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When trying to find articles on this topic,

My results only fuelled the fire of my annoyance.

Branding in football – A neglected part of the global gameAs a former advertising student, who liked a branding class here and there, I’m annoyed by the fact that soccer/football clubs don’t really take branding seriously; or even regular small businesses that just want a logo that says absolutely nothing because they just need “something”… I digress.

When Googling “branding in soccer” (yes that’s part of my research) all I got was articles about how much the top soccer clubs are worth in terms of their brand. Yes, that is branding, but it’s not the branding I was looking for, as Ben Kenobi would say. I’d rather be smacked in the face with information about what it means to play, support, partake, or buy anything Manchester United, Bayern Munich, or Notts County.

Players, managers, supporters, pundits, etc., all say about a legend of a club, “he knew what it meant to play for *~*~*insert club name here*~*~*, without actually saying what it means to play for that club. What does it mean to play for that club? Is it difficult to put into words? Or is there no difference between clubs? Surely there is, because everyone involved in this global game knows there is a difference between clubs besides players, managers, and the name of the club. But what is the difference?

Looking at the clubs at face value, there isn’t much difference aside from location, in my opinion, but a good place to start distinguishing clubs from one another is in Russia. This is where football gets really cool. If we look at the team names in Russia we get to see some pretty interesting names and the origins of those clubs. Just in Moscow we get, CSKA, Spartak, Dinamo, & Lokomotiv. A few others I want to include are Zenit St. Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk (I know it’s in Ukraine but I guess the USSR still counts?) But lets look at the names and what they mean.

CSKA: “Central’nyi Sportivnyi Klub Armii”, which means the Central Sport Club of the Army. i.e. The Red Army.

Spartak: Coming from the founder’s fondness of Spartacus – seen as “an example of the successful fight for the good of ordinary people.” Also seen as the “peoples’ club of Moscow” and originally united workers from the food and tobacco factories.

Dinamo: “is the Russian spelling of the word “dynamo”, which is a machine that transferred kinetic energy into electric power. Originally, when it was founded in 1923, the club was supposed to represent the electricians’ trade union, but was taken over by the NKVD (the Soviet secret police)”.

Lokomotiv: Owned by the Ministry of Transportation.

Zenit: Represented military industry plants.

Shakhtar: Means coal miner (Coal Miners of Donetsk).

These names (signifier) come with the ideas you generate in your brain that you associate with that name (signified), then the signified lay the foundations for the brand. For example, CSKA could be stoic because of the army; Lokomotiv could be durable because of the Ministry of Transportation; and Shakhtar could be gritty because of the coal mining industry.

Now again, I said, “…at face value, there isn’t much difference aside from location.” Which, I’ll reiterate is true, in my opinion. But when looking at the clubs history, there is a difference – its just isn’t exploited enough in this world of mass advertising and branding between companies that are dying to be heard.

Which brings me to Hull City and Cardiff City. Both owners are dying to be heard in an industry that rewards the clubs who succeed and punishes those who don’t (as opposed to the NFL w/ draft picks and strength of schedules). Both owners got backlash with their decisions. Why? Because they were off-brand and the supporters knew it.

That’s the thing. The supporters know what makes their club their club, but I don’t see clubs really showing it. However, one supporter and fellow contributor to One Touch Soccer, Joe Shackley, proved me wrong with his club, Manchester City.

At first, I was one of those people not liking how Manchester City all of a sudden had tons of money and were buying really good players in order to get success right this second. Not only was that not what I stood for as a person, but with some research I found out it wasn’t Manchester City’s way, or not ‘on brand’ for them, either. Manchester City, from my understanding, is the peoples’ club of Manchester. Heck, they’re even called the Citizens.

When digging deeper I found out the club originated as a church team with the purpose to battle gang violence and alcoholism, by giving local men new activities, in east Manchester, specifically Gorton, which was plagued by high unemployment. Now that’s pretty community based and makes total sense for the club to be labeled as the peoples’ club of Manchester. But to me initially, they weren’t being on brand and Joe proved me wrong.

The article he sent me (which you can see here) showed me how Manchester City embraced the city of Manchester by putting their academy and training facilities in the heart of Manchester as opposed to the outskirts of Manchester. They realised it’s important to be in Manchester and interacting with Mancunians every day. They don’t just represent the people of Manchester; they want to be a part of the community, which they seek to improve as well – just like the club originally set out to do. Also, they insist on having several youth players from Manchester. This is all on brand and fantastic.

Now, I think the biggest issue with branding in football is that most clubs don’t show their brand enough. With the above case of Manchester City, they are consistent with their brand but I wouldn’t have known about it unless I did some digging or a buddy sent me an article. It would be good to see some sort of communications from the brand. But it’s not only them.

With some clubs you can kind of guess their brand. Like Liverpool and their brotherly-togetherness with their motto “You’ll never walk alone”. What about other clubs, though? What are Leeds United’s, FC Augsburg’s, Torino’s, Real Betis’, Toronto FC’s, and other clubs’ brands? I suspect the fans of each club could tell you, but could you? Then could you decipher the difference between those clubs other than their location? Is there a difference? Or is there hardly a difference?

The bottom line is I want clubs to say why they’re so awesome and communicate it to people around the world. Maybe someone can unexpectedly support a team because they find part of themselves in the club, believe in the same ethos as the club, or any other reason I can’t think of right now. Isn’t that why people buy into brands versus another brand? Isn’t that why you always buy the same brand over and over again? Then, if the club can communicate their uniqueness I’d want them to run with it from the top down. A good example of that is Southampton.

In a little documentary about Southampton (see here), they talk about the club’s ethos and show their motto is, “We march on”. They continue to show their belief in having faith in youth and their academy. Even when they faced bankruptcy they didn’t cut funding to the academy, “marched on”, and reaped the rewards. What really makes them stand out is that they say they invest the person, not just the skill of the player. Not many clubs can say that, in my opinion. In addition, the club has put in place a style of play that which each manager must be keen or used to playing. They wont change their philosophy to accommodate a manager, again, “marching on.” This is what I’m talking about.

Why can’t each club have a specific way of playing due to their brand and history? There only seems to be a handful of clubs that are brave enough to do that and they all seem to have the closest thing to a ‘brand’. But again, their brand isn’t definitive enough because they don’t communicate it well enough for me.

To sum things up, all football clubs have great potential to be fantastic clubs that draw fans from all over the world. They just have to look within themselves, reflect, and ask the right questions. What do they believe in? Why? How can we show, implement, and communicate this to fans of the game everywhere?

If these questions get asked and then executed I’m sure clubs from England, to Australia, to Brazil, and so forth, can improve in terms of support. I’m not saying you’ll be the next Manchester United or Nike, but you’ll be going in the right direction. Although, my branding teacher did say, “Anyone could be the next Nike… just depends how much money you’ve got”.

So why not try to be the next Nike? Just ask the right questions about yourself, stay true to it, implement, communicate it and hopefully success will come.

Post written by Steven Scott
Blog: One Touch Soccer, Twitter: @OneTouchSoccer

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