In the summer 2011, a friendship match between Manchester United football club and the MLS team (a Football club in the USA) drew 70,000 American fans to the stadium. This is a remarkably impressive figure given that football is not among top favorite sports in this country. Is there any a sound reason? Yes, it is simply attributed to very popular Manchester United brand name with very familiar acronym MU!
People say that MU has become number one football brand because this club has achived many trophies, they have many famous players and they plays a beautiful football.
That rationale is not wrong but not sufficiently convincing. MU had got only three Champion League cups (in 1968, 199 and 2008). Apparently, this achievement is far away from sound profiles of Real Madrid (9 cups), AC Milan (7 cups), Liverpoor and B. Munich (5 cups for each). With respect to the number of super stars, The Red Devil (the nieck-name of MU) is inferior to R. Madrid, FC Barcelona, Chealsea or AC. Milan. How about the philosophy of beautiful football? At present, this association is mostly about Barca (or Arsenal) as Top-of-mind brands rather than MU.
So, why MU is still number one brand?
From branding perspective, a very sound rationale can be found: MU brand has both points of parity that nearly every big club must have and more importantly, this club has very salient points of difference that makes it distinct and unique.
Under pressure of success that is clearly accompanied with money, nowadays football clubs hardly afford to pursue completely philosophy of beautiful football that audience always desires for. At this point, brand MU clearly marks its points of different.
In the summer 2010, Inter Milan – a football machine of “Special one” coach Mourinho achieved a triple (i.e. Championship of Champion League, Italian LeagueSerie A and Intalian Cup Chamionship). What is the impression? Nothing more than a “taking note” that from this time the football statistics indicates that there is another football club having a triple in a season. In contrast, the same event in 1999 when MU also got a triple made international headlines for a long time. At that time, the Red Devil made international “crazy” not just with their trophies but with the playing style they delivered – very dedicating and aesthetic. This club prompted public communication use rhetorics like “MU football style”, “beautiful one-touch football”, etc. that associates to MU brand. Time is going on. Mu has being changing their playing style in a way that is a bit more pragmatic in a favor of wining trophies (admidtedly, big clubs can not exist without trophies). However, that is a important point that MU does not change it core value – they may be pragmatic for an important match but they always keep playing beautifully everytime they can in a sake of audience taste. Further, at that time, MU initiated a super and sexy football play that other club did not have. As a law of pioneering in branding, audience is ingrained with this style that MU has changed a bit but not to extent that screened it out of audience perception. In other words, This MU brand’s core characteristic has been kept intact.
In sport world, the image of a club is naturally associated to its symbolic players. MU brand personality is characterized by its winning passion, aesthetic performance, loyaty and aspiration to be stand-out. Over MU’s development periods, this club has been fortuned to have super-stars players who represent these distinctive personalities – they are Bobby Robson, E. Cantona, R. Kean, R. Giggs (in the past) and W. Rooney (at present). By all means, there are other talented football players in this world but very few of them can be loyal to a club and most importantly, when they have become a symbol of their club, their personality fits very well clubs’ football philosophy and brand image. Believe me, when C. Ronaldo (There is no doubt that he is more talented than W. Rooney) left MU to joint R. Madrid, it did not make many fans of Red Devil sad and cry. Apparently, C. Ronaldo’s heart does not belong to MU and this super star’s character (e.g. glossy appearance, slyness, etc) is a mismatch to MU’s brand image. Similarily, the publish backlash has been triggered when Mourinho – a superbly talented football coach who is typically pragmatic with his coaching method revealed that he want to be a coach to MU. The dissent comes from fear that Mourinho, sooner and later, will dilute MU’s brand personality.
For consecutive 6 years, MU brand has being holding its number one among strongest brands in football (the ranking of Fober magazine in 2010). That is hard to have an satisfactory and comprehensive justification. However, it seems to be reasonable from branding mamangement angle – points of parity and points of difference.