wisdom. Moneyball is about the Oakland A’s baseball team and their General Manager Billy Beane and is currently being turned into a Brad Pitt/Philip Seymour Hoffman movie, due for release later this year:
The basic premise is this: In 2002, the Oakland A’s had the second smallest budget in baseball (around $40m) – less than a quarter of the New York Yankees ($126m). But for the previous 3 years, they had consistently been one of the top four teams (though they hadn’t won a World Series). That is the equivalent of Wolves qualifying for the Champions League for 3 years in a row on their current budget (the A’s didn’t increase their relative budget as a result of their success in the first two years).
The secret to the A’s success was to completely re-think the way they evaluated players. Using a new set of statistical analyses (called Sabermetrics) and throwing out all conventional wisdom, they were able to see that the market for players was hugely inefficient. Some player attributes were highly overrated in terms of their correlation with success, while others were highly undervalued. So the key to running a successful team on a budget was simple:
sell those players who have overrated attributes (for lots of money) and buy players who have the underrated attributes (for much less)
Well first and foremost, John W Henry, the new owner of Liverpool is a convert to Sabermetrics. Many of the techniques used in Sabermetrics came from the financial markets, which is Henry’s background. And when Henry bought the Boston Red Sox in 2003, his first move was to offer Billy Beane a job for a guaranteed $12.5m over 5 years (which he turned down). Nevertheless, he installed Sabermetrics at the Red Sox, who then went on to win multiple World Series.
So Liverpool is now a Sabermetric club with the best brains in the business analysing players’ value. Would they really pay £35m for a player if they didn’t see the value?
And what did that analysis look like?
Success in football is defined by winning points. Given the financial rewards at stake (eg. qualifying for the Champions League), it is relatively easy to calculate the value of each Premier League point. And if points are the asset, then goals are the currency. To quote from Moneyball:
“Before the 2002 season, Paul DePodesta (the A’s sabermatrician) had reduced the coming six months to a maths problem. He judged how many wins it would take to get into the play-offs: 95. He then calculated how many more runs the Oakland A’s would need to score than they allowed to win 95 games: 135. (the idea that there was a stable relationship between season run totals and season wins was another Jamesean (the father of Sabermetrics) discovery)”
It is possible to determine how many goals you need to score in order to acquire your targeted number of points. And therefore, each goal has a value. Before we have any Ossie Ardiles and Kevin Keegan arguments about teams who score lots of goals but don’t necessarily win points, here are the facts:
1) Currently, the top 4 teams in the table are the four teams who have scored the most goals
2) In the seasons 2006/2007, 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 the top four teams in the table were also the teams who scored the most goals
3) The only exception to this rule in the recent past is last season, where Manchester City, who finished 5th, scored more goals than Tottenham, who finished 4th
So, each goal that Carroll contributes can be valued in terms of ‘acquiring’ points.
But how do we determine how many goals he is likely to contribute?
One of the cleverest bits of analysis discussed in Moneyball is the disentangling of the link between what actuallyhappens on the pitch and what is expected to happen. To quote again:
“Any ball hit any place on a baseball field had been hit just that way thousands of times before: the average of all those hits was the Platonic Idea (of an average run value). Call it a line drive that is hit at x trajectory and y speed to point #968. From 10 years worth of data, you can see that there have been 8,642 practically identical hits. You can see that 92% of the time the hit went for a double, 4% for a single and 4% it was caught. Suppose the average value of that event is .50 of a run scored. No matter what actually happened, the system credits the hitter with having generated .50 of a run…”
So let’s apply that to football and Andy Carroll.
The first thing we do is to forget the number of goals he scores and the number of assists he makes (what actually happened) and concentrate on the expected value of his actions on the pitch.
Here are a few examples (by the way, these are all completely made up assumptions but it wouldn’t be too difficult to calculate them):
1) A penalty is scored 79% of the time. Every penalty he wins is worth .79 of a goal (regardless of whether he takes it or even whether it is scored)
2) A goal results from a corner kick 4% of the time. Every corner kick he wins is worth .04 of a goal
3) Divide the pitch up into sectors and calculate the percentage of time a goal is scored from a free kick taken from that sector. If a goal is scored 7% of the time a free kick is taken from sector 4, then every free kick Carroll wins in sector 4 is worth .07 of a goal (and the same for all the other sectors on the pitch)
4) Divide up the goal into 6 sectors (top left, top middle, top right, bottom left, bottom middle and bottom right) and calculate the expected goal value of a shot on target in each of those sectors. If 46% of shots into the top left sector are goals, then award him .46 of a goal for every shot he hits into that sector
5) A successful pass within the opponent’s penalty area results in a goal 8% of the time. Every successful pass he makes in the penalty area gets .08 of a goal
6) Winning a header in the opponents penalty area results in a goal 5% of the time. He is awarded .05 of a goal whenever he wins a header in the opponents area
…and so on
From this type of analysis, we can calculate the expected number of goals Carroll will contribute to Liverpool and we will also know the value of each goal. If that is more than £35m over the course of his contract, then it could represent great value.
Of course, this has been simplified a little bit. The real analysis is the ‘marginal’ impact of Carroll compared to another striker. In other words, how many more goals would he be responsible for than another striker?
And this is where the idea of undervalued attributes comes into play. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that “winning headers in the opponent’s penalty area” is worth more in terms of expected goals than people give it credit for. If Carroll is the “Greek God” of winning headers in the opponent’s penalty area, then he is worth much more than people think he is.
Would we really be surprised if John W Henry’s Sabermatricians have been doing this type of analysis since they bought Liverpool? Maybe they have just sold a player for £50m who has ‘overrated attributes’ and bought one who, even at £35m, is undervalued.
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