Premier League Football Clubs Translate Global Ambitions

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premiership_football_global_marketing.jpgManchester City Football Club has announced the addition of new  foreign languages to its website illustrating the growing importance of having a multilingual online presence when building a global fan base. What else does this tell us about the future of global business, marketing and football?

As a football fan, I had always appreciated the international penetration of English football. During time spent in Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Malaysia, English football was always seen as the pinnancle of the beautiful game. If there was ever one thing you could discuss across language or cultural barriers, it was football; usually Man Utd.

I was reminded of this even more so one evening in the suburbs of Accra, Ghana during a recent business trip;  walking round a corner and seeing what looked like the whole neighbourhood on deck chairs watching a Premier League match projected onto the white side wall of a block of flats, was the moment I really grased the powerful export that is the English top league.

Beamed all over the world, clubs get global exposure and as a result, global opportunities.

In this light it was interesting to read that Man City is planning to add more foreign language options to their website; a clear move to expand their brand, sales and exposure, but interestingly online.

Next to English, the 2012 champions already had an Arabic and Mandarin Chinese version of their website, but now ten other languages are being added to this list.

Traditional Chinese, French, Japanese, Indonesion, Spanish, Thai, Portuguese, Malay and Korean versions will soon be available for fans in key strategic locations.

Diego Gigliani – director of marketing, media and fan development for the football club:

“With the launch of our new multilingual sites, we are creating an online home for all our international fans. We hope that, by reading news and watching videos direct from the official source and in their native language, they will feel closer to the club they love.”

Gigliani touches on a key point here – speaking to fans abroad in their language makes the club, its history, news and people familiar and accessible. The same principle applies when translating or localizing any website, whether for football fans, tourists or business people. Connecting to people and building a relationship through the medium of their language, especially virtually, produces results.

The multilungual website is reflective of the club’s strategy to build on “exporting” their brand globally and move away from relying on domestic revenues. Quite recently, the club entered in a partnership that also aims to establish a stronger relationship with the club’s fans in Thailand when it announced they are had affiliated with Thai car battery brand GS Battery. This will include appearing on a national TV advertising campaign.

Looking at the languages they are adding it’s clear the club sees real revenue making opportunities in South East Asia. However, as the map below shows, they aren’t doing a bad job covering the globe through the languages available on their website.

map of man city website global coverage by language

Although clubs travel all over the world pre-season for commercial opportunities, South East Asia seems to be featuring more recently. Recently, football club Arsenal found a clever way of strengthening their connections with their Vietnamese fan base. 

During a trip this summer to Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia, a fan that continued to chase the Arsenal coach for miles on end around the capital city of Vietnam earned the nickname, “Running Man”. After chasing the coach for miles on end around the streets of Hanoi he was eventually asked inside the coach to meet the players. Goalkeeper Wojciech Sczensy was deeply impressed: “It should be a message for all of you guys that if you really want to pursue your dreams, it can happen.”

Life got even better for Vu Xuan Tien when he was asked to make an appearance at The Emirates stadium. Note the links to Arsenal’s Twitter accounts in foreign languages in the video they made below.

Global Growth Opportunities

However, it’s not just the Running Man that is working like crazy in the eastern part of the globe – according to CNN, a number of British Premier League clubs including Liverpool and Chelsea were on tour throughout Asia as a preparation for the new season that starts on August 17.

A spokeswoman for Arsenal explained:: “From a business perspective it’s also important we show our commitment to building our name around the world to become more attractive to potential commercial partners and to support some of our existing partners’ business objectives for whom Asia is also an important market.”

As the financial opportunities on the continent are manifold, football players are likely to spend more and more time in Asia.

Sports business expert Simon Chadwick states that less than 10% per cent of the annual turnover of clubs in the Premier League is derived from sales abroad, leaving a lot of room for potential growth.

“However, most clubs lack either the expertise or the infrastructure to capitalize upon these revenues, plus there is a physical limit to the amount of business a club can do overseas,”  Chadwick adds. “They simply can’t go and play in China each week where direct player/club relations are the most important point of engagement for fans in places like China. That’s interesting, as it hints at the potential development of globally franchised clubs in the future as we’ve seen with Manchester City in the MLS.”

The Running Man thus might want to keep his boots polished and in tip-top shape, as Arsenal might revisit Hanoi in the near future in another form!

It is exactly these global opportunities that savvy business people are realising. The new owner of Fulham clearly has one aim in mind with his investement in the club. Illinois car parts baron Shahid Khan sees global opportunities, as well as growing interest in the USA.

It will be fascinating to see how localization and the use of language plays out in the marketing of Premier League clubs over the coming years, especially within the online space, and how they keep up to date with the challenge of serving an international audience.

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