Why Manchester United are the benchmark on how a successful digital strategy can change your business.

Manchester United were all over the news in this year’s EPL close season, for various reasons, but primarily for spending a lot of money.  With a new manager brought in for the third time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson; they also happened to break the world transfer fee record by signing Paul Pogba from Juventus for a whopping £89 million (let’s forget that this is a player they let leave the club four years earlier for £1.5 million).

Let me quickly address something.  Many people at the time hailed the transfer fee for Pogba as ridiculous and excessive; and I completely disagree with all of them.  The reason I disagree is that, when compared to the purchase of Wayne Rooney in 2004 (for £25.6 million), or Rio Ferdinand in 2002 (for a fee of £34 million); Pogba’s transfer represents very similar value.  Confused?  I thought you might be.

Manchester United have, following their recent financial announcement, become the first English football club to generate in excess of half a billion pounds in revenue for a single financial year (£515.3 million to be exact).  What this means is that the actual transfer fee paid for Pogba represents just over 17% of the clubs total turnover for their most recent financial year.  And what, may we ask, was Rooney’s transfer fee in 2004 representative of if we looked at the club’s turnover for that financial year?  It’s almost identical (0.4% difference).  In 2004 Manchester United’s turnover was £157.2 million, making Rooney’s transfer at the time every bit as big an investment as United’s 2016 transfer of Pogba (using the same yardstick, he’s actually better value than Ferdinand’s 2002 arrival at the club).

But what I really wanted to focus on was the incredible revenue growth Manchester United have been able to achieve in the past 10 years.  The club have seen their commercial revenue rise from £49 million to just shy of £200 million in ten years; that’s a rise 401%.  But how?

Outside of the benefits every club in the premier league enjoy (those being primarily match day and broadcast revenue); quite simply they have invested far better in their social and digital marketing strategies than any other club; to an extent that they have one of the most impressive global sponsorship offerings you are likely to see.

Estimating any club’s global fan base is extraordinarily difficult, however, it is generally agreed that Manchester United’s base sits somewhere between 600 and 800 million people globally.  If we look purely at Facebook (being the largest social platform globally), and compare to their English competitor clubs; their reach speaks for itself.  The United Facebook page boasts over 71 million fans.  This compared to Liverpool’s 29 million fans, Manchester City’s almost 22 million, and Arsenal’s almost 37 million; is mightily impressive!

What Manchester United have been able to achieve is to have such an integrated digital strategy to engage all of their fans globally; it has allowed them to build an almost tiered sponsorship structure (one tier for major deals like the Adidas £750 million shirt deal; second tier for global deals like DHL’s deal to sponsor their training kits for £180 million; and then a third for localised deals for all manner of services and products).  Their offering to potential sponsors is second to none.  They have the ability to sell your product to their fans everywhere.  And that access is extremely valuable.  They have access to a massive amount of digital data and they will give you access for a price.

On the event of Pogba’s transfer, most people in the UK were shocked to wake up to the news that the deal for the world’s most expensive player had not only been completed, but also announced to the world’s media as they slept.  Why on earth would they announce such big news at 0:35am UK time?  The answer is simple; their mass global fan base in Asia were just wakening at that time and were to be greeted to this big news.  Their hashtag campaign of #Pogback trended globally for days.  They managed to take over the news cycles of every continent for over 36 hours.  This reveal was carefully choreographed and digitally executed with precision.  It is a further insight into the clubs carefully strategized, global digital plan.

When most clubs unveil their new signings to media and some fans in their stadiums; Manchester United used all their digital avenues to make Pogba’s unveiling a global event; and by doing so became the benchmark yet again.

Their engagement with their fan base through their digital network is truly exceptional, and business throughout the world should take note.  Manchester United are one of the few businesses where their organic reach remains through clever engagement strategies; and they are making significant revenue on the back of it.

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