The crazy world of football has had quite a summer. From the failed launch of the ESL to the Euros and then this latest transfer window we have seen some bizarre events. What can never be questioned in amongst all this madness is that the interest never waivered for a second. This game we love is just getting more attention than ever after lockdowns. We all know that empty stadiums and artificial crowd noise doesn’t work for any of us.
I’ve been around football commercially for over 10 years and seen some big changes especially in recent years with the onset of digital. But the one thing that never changes for me is that the game is all about players and the connection with fans.
The failed ESL debacle made me question whether that was still true or whether the power was shifting to clubs, broadcasters, federations and sponsors. So many of these integral parts of the game started to wield their power of persuasion in a way I’d not seen before. It started to alarm me a little bit. It started to feel like the game wasn’t about the players and the fans.
But then the Euros came along and it restored the feeling that fans and players connection is what this game thrives on. That connection was re wired and everyone could see once again that football was all about Chiellini and Chiesa, Stirling and Saka. We were back!!
The game has some huge “brands” in it from sponsors thru to clubs but I’ll always feel players bring the emotive part to the game. They are the talent. They put bums on seats. They sell the merch. They are what the club can commercialise with sponsors. They influence that 5 year old to support a club. They are what the media needs and that broadcasters bank their futures on when outlaying their hefty rights fees.
Many brilliant articles are written about the power of a brand in the game but they always tend to centre around valuations not emotion and consumer connection. Club valuations surely have to be linked to their players to make any sense?
Barcelona were valued at $1.198b last year…..still the same valuation without Messi? Surely not. Manchester United stock saw a £200m bounce when they announced re signing Ronaldo!
Before anyone talks about brand valuations you need to start with asking what a brand is. A brand in the truest sense is not a valuation it’s something that creates a feeling in a consumers mind. Its not a logo or a commercial deal. It’s a feeling, an emotion.
What $ value do you put on seeing Zidane gracefully going past 3 defenders? How does that make you feel? If he is in the France shirt do the French fans feel more patriotic? What $ value on seeing Beckham bend a free kick in from 30 yards? How does that make you feel? What kit was he in when you relive that memory?
Social Media seems to be a barometer for brand success these days. Whilst its only part of judging a brand It’s certainly an indicator of relevance and interest so when you analyse Barcelona having the largest combined following across all platforms of 272.9m and Ronaldo has 418m where does the brand equity in football lie? The top 3 followed clubs Barca / Real Madrid and Man Utd have a combined following of 686m the top 3 followed players Ronaldo/Messi?Neymar have a combined following of 898m. This is over 200m more for Top 3 players than Top 3 clubs.
Fans will always support their club but special players leave special feelings on fans for life. As a Liverpool fan I vividly remember special moments from Dalglish, Rush, Gerrard, Torres, Fowler, Salah….and my mate Emile of course.
The game needs to always keep that connection of players and fans at the heart of what it does. These players can influence so many people and do so much good for the wider society. Using their talent on the pitch lifts fans spirits. But doing good for the wider society is making huge impressions in communities all around the globe.
We are going to need a new generation of global icons for football to replace Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar? How much will be about what they do on the pitch and how much will be about their wider story?
Will those boots ever be filled? Haaland? Mbappe? Ansu Fati? Foden?
Who ever it will be we just hope that they understand the power they have in influencing our beloved game and the opportunity they have to leave a legacy that will live long in the memory