Apart from being professional football players, what have Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Mesut Ozil, Neymar, Antoine Griezeman and Cesc Fabregas all got in common?
They each acquired more social followers this week than the clubs that they play for. Infact, this is a small sample of where the star players within the squad are driving higher acquisition and engagement across the key social channels than their employers.
Clubs should embrace and accept that a number of their stellar talent have such incredible reach and influence that renegotiation of contracts should now start to include commercial and image right options.
Mesut Ozil’s relationship with Mercedes Benz, has been so powerful that the German car maker is the second most discussed brand related to Arsenal in the past month (after Emirates). Citroen (AFC’s autumobile partner) was nowhere to be seen.
There remains an insistence for brands to want to enter into commercial partnerships with clubs. While I understand the rationale for brands to be associated with the club crest – you cannot get away from the fact that the global social reach of footballers is growing at an exponential rate.
Since the start of 2016, the top 20 most followed footballers in the world have acquired more than 270M fans across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with the latter taking the lion’s share (180M).
Over the next few years, the mid-20 year olds with a daily growth of fans, including the likes of Neymar, Gotze, Hazard, Pogba, Ramsey – as well as the U21’s coming through to global resonance, such as Dele, Rashford, Martial and Sanches must be seen by clubs as an important accelerator and catalyst for driving fan acquisition.
I’ve heard football clubs say that (first and foremost) they’re a football club and not a brand. Personally speaking, I think that’s old-school thinking. How many other brands in the world do you swear allegiance to, whilst passionately interacting, spending and dialoguing from 8 to 80 years of age?
The prioritisation of signing new players, or renewal of existing players must be based on their on-pitch ability; but I do believe that over the next five years, we will start to see the off-pitch value and commerciality come into play more than ever before.
Questions I see being asked in the near future include: Does a player allow me to reach a new audience in a key market? Can a player’s off-pitch strength help me with a commercial partnership I need to get over the line? Will I add an extra £M to the bottom line by purchasing the image rights of this globally relevant brand on two legs?
So, while we might be seeing broadcast figures dwindle thus far, the opposite can be said for player brand power and influence. It’s a perfect time for brands to embrace the opportunity and think smarter about where and with who they spend their dollars.