A Brand-Conscious North London Derby
To be shocked at the crass commercialism in today’s money-soaked English Premiership is to be slightly naive. To develop a toothache upon hearing about how today’s top flight clubs sell their souls to fund their businesses or discover sneakier means of getting their hands deeper into your wallets, however, is perfectly normal. As we approach another weekend when rivals Tottenham and Arsenal meet to determine North London bragging rights until they meet again, it might be a wonder the encounter itself has yet to be given sponsorship or naming rights for the clubs to exploit. After all, would it be such a surprise to see in the papers or hear from the television commentators The North London Derby presented by EA Sports or The Lucozade North London Derby? Quite honestly, it’s remarkable this has yet happened, along with The Eithad Battle of Manchester.
That last bit was probably on Garry Cook’s to-do list before someone hacked his email account.
Still, these are two clubs not only trying to find their way on the pitch but also still working out the kinks on how they leverage themselves as Premiership brands to contest the financial might of the burgeoning twin-headed Manchester behemoth. The process of appropriately branding Arsenal has come in fits and spurts, from the creation of a separate online presence for followers stateside that initially seemed a dumbed-down version of the regular website to the creation of a Supporters Trust that would not allow them to own a part of the club without a UK bank account but appears to do so now. This fell in line with marketing strategies to become the English club of choice in major consumer markets such as the US and China yet to be saturated by other major European clubs that has yet to come to fruition with a manager who generally refuses to take his squad on global pre-season tours to these different markets as other large English clubs have been doing for years.
Instead, Arsene Wenger has been spotted training his lads in the cozy confines of Austria during the summer, while Manchester United parades Ryan Giggs around Chicago and Dirk Kuyt warms up before a crowd in Malaysia. Arsenal did undertake a tour of Asia this summer and was slated to go to Japan prior to that nation’s devastation, so it appears the marketing wing at the Emirates has finally bent Wenger’s ear enough for him to actively participate in expanding the Arsenal brand. Further, with an American majority owner who also owns an MLS side in the United States that already had a pre-existing business relationship with the English club, a future summer tour of the Rocky Mountains might not be too far off the mark in order to penetrate deeper into a vast market of European football consumers.
Sometimes, though, the drive to be the “top Gunners” globally by protecting the Arsenal brand can be turned up to eleven. A few weeks ago it was announced that Arsenal had won its court case against a hat store in Sevilla, Spain that dared to call itself Arsenale and the shop owner has now been forced to change the store’s name. The case, which seems to have been ongoing since 2007, was a victory for the North London club over the issue of trademark infringement of the Arsenal name. While there appears to have been no association between a Spanish hat shop called Arsenale located in the Arenal de Sevilla district of town and a football club from London, the club sued and won against a lady’s little hat shop so as to avoid any confusion over a possible connection.
Considering there is an Arsenal de Sarandi in the Argentinian league and it has a player exchange relationship with FC Barcelona, it can really only be a matter of time before the Arsenal FC legal eagles swoop down to South America, if they have not done so already to exact some sort Cesc Fabregas-related revenge.
As for Tottenham, they have really just embarked upon branding themselves as a 21st century football club. The manifesto on how to turn the fighting cockerel into a high flyer within England’s top flight is less polished than a Michael Owen dossier and club officials admit as much. Perhaps one of the first steps toward extending the club’s popularity further beyond London, though, lies in where the club next calls home. While rival Arsenal hosts the world in one of the cathedrals of modern football–rumoured to soon be completely Wi-Fi enabled for the modern fan who would rather text than chant–Spurs remain at White Hart Lane, a stadium around half the capacity that exists somewhere between fit for purpose and fit to burst its rusty bolts. Should their home remain around the Haringey neighborhood where the club have dwelled for over 125 years, there is no doubt one of the first things to be done will be to sell the name of the new stadium to the highest commercial bidder, one that fits in with the Tottenham brand. Lillywhites supporters have seen an artist’s conception of what a new home for Tottenham would look like there and has affectionately called it “Naming Rights” Stadium as it goes unfinished while Spurs fall in and out of love with the Northumberland Development Project.
With London mayor Boris Johnson recently sweetening the deal for Spurs to remain in North London to the tune of £17 million, many supporters might be wondering why the club persists in the court case against West Ham United and Newham Council over the future occupancy of Olympic Stadium. Upsetting a majority of those who have paid their way into the Lane for years by continuing such action looks a poor business decision in some respects, but if the club wants to rebrand as director Charlie Wijeratna alluded, it would seem the quest to thump the Hammers out of the Olympic is a large part of their strategic market plan. Tottenham wants to drive home its appeal to a wider audience using that fierce looking chicken that plays exciting football, and what better place to showcase this than at a new stadium in an area that has undergone a bit of gentrification, as opposed to a location where damage from rioting caused the club to postpone its first home game of the new season? It could be considerably less daunting for those 179 million other souls in the world getting to a Spurs match in an area retrofitted for the 2012 Olympics than down the High Road.
The campaign to scrub up Tottenham’s image began last season as well from outside influences, with release of the short film “The ‘Y’ Word.” From a marketing standpoint, Spurs supporters chanting “Yiddos” during a match or referring to themselves as “Yids” might not translate well to those fans in China and sub-Saharan Africa officials wish to market to, and club neutrality on its usage could be interpreted by those overseas fans as an acceptance of anti-semiticism. The club could make this an internal objective going forward as part of a brand revamp that trims those elements of tradition that fail to comport with a Tottenham sold not just to North London, but to the world at large.
Not to be outdone by their rivals taking a Spanish hat shop to court, Tottenham sought out a similar fight over not just their brand image but also the association of the club from the ‘Y’ word. In this instance, though, it was against a supporter and fellow blogger Jack McInroy. Just this week McInroy posted his correspondences with one of Tottenham’s retail department members over the display of his sister’s drawing of the club’s cockerel on his blog and was threatened with suit should he choose not to cooperate. As McInroy continued receiving justifications for the club’s reaction to his tiny parcel of land on the internet, it was also mentioned that the club did not appreciate the combination of the hand-drawn Spurs logo with the ‘Y’ word, as McInroy’s blog is called You’ll Win Nothing With Yids. While the image appears in the post, it no longer heads the top of McInroy’s blog, as he agreed to acquiesce to the club’s request, but in this small, personal experience, the sense is the club is extremely serious about the exclusivity of the Tottenham brand, and what sounded like a load of waffle from Wijeratna was considerably more substantial.
What matters for any brand, however, is whether the product is successful where it counts, and in a North London derby, that is decided on the pitch. Tottenham’s image has often been one of a free-flowing style of play where squads might not win trophies with regularity but they look elegant, even in defeat. This season’s version under Harry Redknapp deviates from that very little, with the likes of Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, and Aaron Lennon typically found buzzing about the opposition’s third, with a bend-but-don’t-break defence resting at times on the gimpy knee of captain Ledley King. Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have been transformed from the solid but stodgy “1-0 to the Arsenal” brand of football to one that delights in attractive, short passing play intended to confuse their opponents into forgetting Robin van Persie is about to smash the ball through the roof of their net. With both already having been put to the sword by the northern clubs from Manchester, chances are slim for either will enhance their brands by laying hands on the Premiership trophy this season. So in this league encounter, success on the day will be measured simply on which side gets to claim dominance over North London after ninety minutes are up.
Which would mean for a short time at least, one of these clubs could retain a greater market share in order to getting shoppers ready early for the holiday season. Tottenham will have a spanking new site to order from in November.
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