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Why Arsenal’s marketing strategy isn’t just about the football

Why Arsenal’s marketing strategy isn’t just about the football

By UTalkMarketing's Melinda Varley

A recent poll by MSN Money showed football ranked fourth as one of the top ten British exports according to the international community. We sat with Angus Kinnear, UK head of marketing for Arsenal, one of the top four teams in the Premier League, to find out why.

Football has such a long heritage in UK and is probably the best league in the world, especially since the advent of the Premiership. It has attracted players from all over the world and values skill and ability.

Moreover, people have a passion for the game. That combined with its heritage makes it one of the most exciting sports in the world. So how do you market an individual football team to an international community of football fans?

Kinnear said, “We are very aware that fans make their decision about football brands at an early age. Most people, especially in the UK, will choose their team based on loyalty. If your father supports Arsenal it’d be a struggle to break away from it.”
Since the advent of the Premiership, people have fallen for football because they are wooed by the glamour of the game, according to Kinnear.

He said, “A club like Arsenal – one of the ‘big four’ teams – also counts on its high profile. People will follow the team because its quality is much higher. The players are bigger and better and its seriousness is shown in the quality of their home grounds also – Emirates Stadium.”

Emirates Stadium is the grand new home ground of the Arsenal Football Club. Costing a massive £430 million, it is a stone’s throw away from the team’s prior residence in Highbury, which is currently being redeveloped into luxury flats.

The new stadium seats up to 60,000 fans and boasts great transport links (some 90 per cent of punters come to matches via public transport), restaurants, bars, shops and of course, the Arsenal museum – all of which are key to the club’s marketing strategy.

“One of the things we have to consider in our marketing strategy is building revenues outside the season and on non-match days. Emirates Stadium allows us to host other events such as conferencing and music concerts,” explains Kinnear. “This year we hosted the auditions for the X Factor and Bruce Springsteen played in concert here over two days generating revenue and publicity.”

The stadium also hosts tours for fans on non-match days. Today, a mild Tuesday afternoon in August, the stadium is swarming with tourists dressed from head to toe in Arsenal apparel.

Kinnear said, “Last year we had 110,000 people take a tour of stadium and come through the museum. Some of the tours are given by ex-players - who can tell you stories about what it was like to play for the club – that adds real value for the fans.”

Maintaining revenue streams for the club outside the season is one of the key challenges for the Arsenal marketing team. Despite each match played at Emirates Stadium generating £3 million in revenue from ticketing alone, the team only play at the stadium on average 28 days of the year. 

“We do rely on non-season events to keep our revenue streams flowing throughout the year. Recently we hosted a pre-season tournament where Arsenal, Real Madrid and a few other international teams. We try to start revenue generating activity as early as possible – this also gets fans excited for the start of a new season.”

Arsenal Football Club has more than 200,000 paid members, which is the biggest paid for membership for a football club in the world. To keep these members and supporters, Kinnear says it’s important to keep in regular contact.

The club puts emphasis on its pre-season membership and loyalty scheme through direct mail and via website.

He said, “It has been really important for us to talk to our members and stay loyal to them. It’s also important that we deal tickets out fairly too and the best way to do this is via our membership scheme online.

“We’ve already sold out for every match this coming season, so it’s important we constantly communicate with our members and supporters to let them know we appreciate their loyalty.”

Being one of Britain’s most recognisable exports, football is attracting a lot of attention outside Europe. Since David Beckham’s move to the United States, the big four teams, which consist of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, have had increased interest.

“What we’ve found in the international markets is that a lot of attention is driven by success,” Kinnear explains, “But the challenge that we have internationally is the team doesn’t play there.”

To reach audiences in international markets, Arsenal uses it sponsors to create partnerships relevant to that area – whether it be in Thailand or the Middle East – that can make the Arsenal messages local.
“Through our international marketing schemes, we have found we can influence people’s choice when it comes to following a team,” explains Kinnear.

But the club chooses its sponsors wisely. The model for football teams choosing sponsors has somewhat changed in the past decade or two. In the 1980s sponsors would take on sponsorship of a team because the CEO was a supporter and wanted to help them out. Now days, sponsorship has much more of a business strategy behind it.

“When we look at sponsors, what we try to move the sponsorship model away from is just attracting sponsors who happen to support to the club. What we want our sponsors to see is this is an advantageous commercial decision and that the sponsorship pays out.

“We try to find sponsors that have a decent brand fit with us and we’ll choose sponsors with premium brands and an international presence as we want sponsors who’ll work with us to build our brands internationally,” he enthuses.

Kinnear said Arsenal’s sponsors such as O2 and Emirates, invest their money because they know it’ll return dividends in terms of growing their market share.

The business model for Arsenal differs somewhat compared to other clubs as the club relies on its membership schemes and the recruitment of new fans.

The club runs a membership tier for under 16s called Junior Gunners that encourages youngsters between five and 16 to play. The club also offers a soccer school programme, which teaches soccer in the community the way that the Arsenal team is coached.

“One of our challenges is delivering against all different fans groups from kids to middle-class to rich people,” says Kinnear.

Games will be sold out to members months in advance making it near impossible for non-paying supporters to attend games. But for £25,000, the avid fan can join the Diamond Club which includes seats at every home game as well as your own bar, restaurant and food supplied by French chef Raymond Blanc.

Compared to other business models, Arsenal’s key objective is to be self sufficient.

“Chelsea are lucky as they have a benefactor who is prepared to invest a lot of money in the team. Our model is to generate revenue that will allow us to compete at the highest level.

“Our marketing is focused on driving loyalty of supporters, attracting new supporters and creating a broad range of products and services to meet our supporters’ needs.”

The main challenge in the football market is trying to insulate the business model from the performance on the pitch.

When the team is going brilliantly in the rankings and the competition it’s easy to generate revenue. However, if the team has a bad season or two it can become very difficult to encourage supporters to spend their money on the team.

What Arsenal has done is create a model that is still delivering revenue even if the team isn’t doing so well. .

Kinnear explains, “We created an environment where people can enjoy the game, the hospitality and the concessions. Arsenal is easy to get to and easy to get out of and while football is the most important thing, it’s also about having a great day out.”

Arsenal kicks off the 2008 season on August 16. The match is already sold out. For more information check out the teams website here.

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