inkfactory_bmachiWhile watching the Cubs (famous for their 108-year frustrated quest for a World Series title) in Game 2 of the NLCS, I sat down to write this blog about another sports team with a long and unique history. They like to call themselves the “No. 1 club in the world” — and, as it turns out, that’s not hyperbole. With 659 million fans and more retweets than the Pope and Dalai Lama combined, the 138-year-old Manchester United Football Club is indeed the world’s home team.

Tom Hill, head of partnerships and operations for Manchester United, was the keynote speaker at October’s BMA Chicago luncheon. Tom shared an insider’s view of this amazing team’s sales and marketing operations. Valued at $3.5 billion, the team is a bigger business than most companies in the world. To put the scale of their reach in context, the NFL connects with only 7% of its fans outside the United States. Manchester United connects with 85% of its fans outside the United Kingdom. Therein lies the attraction for the 60 corporate brands currently partnering with “Man U.” When the average game audience is 50 million — delivering the media equivalent of the Super Bowl every week — it’s easy to understand the pull.

Tom shared how Manchester United’s business model has evolved over the past 10 years. In the past, club revenue came from three relatively equal sources: one-third each from broadcasting, ticket sales and commercial sponsorships. Today, partnerships represent over half the club’s revenue, forming its biggest area of growth. Retail and merchandising follow naturally. And if you didn’t catch the language shift from “sponsorship” to “partnership,” allow me to highlight that for you. This strategic change has greatly enhanced the brand and club’s marketing efforts, as well as the resulting growth of the program.

Manchester United believes it is the No. 1 marketing platform in the world due to:

  • High brand affinity
  • Global reach and media visibility
  • Unique access to players and the venue
  • Incredible marketing support and global activations

The secret appears to be a proactive formula designed to make the partnership a success for everyone. It starts with the correct wording: partnership, not sponsorship. Tom spoke of customized engagement strategies and a particular focus on building a successful track record with the club’s partners. Brands must activate — they can’t just sign up for a partnership and sit on it.

Multifaceted marketing programs to engage a brand’s stakeholders are very successful because of the effort put into the program. They maximize the program’s impact through joint club and partner brand objectives, credible and authentic engagements, relationship-building and flexible strategies. Interestingly, partners even end up doing business with each other. While Tom did not share the revenue generated by the partnering brands, he did say that they keep coming back for more because it works — and by “it works,” he meant it delivers real business impact as measured by those brands.

So, as I wrap up this blog post, the Cubs have just lost Game 2. It reminds me of when audience members at the luncheon asked Tom if a losing season was problematic for program results. “Not at all,” he said. And it makes me think of the Cubs — whose fans are there, win or lose, year after year. The power of sports marketing is often overlooked in an age of virtual and digital engagement, but in the end, the feeling a fan gets experiencing a win is universal, whether it be the Champions League or the World Series.

So who is the No. 1 sports team in the world? The fans of every team will tell you it’s theirs. What brand wouldn’t want to tap into that energy? #FlyTheW

P.S. Did you notice the interesting graphic accompanying this blog? We’re pleased to have worked with Ink Factory Studio to capture all the highlights from the presentation. Enjoy!