Friday, January 08, 2016

Brand Mallorca: Now it's football

Time was when football meant going to a decrepit stadium, being crushed on terraces, devouring a hamburger with onions that lacked anything approaching ham or burger but did have a considerable amount of watery onion, and being on the receiving end of violent tendencies that would result in the urgent need for dental treatment.

With the possible and unlucky exception of the latter, none of this now applies. Be you fan, supporter or however you choose to perceive yourself, football has long since acquired a degree of sophistication and luxury that occupies a very different universe to the past.

Contemporary or of the past, there is one thing that draws these eras together: the very notion of being a fan and of fan loyalty. All manner of privations were once tolerated in displaying and stating this loyalty. They have largely disappeared, but the notion of fandom has remained constant. Its ferocity may be less that of physical violence, but in the style of a meek and mild footballer who turns into a raging bull when he crosses the white line, so passing through the turnstiles converts meek and mild members of the public into beasts of torment, as also does Robbie Savage on 606 when he dares to suggest your club will get relegated. Passion, irrationality, love and hate: it's still all there, just that it's now shouted by a stockbroker called Justin with a posh voice.

Which is probably how many football clubs would like it to be on account of Justin having sufficient left over from the monthly finance repayment on the Porsche to be able to afford to actually go to a match. Moreover, Justin would have just the right profile for the market segmentation efforts of the club's commercial department, and he would share this, save for nationality, with his counterparts in China, the USA or pretty much any other part of the globe.

There is, however, some familiarity with how things once were, and it is to be found in lower divisions of leagues across Europe. The top clubs in the top divisions are primarily those who have acquired the Justins and the global images. For the vast majority of clubs, the notion of the brand is as distant today as it was in the good old days before the Justins and when a brand was something they put on a horse in Westerns.

Ah yes, brand. There I was, only a few days ago, considering branding and its meaning in a Mallorcan context. There is now a further and somewhat unexpected reason to consider it. Real Mallorca is to be made into a brand. A worldwide brand.

Without wishing to rain on anyone's parade and also wishing every success for an endeavour that might bring great joy to Mallorca as a whole and not just for the football club, please excuse me if I am somewhat sceptical.

A football club's fans are loyal. It is this loyalty which forms the foundations of any club. To some extent, though, this loyalty - for the highly business-oriented clubs - has been eroded in the pursuit of a different type of loyalty. It is to the brand and is the product of successful marketing, allied to television sales, and it is very often in foreign lands, where there is not the same connection that exists in a home community or home country: not the same passionate instincts that have led and still lead fans to be not always totally rational and so utterly devoted.

There is a superficiality to branding. It was one I referred to it in that previous article. It is the marketing experience, the merchandising and so on. But behind truly successful brands there is a great deal more. In the case of a football club, it is, or should be, what it represents, what its values are and what it means to people.

The most successful football brand, as revealed by the Brand Finance Football report of 2014, is not Real Madrid or Manchester United, it is Bayern Munich. And the reasons why are not just because the team is successful. It has a tradition, one connected to Bavaria, and it embraces this, down to the occasional donning of Lederhosen and going to the beer festival. It has made a virtue of being different in various ways. It is also close to its loyal fans in treating them well through, for instance, low ticket prices. It is a club which stands for things. It has attributes which transcend mere success in competitions.

Fundamentally, only genuine success can make a global football brand, but the roots of this are much closer to home. For ambitions for Real Mallorca, the questions have to be asked. What does the club represent? What does it mean? I wonder if anyone other than a Mallorcan can provide such answers.

No comments: