Manchester United Football Club is the world's most popular sports team with a fan base of over 650 million supporters. As a sports team, the Manchester United Football Club is at the top of the best teams' list with regards to their following, style and prowess in the field. As a brand, Manchester United exudes confidence and professionalism both on and off the field, as well as consistency in its business model and policy. The team started out as a small unit of players into an international professional football outfit with renowned players like David Beckham, Christiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney among others. All through the team's history, consistency with regards to their style of play has been a key ingredient in attracting both the fans and sponsors who consider themselves as true fans of the game. A brand by definition is distinctive and often standing out from the rest in its league. Among other things, the consistency and loyalty of the fans make a sports brand successful or otherwise. In football, brands need not only the support of the fans but also the admiration of the competitors and it can be stated that Manchester United has both of these things. The other professional football clubs may try to distinguish themselves from this team but they are all too willing to embrace their business model in a bid to be among the best performing sports clubs with as many sponsors and fans.
Manchester United Football Club is a premium brand in itself based on the quality of its merchandise and the style of play that is showcased by its players. Based on the brand definition at Manchester United, class and style as well as professionalism are the pillars along with consistency (Goldstein 1999). The Manchester United brand represents a team spirit that is driven by professionalism, class, style, consistency and loyalty not only in regard to the players but also the fans, sponsors and management. Amongst all the teams playing in the English Premier league, only Manchester United can boast of a large number of visitors who stream in to their home stadium at the Old Trafford just for tours. Also, with so many victories on the field it is not at all surprising that the team gets so much admiration across the globe. The uniqueness in the style of play, currently referred to as 'attack football' also plays a great role in defining the Manchester United brand.
Considering that the team has had both good and bad streaks on and off the field, there must be more to it than just winning games. As a brand, Manchester United is all about quality and professionalism (Beech & Chadwick 2007). The team has high profile players. Furthermore, for many years it has stuck to the playing style known as 'attack football'. This goes a long way in presenting a brand position for the organization (Evans, Ahmad & Foxall 2009). As a business, Manchester United thrives through sponsorships and ticket sales as well as player trades. However, the organization does not compromise in terms of cost cutting when it comes to acquiring the right players. This implies confidence and willingness to be consistent and stand out as a team and business. This is what the organization represents to the sponsors and players.
It can thus be stated that the Manchester United brand exudes a number of things to a number of different people. To the fans, the Manchester United brand represents a professional football team at its best. With its willingness to spend on the best players and a great management team, the organization has the best chances in any match. Aside from winning the games and titles, the team also represents class and style in the way they play. To the players, the team represents calibre and style, as well as the confidence to spend the right financial amount on the right players. Players are assured of fully exploiting their potential once they are in the organization. To the sponsors, the brand represents high quality in terms of the players, type of football played and the position in the market as well as in the numerous leagues that they participate in. Many titles and game victories imply that the team has a good management and thus the sponsors are drawn to it.
Differences between a Football Club Brand and a Mainstream Consumer Brand
Football clubs sell a passion for the game. They appeal to the emotions of the consumers by positioning themselves as the best football club with the best players. Generally, a football club is like any other business or company except that they sell ideals more than merchandise. Unlike other consumer brands like those in the electronic appliances industry, football clubs are judged by their fans based on more than just the quality and price of their merchandise (Kotler, Armstrong & Wong 2008). Football clubs must perform well, acquiring the right players and exuding a lot of confidence if they are to keep their fans happily attached. The major difference between a football club brand and a mainstream consumer brand lies in the definition for product quality, place and product price.
In a football club, product quality goes beyond manufacturing the right quality of merchandise for the consumers. While the T-shirts, key rings, track suits and all other merchandise sold by the brand should be of high quality, the greatest attention is given to the team's players and the quality of football that they showcase. This means that, unlike the mainstream consumer brands, which require ensuring that the products or services on offer are of the best quality, football clubs have to ensure that they have the best players, the best technical bench and team management as well as the best style of play. The football cub brand does not just sell merchandise but rather a professional game with knowledgeable fans and critics (Hopwood, Skinner & Kitchin 2010).
A football club often needs to have a base, like a home stadium that is considerably epic. With fans around the world, these stadia are like a home to the football brand and the loyal fans identify themselves with it as their home too. Nevertheless, the team also plays in other venues away from its home stadium making the place aspect of a football brand somewhat versatile and open to interpretation. Football matches can be found online and on numerous broadcast media stations. Football clubs can also have exclusive TV stations where they broadcast all of their matches, highlights and interviews among other things. With regards to selling their merchandize, they can avail them in online stores and other local shops. All these cater to the place aspect in a football club brand's marketing mix. For a mainstream consumer brand, however, place strictly refers to where the product can be found. While this can also be witnessed in a variety of places, it may not be as convenient as the football club brand. The home or location of the manufacturing plant in this case is often not so important to the consumers.
A product price would refer to the value of the product based on the consumer's needs, or the cost of making it. Regardless of the definition employed, product pricing in football club brands is often based on the target market's sentiments of the club brand. Most teams in football leagues are relatively more expensive with regards to their product pricing when it comes to tickets and merchandise sales. This means that the price is affected by the demand for the product. The fact that they sell lifestyle and ideal products implies that they cannot under any circumstances afford to be cheap. In case of mainstream consumer brands, the price is often affected by other factors such as production costs and target markets.
The Manchester United Brand Vision
Manchester United's brand vision is aligned to the word 'United'. The organization has six ideals that direct its activities so that they continue to impress not only fans but also sponsors and players. The U stands for United, which means that the organization is fully committed to the passion for football. This passion is what leads them all to success given that they are all driven towards the same goals. This brings together the team's players, fans and sponsors as they compete for the titles and the best game techniques all the time. The N implies Non discriminatory, which means that they are accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of location and time. The organization has endeavoured to ensure that they interact with their fans from all over the world through various channels including social and broadcast media. This means that there are much more people who are aware of the team, thus more fans, more consumers for the merchandise, and more tourists for the 'theatre of dreams'. The I in the team's brand vision stands for Innovative, meaning that the team is aimed at always being the 'first' and best in everything it does. Whether it is the quality of the game, or the merchandise, the home stadium or even players and team managers, the organization strives for nothing other than the best (Szymanski & Kuypers 1999).
This may explain why they have won so many titles over the years, with great leadership and playing techniques as well as with the best team of professional footballers. T is Team oriented where the organization advocates for team work at all times. The organization emphasizes working together with utmost dedication to ensure that each member is valued and appreciated for their worthiness in the organization. E stands for Excelling whereby the team has set its sights on becoming the world's best football club through impressive performance and relatively unbeatable records. Currently, they are the world's most popular football team with fans in all parts of the world. D is Determined, which means that the team is firm in its pursuit of absolute success without compromising on the accountability and social responsibility. To achieve this, the organization ensures that its business operations are well guided and oriented towards the wellness of the entire team and not just one of the main stakeholders.
This brand vision possesses a number of advantages that are responsible for attracting sponsors and players to the team (Lagae 2005). First, the unity implies that the team is likely to consider all the important stakeholders and factor them in their goals and objectives. A united front somehow enhances the chances of succeeding even in the football business. Less conflict implies more cooperation and thus better support for the decisions and initiatives within the organization. Sponsors often prefer being associated with a team that best represents them. In Manchester United's case, the united front sits well with most of the corporate organizations thus attracting them as the team's sponsors.
The high accessibility that is indiscriminate also ensures that the team has a large number of followers in all parts of the world and in all spheres of life. The point of sponsoring a team is to reach out to the fans with information about a certain brand. With so many fans spread all across the globe, Manchester United provides sponsors with an opportunity to reach a large audience.
Generally, sponsors like to be associated with teams that are not only successful but also conscious on matters like accountability, social responsibility, innovativeness and excellence in terms of management and social relationships (Brassington & Pettitt 2007). Manchester United Football Club not only has the best performance record in both British football and global professional football, but is also among the most successful teams with regards to how the business is run. The team also indulges in corporate citizenship initiatives that aim to benefit the society as a whole. This responsibility provides a good image not only to the fans and players but also to the sponsors who are consequently compelled to be a part of the organization.
Team sponsorship is a marketing strategy that has over the years proven successful for most companies and in the case of Manchester United, Vodafone can attest to this as they have been loyal sponsors for so many years. This simply means that sponsors are attracted to the teams that share their vision and have a credible corporate image that is adored by the fans and sponsors alike.
The Manchester United Brand Position
Manchester United Football Club is a high end premium brand, reflecting the team's performance and brand positioning in the football industry. Other than the impressive performance seen over the years, the team has also driven a huge fan base steadily and impressively to such large proportions. Also, the team has an impressive home stadium that receives over 200,000 visitors annually for tours only. With such attributes, there are a number of things that can be assumed about Manchester United Football Club.
First, it can be stated that this team is a very expensive outfit. High quality players are not cheap and it is clear that Manchester United has a great number of them. This implies that the team is often willing to spend drastic amounts of money just so as to maintain the quality of game and pedigree of their team composition (Kotler 2007). To afford these luxuries, the team needs a lot of funding, and the financial base is often made from ticket sales, merchandise sales and player trades among other things. All these point to a high end market that can afford the high prices for the tickets and merchandise as well as the players.
Also, the team has among the world's greatest management team in both the football sphere and business departments. The fact that the Manchester United Football Club pays so much attention to its corporate affairs as well as their football affairs implies that there is more to the organization than just football. With such a well rounded management, it can be summed that Manchester United not only seeks out the high end fans and consumers based on the brand position but also the best players and managers as well as sponsors.
Another important consideration with regards to the team's brand position is the home stadium, Old Trafford. With such historical appeals, the stadium is a central aspect in the team's brand positioning seeing as it is one of the state of art locations otherwise known as 'theatre of dreams'. In a special way, this stadium exudes the style of the team along with the taste of the fans and consumers thus positioning it as a premium brand for the high end market. The accessibility is nevertheless indiscriminate as there are numerous online and TV channels that offer information about the stadium to the fans.
Manchester United Football Club is a brand that is not only global but also highly admired by competitors and other businesses. In the football industry, the Manchester United brand is a model that is being emulated by other football clubs across the board in order to have a taste of success in the sports industry. The brand vision aligns the organization with the interests of both sponsors and fans so that the team not only has the largest number of fans globally but is also sought after by the best sponsors in the corporate world. Regarding the brand positioning, Manchester United Football Club has set itself apart as a premium brand for the high end market, without necessarily neglecting the middle and low income brackets. While attending a match at the 'theatre of dreams' may cost one an arm and a leg, watching the matches online and on TV is quite cheap and thus affordable to the larger market segment. The organization has employed a number of brand management initiatives to ensure that they are not only relevant but also appealing to the players, managers, sponsors, consumers and fans alike.