Monday, 28 October 2013

Liverpool Football Brand

I have a good friend Robert, who as a teenager growing up in Liverpool in the seventies and eighties lived and breathed the unfolding brilliance and tragedy of the Anfield era from Paisley to Dalglish.

Then his life changed dramatically and he moved to Michigan USA, where he's been for the last twenty years.

Suddenly, his teenage son loves "soccer" and NBC have brought the Premier League to Rob's TV screen. So he wrote to me for a "read in" on his old club. 

"Could Liverpool finish in the top three? Do they have a strong attack, average midfield and good defence? Is the fixture schedule flattering to their current third place league position?", he asked with renewed zeal.

Rob's understanding of LFC from childhood is so deep, I thought he'd appreciate my historical long view here. This is what I replied to him:

Liverpool have two world-class players and a dozen competent ones. 

One of their world class players stands as a legacy to the city's fifty years of elite football culture, socialized from birth. The other is a legacy to Liverpool's decade-long flirtations with the Champions League, now firmly over.  

This dated badge conveys too many messages
Liverpool FC is a top brand, not a top club. The flowery, over sentimental design of the current badge conveys heritage, suffering and possibly a hint of blasphemy as the club moves into areas of pseudo-religious worship which the city's churches used to house. 

In the era of slick, stripped-down imagery, the badge is far too complicated with messages of memorial and Bill Shankly which fade into past history with every month that passes.

There'd be much of modern Liverpool Shankly wouldn't give a fig for even if he's the single biggest influence on their brand values.

Truth is Liverpool is able to leverage its brand communication around the globe more effectively than its brand of football can.

With 13 official Twitter accounts, @LFC now tweets in more languages than any other club in the world and has seven more accounts than Barcelona and eight more than any other club in England. Everyday, fans around the world can read tweets from the club in English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Portuguese and Turkish.

If football is in the business of selling dreams to supporters, Liverpool is better than most at doing that. 

I don't begrudge Fenway selling more style than substance. In fact, they're to be applauded for embracing the new media age like no other.

But it does create a conflict of interest at the heart of the business model which needs addressing if they keep failing to qualify for Europe or winning anything:

Future success on-field may not matter as much if the club continues to build a global fanbase and new revenue from telling a great story to sponsors and investors via electronic media.

A team photo with any old trophy will do (even a preseason one) for iinternational fans content with chanting surnames and buying merchandise. 

But it's most important fanbase here in the UK won't stand for it. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

England qualify for Brazil but no one expects

Podcast (with Roy Hodgson audio)

We may have secured our place among the world's elite by beating Poland but there'll be no "England Expects" fanfare before next summer's World Cup finals.

For what we lack in world class we certainly make up for in passion. It's a commodity more than good enough to beat Moldova but has a tinge of amateurish hopelessness as prep for Argentina or Spain next summer.

As we head to Brazil, even the most ardent England fan must take a reality check.

We're thin on the ground when it comes to elite players. Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard carried us through the decisive Polish win, but Cole didn't play and Lampard jogs through the closing stages of a glorious career. What's left of the golden generation won't scare the contenders.

Andros Townsend is taking his chance in an England shirt. His first caps against Montenegro and Poland were marked with a goal and bags of running. He was totally unfazed by the step up to international level.

But he runs with gay abandon with little more responsibility than that, akin to a privateer with a government licence to snaffle up any opportunities. Tactics aren't important for a player whose task is merely to dribble and shoot on sight - that is until the opposition demands greater respect.

Daniel Sturridge is another example of England's deficiency. Good enough for both Liverpool and England - but not the Champions League. Playing at Wembley in a qualifier is akin to the Europa League but it's no longer football's highest level.

As if to prove my point, the latest FIFA Rankings saw England jump back into the top ten, but two places short of being seeded for the Finals.

"You need a ticket to be in the lottery. We've got a ticket", cheered Roy Hodgson as his angst ridden husk relieved itself on the media after Poland. He got good press too.

And he deserves much credit for his mix of pragmatism and adventure, but his gung-ho optimism must disguise private thoughts that he's got to make the most of what he's given.

Look, I don't want be too down on England. We've qualified and rightly the popular press and media chirped and tweeted amid the feelgood factor qualifying brings.

But I'm also a paying customer. We're a football nation of the first water with a world class league, so I dream of an England with more than just a punchers chance of coping in finals.

Let's hope we don't do the Scotland Shuffle and last just three games.