Last week, The Drum published an article on the brand value that Premier League footballers possess, and how that value has changed since the start of the new Premier League season.
The article was based on the Brandtix sports index, which measures the brand value of footballers based on the player’s performance (using Opta stats) and the reaction that the player gets on social media (across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).
What Brandtix’s figures showed was that Joe Hart, the Manchester City and England goalkeeper who is currently being sidelined by new manager Pep Guardiola, has lost quite a bit of his brand value. 52% of the social media reaction to the goalkeeper and his current situation is negative, according to the index, whilst his recent performances haven’t been scoring him points.
Whilst this is hardly surprising – Hart had a terrible Euro 2016 campaign where he was at fault for two goals England conceded and is being kept in the cold by his new club manager, too – it does show how transitory success is for a footballer, and how the public can turn on one player in particular. It also shows how those doing well in the index are also being singled out specifically by the public.
But whilst the Brandtix index is interesting and certainly something to keep an eye on over the course of the season, it’s not the main takeaway from the article – or at least it shouldn’t be.
The input from Misha Sher, the head of sport and entertainment at media agency Mediacom hits on a much bigger point, and something that underpins the whole idea of having a brand index based on footballers.
Sher told The Drum, ‘”Football fans in China tend to follow and support players rather than the teams. That’s why it’s important for clubs and brands to understand which players are popular in a particular region and that’s what the Brandtix data can show them,”
Football is – to state the bleedin’ obvious – a team sport, so maybe the question shouldn’t be ‘which players are doing well in the index?’, but rather, ‘why do we have an index to measure the brand value of individual footballers in the first place?’
The answer, as Sher says, is that there is a growing trend, especially in football’s ‘emerging markets’, to follow the careers of individual players, to ‘support’ a player or even a manager, rather than supporting a team.
It probably seems like a strange idea to a British audience who have grown up supporting only one team, but there are fans of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in Tennis, and of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in golf. Football may be a team game, but that doesn’t stop the casual fan from supporting one player in particular, especially when the culture around the sport is so much different in certain parts of the world. If you have no club loyalty, player loyalty does at least make sense.
What Sher is saying is, essentially, that clubs should be more savvy about their own brand when it comes to aligning with the players who have their own particular brands and who do well in certain geographical areas. If you want to grow your business – any business – in say China, you’d probably want to look into things that popular in that country.
It’s that sort of thinking that underpins the signing of Paul Pogba at Manchester United. It may or may not be the case that he’s a big star in China or the USA, for example, but he’s definitely a marketable figure – something that Adidas have already discovered.
The amount of attention that Paul Pogba’s arrival in the Premier League as garnered, coupled with the media coverage of the arrival of managers like Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp over the past few months shows the individualism that is creeping into football.
Football clubs represent unique opportunities for sponsors: they come with ready-made masses of adoring fans and possess a level of trust with their fan base that no brand could ever hope to replicate. That’s crucial for advertising. But it seems that players are starting to come with these armies of loyal fans, too.
And that means it’s not just the sponsors who will be clamouring for players signatures for their own marketing reasons – clubs will be, too.