The business of branding football

When the Italian football giants Juventus unveiled its new identity and badge and to say it was slightly controversial is a bit of an understatement.

Cue condemnation from the worldwide footballing community, well Twitter anyway, but guess what … the new badge goes ahead regardless.

But why did they do it?

Club officials insist that the new identity is a symbol of living the ‘Juventus way’. It’s about modernising the brand that surrounds the club as they move forward with a sense of belonging to the Juventus family and its core values. That’s what club officials had to say, but of what would any club say who are brave enough to mess with the sacred symbol of a football club?

Here’s our take on it. Juventus are already one of the biggest footballing names in Italy but if they are to expand as a business then surely they have to look at other international markets, particularly markets that don’t already have their own established leagues.

The likes of Asia and America are prime targets not just for Juventus but also for the other European power clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and West Ham (it’s my article so I’m including them). It’s not just about selling shirts to a few more fans. These clubs need to broaden their appeal to attract wider TV audiences and an increased level of commercial deals and as with any global business the ‘brand’ is at the very heart of everything.

Clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and of course West Ham have all adopted more comprehensive brand strategies with cleaner, less fussy logomarks in recent years. The broader global appeal has brought bigger budgets for better players and in turn more trophies (well maybe Arsenal wasn’t such a good example). Joking aside this suggests that the globalisation of football brands does actually work.

The more comprehensive approaching to the branding of European sports brands undoubtedly owes something to the US way of thinking and where the NFL and the MLB lead, the likes of cricket in India follows with the IPL as does football in China with the Superleague.

It’s not a surprise that it’s the established British clubs that adopt this type of strategy as they’re the ones that already have a stronger brand heritage to build on.

This more strategic approach to football clubs as brands of course doesn’t often go down too well with the hard-core of supporters who attend week in and week out.

When they embarked on a clear strategy to position themselves as the definitive Welsh club, Cardiff changed their colours from blue to red and dropped the bluebird for a dragon. You can see the logic of it for foreign markets but it was a step too far and eventually, the club was forced to accept that their approach had alienated a core stakeholder in the club.

The only question that remains is how possible is it for clubs to balance the strategic need for change on one side and the heritage and traditions that fans often hold so dear on the other but then again the same fans that will bark at change will bark just as loudly if their team under-perform in the transfer market.

Don’t get us wrong, we really like the new approach for Juventus and in fact, it embraces the very same ethos of bravery that we as a company have at the very heart of all of our creative thinking.

So what is the lesson to be taken through to your next branding programme? Simply, even if you’re looking to target new markets, don’t forget to consider the loyal brand advocates you already have.