A few thoughts on marketing rather than pure accounts today.
Accounts, of course, are a measure of what a company did in the past and we shall see soon how Mr Cellino did in his final year. However, what concerns me now is future strategy of the club and in particular marketing strategy.
Most of us will remember how Gerald Ratner destroyed his family business by speaking out loud a few well-known truths: The business had built a reputation that its goods bestowed beauty on its wearers and in doing so imparted value to the products; his revelation one ominous night that the jewellery was “crap” wasn’t a revelation to many but it burst a bubble with their customers, a marketing bubble often called a brand.
A brand is a not merely an image, a colour or a slogan but an emotion: Sometimes the emotion is weak, such as when we have to decide which breakfast cereal to buy – the cheap packet or the packet that for some unknown reason we trust is free of additives and healthier for our children; other times the emotion is strong – a small economical car or a Ferrari.
Branding a provincial football club isn’t easy but will often include traditional local symbols such as the City’s coat of arms or the symbol of the county the club is in. Many local football clubs include the Yorkshire Rose to fix their location firmly in the minds of local people; the North Yorkshire Police want to appear friendly to Yorkshire folk and also use the White Rose, as does the Leeds shopping mall, Sheffield United, Doncaster FC etc and they are all happily covered by the familiar Yorkshire Ridings White Rose flag.
Local branding like this has served many club’s and organisations well in the past but it not well suited to bigger clubs branching out onto the worldwide football arena.
The importance of the branding, the emotion, when one thinks of Leeds United Football Club is brought to the fore with today’s announcement of the sale of most of the TV packages for the EPL. The currently announced deals represent a fall in revenue but the two packages still being negotiated are significant since they are likely to be taken by newcomers to the EPL market and provide the football coverage purely by streaming matches worldwide.
It is not yet clear what deals have been done for Asian or American markets, especially the streaming rights, over coming years but one thing we do know: Most of the Asian and American viewers are on pay per view for sport and the media companies only get revenue (via advertising and sponsorship) if their match is actually watched.
There was a time when the music industry fought to prevent their product being copied and streamed to everyone for free but they eventually realised the best approach was to make streaming legal and monetise it. The same is happening now with football streaming; the power of streaming servers is increasing and costs are falling rapidly making widespread distribution both feasible and profitable.
The riches that media companies seek abroad will come from viewers forming bonds with a club and watching their matches, shirt manufacturers only want a licence deal with those club’s who are being watched, TV and streaming advertisers only want to pay for adverts on popular channels; money only flows around popular clubs and popular clubs must be liked and easily recognised to be watched.
This then is the key to the physical image that Leeds United must project: First and foremost a clear and inviting image that the viewer knows is Leeds United. Have a look on Google at successful top English football emblems: most have the club’s name written in full so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind who the club is: The objective is to make sure that everyone, including if necessary a recently landed alien, can recognise the words Leeds United as different to Manchester United or Arsenal. (EDIT: Man City also used to have initials in their badge but even they recently changed badge design to spell out their name in full).
Secondly, the image we must project is colour. It has been well known for many years that when products become similar they get referred to by their colour: The blue car crashed into the red car; the man in the green coat hit the man in the grey coat, etc.
Colours are not only significant in being noticed, they carry emotion with them: Red is a significant colour in the animal kingdom and is used to convey strength and power, it gets creatures noticed for mating or frightens enemies – even Chelsea with their traditional blue colours include red in their badge!
Colour around the world conveys more than just strength and power as colours are viewed as lucky or otherwise across the globe. White for virtuous, blue for calm wisdom and red for anger and aggression are some of the links around the world.
Then of course comes symbolism: We know Don Revie thought some birds unlucky and that thought is shared around the world. Owls in particular are considered unlucky in Asia but Peacocks are not – their powerful, strutting attitude is something to be associated with rather than feared.
For Leeds United to be successful financially across the global football market we must choose an image that conveys deep and powerful emotions to us all – not just the local fans who would really prefer the image to be whatever the image was when we first started supporting.
I don’t like the Smiley badge or the current shield and think the provincial Rose based designs are not right for the club going forward. I don’t have any suggestions for imagery other than the Peacock but that is not my point – I’m happy to pass that over to others with design abilities which will hopefully be within my thoughts here.
The final point about the image that we must convey to ensure the emotion is present in TV viewers goes further than anything we can paint onto canvas – we need to convey an attitude: An attitude conveyed by not just the team but the fans as well. In Don Revie’s day we were loved and hated around Europe for our skill, aggression and bad fortune, O’Leary’s babes were loved almost everywhere for being underdogs yet followed around Europe by half the City, today our fans are recognised by our numbers, our commitment.
We supporters are still “Marching On Together”, we need a team that will “Keep Fighting” and an emblem that fans around the world, whatever their mother tongue, can look at and instantly see means Leeds United and brings out the emotions we feel at every match we roll up to.
Mike Thornton 14th February 2018