I watched my team, Liverpool FC, play Chelsea in the English Premier League in the wee hours of this morning. It was a sad end to the season for one of the proudest clubs, may I suggest 'brands', in world football.
Football clubs provide great insight into the brand balance sheet. On the one hand, they have everything that brand managers want - fiercely loyal tribes of advocates, an NPS in treble digits. On the other, they are brands open to the most rigorous scrutiny and comment. The players are ambassadors for brand value and, in elite sport, the pressure is on them to perform 24/7 both on and off the pitch. The tribe can turn ugly very quickly if their 'brand' doesn't perform or its values are trashed.
I turned 'ugly' this morning, although some would suggest this was a byproduct of my birth rather than football and happened decades ago. But I digress. The Liverpool brand has been slaughtered this season by indifferent owners looking to make a quick buck on the franchise, a manager out of ideas and a number of overpaid players who could not have shone the boots for more stellar players in bygone eras.
Read the internet banter among supporters and hecklers though and you can see why football clubs are great brands. Despite their disappointment, football tribes still vehemently defend their brand, even while hurling criticism at club owners, managers and players. The emotional attachment to football brands trumps all logical arguments that flow from disappointment.
The hard core of a club's supporters never think of going to support someone else. They merely heckle until the sheer force of public approbrium brings about change. How many corporate brands could withstand the barrage of criticism hurled at personnel and products as well as football brands seem to do it? How many would be game to freely host hostile commentary on their own websites?
Football is a winner-take-all business. There are no shades of gray. At the elite level, it's not how you play the game, it's whether you win or lose. If you're concerned about the political correctness of that, visit the message boards of under-achieving clubs and see how 'correct' they are.
Liverpool is an outstanding case. The club is a victim of its rich, winning heritage, of trophies won at the top level through intimidating speed and style. The tribe will accept nothing less and nor should it. Being true to brand is all they care about.
YNWA. If you don't know what it means, you're not one of us...! Bring on 2011!