Brands love to be the number one in the marketplace due to several certain benefits. Customers are sometimes willing to pay the high price to get No.1 things. Because the number one means the best and the most trendy (even it may be not sometimes). All activities of the number one can be considered as a benchmark for others to follow. In short, it’s desirable to be the number one.
English football has been witnessing such a number one. His name is Red Devil – a very desirable name to the rest of England except for a half citizen of Manchester industrial city. Premier League is 20 years old but he has already won 12 championship. The largest and most beautiful stadium is also his. He also possesses 7 out of 11 positions in the typical team of Premier League. Every of his moves will hit the headlines. Competitors all hate MU but they really like to versus him simply because if they can defeat MU, they will be complimented for the whole week. A free PR way that fuels any club to manage to win MU with the hope that they will be on the first page of traditional press such as BBC, The Guardian or even tabloids like The Mirror or Telegraph. In another words, even in years when they failed to be the champion, MU still got benefits from the gift of perceived to be the invincible number one.
Unfortunately, the situation has being changed so fast. The 2013-2014 season of Premier League has only gone to one third of the journey; however, Man United, for the first time of their glorious life, feels lack of oxygen in summit of being number one. Yes, the troop of David Moyes is truly the number one (the champion of 2012-2013 season, 21 years of championship in English football). But, also for the first time, the number one feel tired of this title.
For the first time, MU has been helpless to see how “little kids” like Norwich or Southampton made jokes over them in their own playground. They felt hurt but could do nothing. For the first time, the number one could not afford to prevent their familiar losers like Everton or Newcastle from earning scores on their Old Trafford stage.
There are always ups and down in one’s life. MU has experienced many failures; however, they have never felt so lonely and weak in the recent failures. The first time, competitors are not afraid of facing them but scorn them. In past, anyone felt scared of MU but now MU seems to be scared of anyone. And the most painful thing was to see groups of fans standing up to go home while the match had not come to the end.
These days, the Red Devil wishes that everyone did not keep track of them and judge them upon the current champion title. Just give them some time to stay calm, to recover and to continue the fierce rally in the coming Christmas and New Year.
Dreams are just dreams. In his heart, Moyes knows that the more glory they have, the more criticism they will receive. The bigger hope, the bigger disappointment. Once they wear the crown, they must accept the fierce judge of the game. The time has changed.
In the past, Sir Alex had 2-3 first years of failures because MU’s position at that time is not the number one. Today, Moyes inherits a huge heritage of the most valuable global brand; therefore, he is not allowed to have such a huge time budget. In fact, he has already exceeded the acceptable quota. He has broken many records created by Sir Alex. Moyes seems not to be forced to maintain the champion crown in his first and maybe even second season.
However, there is one thing Moyes must never lose: the credibility of the number one. Unfortunately, this seems to be an impossible mission to this miserable-like Scottish man. Perhaps, it results from the mind of “Top 8” that he is too familiar after 11 years as the coach of Everton. And, he seems also not to be lonely in this aspect.
In an announcement before the match MU lost Everton by 1-0 in their own stadium in Premier Laegue, the deputy chairman Ed Woodward said that “There are still lots of relationship and interest for the club. In fact, you are unable to win all the time. Let’s have a look at Liverpool. They can sell a surprising number of football shirts and hold the second position in Premier League. They still have big partners though they have not win any Premier League trophy since 1990.”
This is surely not the way that the number ones always have in their mind. If MU “looks down” to console the weakness (even temporary), one day their wish would come true: no title in many consecutive years.
Certainly, the number one may not win all the time. But even in failures, the number one should not be in the shape of a loser – weak and scared. Dear Sir Ed Woodward, did you watch all MU’s matches this season? Did you know that “the king of reversal” now becomes “the king of being reversed”? Why do your room smother with pile of sponsorship contracts in 2013? That is due to the prestige of No.1 MU built by Sir Alex in the past 25 years. Frankly, if MU keeps Sir Ed Woodward’s mindset, MU should prepare to say goodbye to substantial sponsorship contracts. In this competitive context, today’s number one can disappear tomorrow. If you want to be in the middle of the ranking chart from year to year, it’s fine. But remember that it is not the mindset of the number one like MU.
In 1999, Nottingham Forest (an unfamiliar name in Vietnam) was downgraded. At the end of the final match, 5-year-old Jimmy Clark asked his father, a loyal fan of Nottingham, who bursted into tears while waving the players: Daddy, why don’t you support MU so that you don’t have to cry? They had so may trophies and play beautifully. Mr. Clark silently smiled to his son: No, my dear. For us, Nottingham is always the sexiest team.
The number of MU’s fans in the world is over 600 million people (as Kantar Media’s statistics in 2012), which means one in every 10 people is MU’s fan (of course, there are various definitions of a true fan). Assume that one day MU is downgraded like Nottingham Forest, how many people will stay by their side, shed tears and proudly say that: For me, MU is always the only and best love? MU should bear in their minds that once they are familiar with victory, it is difficult for them to live with failures. The loyalty, therefore, will be fainter, especially for predictable failures before the end. How “unfair” it is to the number one brand! But, they have no way but get along with this reality.
No one calls the number one brand “the plight of number one”. When achieving such a desirable position, people often call “the status of number one”.
MU has had a very long history in which they are always acknowledge as the number one. This is really convincing and undoubtful in both match records and brand power. Unfortunately, they are in the verge of shifting from the “status” into “plight”. Old Trafford will continue being “The theatre of dreams” but these dreams are maybe the dreams of visitors like the way Norwich, Everton or Newcastle have experienced recently.
What a risk, from perspective of match records and brand power.
We can temporarily call this “a risk” instead of a fact because MU has another two third of the journey to change its destination. Whether they can do or not depends on who they can buy in the next transfer season in January. But at first, the upper infrastructure (managers & coach) must think in the number one manner.
Like the former generations did excellently in the past 25 years.
Nguyen Duc Son
Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates