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.