Guest Blog: A Brand Analysis - Manchester United
Guest post by Caio Henrique.

As part of his Brand Management Degree at the University of Lincoln, Caio Henrique specialised in looking at the role that effective branding plays within the sports and leisure sector. In this article, he took the example of Manchester United and explored in detail, how various branding efforts have contributed to the overall success of this major football club.

Merson Group have experience of delivering branded environments for a range of sports facilities, with projects varying from the London 2012 Olympic Games, Derby Velodrome, a multi-use arena and cycling complex, and more recently the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

We are delighted to share Caio’s expertise on this topic, particularly because he explores the importance that the stadium plays as part of the overall brand connection with the supporters.

A Brand Analysis: Manchester United

Manchester United FC is considered one of the most successful clubs in English football. Through its 136 years history, the club have won 62 trophies, including the national record of 20 English League titles (, 2015). Also, the club is known worldwide for their success in leagues like UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. This success is support by their global community of 659 million followers, all around the globe (, 2015). In addition to all that, Manchester United is the third most valuable brand in the football market, just losing out to the German team Bayer Munich and the Spanish club Real Madrid FC.

This essay aims to see the strategy taken by a football club, in this case Manchester United FC, to become a successful corporative brand. From being more than just a local influential club, but a company that not just thinks in winning titles, but also makes profit and influences their followers. To understand this event, this essay will try to show how the corporative understanding of branding is applied in institutions like sport clubs and how the mentality in this field has changed through the decades. Also, it will analyse why and how football clubs became some of the most values brands in the world. In addition, the marketing strategies to raise their supporters and in consequence their profit will also be evaluated.

What is a Brand?
The modern concept of branding was starting to be shaped a long time ago. With the advent of fabrics during the First Industrial Revolution, the world was full of products with very similar appearances. “Competitive branding became a necessity of the machine age — within a context of manufactured sameness, image-based difference had to be manufactured along with the product” (Klein, 2000). The necessity to differ one company product from the other was where the brand notion was first applied. This is the first basic characteristic that forms the concept of brand.

The second was brought by the advertisement. Before the industrial revolution, ads were used as an informational bulletin on the latest invention. After, it was used to shape the image of the brand. It was the principal channel of communication between corporation and consumer. With a name and an image, the advertisements started to create a personality to a brand.

Through the decades, the concept of brand just like we know today was getting more and more complex. In the 20’s the idea of corporation been “persons” and have “souls” was created, and was in the 40’s terms like “brand essence” and “corporative consciousness” were coined. Consumers could no longer differentiate products without a brand on it, and the agencies noticed that. Brands do not just differ one product from another anymore, they have values and are presented as persons. They have and show feelings.

Since the 1990’s, corporations like Nike and Starbucks started to see themselves selling a lifestyle, an experience, not just running shoes or a cup of coffee. Consumers could drink a cup of coffee in their house, but the experience of drinking a cup of coffee in a Starbucks was different, at least in a psychological and/or anthropological examination. Advertisements can make a corporation temporal, because it can adapt their brand identity through generations. They have the power that can make a company as old as Coca-Cola to appear like a twenty-year-old adult that is concerned about the environment. Propaganda can give new personalities to old faces.

“Brand is the promise, the big idea, and the expectations that reside in each customer’s mind about a product, service, or company. People fall in love with brands, trust them, develop strong loyalties to them, buy them, and believe in their superiority. The brand is shorthand. It stands for something” (Wheeler, 2006).

It was not strange that this concept of a brand left the business scope, and began appearing in other organisation types. The sport sector was one of those.

Sport Clubs as Brands
Manchester United FC was founded in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR Football Club by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways (LYR). 1902, it became the Manchester United FC that we know today. The club was the second football team to enter in to the London Stock Exchange in 1991, quickly becoming one of the most valuable brands in the sport business. A lot of different elements can be pointed out to understand the success and the awareness that the brand Manchester United FC has around the world, here we will look into some.

In the early 90’s, football started to be seen as a new platform in the entertainment business. What was once just a sport, started to become more aware of the influence that they had on their supporters and the financial potential it represented. Since the 60’s Manchester United FC figured on the football international stage, but was just in the last decades that they started to explore it. It started with a rebranding of it is identity in 2001, by the brand agency Springetts. “Manchester United used to just signify a football club. That was in the days before the organisation saw its true potential as an international leisure business” (Dowdy, 2003).

This change in mentality began to drive them on their journey of being more than just a local football club, to becoming a huge, international brand. The desire to open their own café, the Red Café, in places other than on their Old Trafford stadium was the first step into making profit through all their worldwide supporters.

Unlike companies like Starbucks and McDonalds, football clubs have a different kind of connection with people. The identification of a fan with your loved club is often linked with an emotional state than with rational ones. Sometimes fans of a team support it because of a family bond, or because a star player plays in it, or because they feel like a part of a community. Football clubs have this magic that many brands try to make with costumers through advertisements and products.

The Stadium
In the hyper real era of brands, the companies want to relate their image to emotions. When we talk about the relationship between football clubs and their supporters, it's difficult to exactly decide what motivates someone to support, for example, Manchester United instead of Manchester City. One thing is certain: the football pit has a decisive importance in the choosing, since it's the place where emotions are trigged. 

Imagine standing in the middle of the Kop stand at Anfield during a match between Liverpool and Everton. The chants make your heart bump, the anger for a missing goal makes you shout, the happiness for the goal in the last minute makes you laugh and sing and hug everybody by your side. The football field is this sacred place where different groups of people put their faith in something common, and faith involves a lot of human feelings and imagination. Brands, when put in the pit side-lines or in the Stadium name, are not just for show, it is their attempt to attach to this feeling, this faith that supporters have with their loved club to the magic game that is football.

“Think Local, Act Global”
Manchester United FC, as a brand, has more potential to sell something to their supporters than most other corporative brands. Just like referenced earlier, brands are almost like people, they have a soul and identity. Football clubs have it too. Football, more than any other sector, have fans that have this blind faith, and almost unreasonable expectations by their chosen team. The emotional bond between supporters and club outstrips the level of involvement that most consumers have with their favourite brand or service (Bridgewater, 2010). If a person supports Manchester United FC, almost never will they will change their mind and support another club, even if their team of choice suffers from consecutive relegations.

To be seen as a global brand, Manchester United had to change the way they done business. “Think local, act global” (, 2015) started to be the new approach. Football players play a huge role in this. For a lot of people how are passionate about this sport, these players are like heroes, an inspiration to be followed.

In July 2005, Manchester United signed the south Korean football player Park Ji-sung. He was the second Asian to play in the club. We can see this strategy in two different ways: one is that his talent was recognised by the club manager in that time, Sir Alex Ferguson, as an important player for the team; the second one is that he was an important marketing movement to collect supporters in Asia. “Think local, act global” was in action. Later, after the retirement of this player in 2014, he became the Manchester United FC ambassador in Asia.

“Football clubs attract global levels of support. Football clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, and AC Milan, at a league level the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga, and at an individual level players such as Kaká, Ronaldo, and Ji-Sung Park, all have significant numbers of fans in all parts of the world” (Bridgewater, 2010).

Footballers can be an open door for new supporters, for new consumers. Manchester United FC in 2014, played a series of games in the United States. This country has one of the most profitable sports leagues, Major League Soccer (MLS) and American Football (NFL) with a high consumer potential. Preseason fixtures started to be used to bring closer the club to their worldwide supporters. It is a marketing strategy. “Think local, act global”.

This internationalisation of a club can sometimes be harmful. In 2005, Manchester United was bought by the American investor Malcolm Glazer, who already own a NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This movement brought some unpleasantness for some part of the local supporters of the club, making them create a new football club, the FC United for Manchester. It was the loss of identification with the club that led to this move.

Manchester United FC is the third most valuable football brand in the world, having a brand value of 739 million dollars (Statista, 2015). In numbers, the 2014 revenue of the club was £433m, divided into three major segments: Match day, £108 million (25%); Broadcasting, £136 million (31%); and Commercial, £189 million (44%). Sponsorship is one of the most valuable aspects with £176 million coming directly from different sponsors who pay to have their brand linked with the Manchester United brand (, 2015).

Beside the revenues of sponsorships and TV broadcast, merchandising is one of the most important things in the clubs’ image. They have a vital importance to promote the club, making the brand look real, and not just an idea. With products that go from t-shirts to beer glasses, they are like little parts of the club that the supporters can take home. They are products to reinforce the connection between the club and the fan. And not just products, but services too. The desire to open the Red Café in different parts of the globe was the first idea to make the Manchester United a global brand. But it did not stop there. Megastores, banks, internet channels, everything is related to the club’s brand, making it strong and present in every aspect of the fans life.

The club invest this profit through improvements to their facilities, staff, and in hiring new players to strengthen the team. Stronger teams represent more titles, more titles represent more revenue and supporters and sponsors want to be part of this journey.
Manchester United has the largest jersey sponsorship in the football world. In 2012, the American automobile company Chevrolet signed a contract with an annual value of £49.2m. Another important brand to have links with Manchester United is Adidas. To use the club’s image in retail, e-commerce, mono brand products and soccer schools, they will pay £75m per year. This corporations uses the club image as a platform to reach different consumer markets. They use the Manchester United FC brand to aggregate the club values with the corporate ones.

Manchester United FC is one of the most influential and strong brands in the sports market. Their strategies not only have the ability to collect new supporters, but in the long run, turn these supporters into consumers, that buy everything related with the club to support their passion: Manchester United FC.

With the strategy to “Think local, act global”, Manchester United can influence a wide fan base, from local supporters to global spectators alike. Sponsors want to be linked to the club’s image, an image that can turn these supporters into consumers for these brands, like the Adidas and Chevrolet examples. Football clubs’ brands are one of the most persuasive brands in the world. They are emotionally bound to their followers and for as long as the results on the field are coming, the fans do not have anything to complain about.

We would like to thank Caio Henrique for your insight on this topic.