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Do football clubs need to think harder about their brands?

Updated: Jul 11

Napoli new branding

I started writing this blog a few weeks ago, and was inspired to come back to it by Napoli’s recently launched ‘brand manifesto’ which I saw on Linkedin the other day (h/t Grant Russell for sharing it).

Napoli has revamped its identity, under a new PROUD TO BE NAPOLI positioning, complete with new logo, new typography and a new set of values including words like PASSIONATE, SMART, TRADITIONAL, SIMPLICITY, DIVERSITY, SPIRITUAL, ROOTED, CLASSICAL.

“This is a journey of togetherness and it tells the story of our city by bringing together its various harmonious elements, which we started last season and is now continuing thanks to the discovery of ironic and secret places that are to be shared worldwide, in line with the goal portrayed in our manifesto video that we are launching today.”

Tommaso Bianchini, Napoli’s Chief Revenue Officer

On one level, you could argue that this is just a fairly elaborate way of launching the club’s latest home kit, but it’s good to see a football club actually thinking properly about its own identity and positioning.

You don’t often see it, and I get why that is, because football clubs are pretty unusual businesses.

In many cases, they've been around for 150 years or more, emerging organically from community roots and building up a loyal (and historically local) fan base. For a long time, clubs didn't really need to think much about their brand, or marketing in general. They just had to focus on trying to have a successful team, selling match tickets and, later on, doing a few sponsorship deals and selling some merch.

Someone either was or wasn't a fan, usually based on simple geography or family history. If the team did well, more people might be interested and vice-versa, and that was about it.

If a club had any real positioning or identity, it was usually based on a certain playing style, or maybe the personality of a legendary manager. Often it would be linked to the identity of where the club was based (club crests in particular are usually very closely connected to the local industry, history or geography).

Over time, thanks to rampant media coverage and just by being around for a long time, football clubs have all developed strong and familiar brands. But I’d argue that few of them have ever really developed a proper brand positioning or identity (insert your own Spurs joke here..). It’s just sort of happened naturally.

Visit any of the big clubs’ websites and there’s very little (if anything) that gives you a sense of what the club stands for or wants to be known for, beyond being a football club. It’s all very transactional - the club provides content and information, and in return it wants to sell you tickets or merch.

You might find something approaching a positioning buried in the ‘Club’ or the ‘History’ section, but considering how much all these clubs talk about developing their brands and growing their global fan base, there’s really surprisingly little focus on their identity or how they want to be perceived.

Some of the German clubs do at least have a set of ‘Guiding Principles’, which is probably a reflection of their ownership and governance model. This comes back to a theme that’s often discussed on the UP podcast. What are football clubs trying to be? Are they media companies, e-commerce businesses, entertainment brands, or just football clubs?

Whichever route they choose, they still need to have strong brands; but it feels like a lot of them are a bit lazy - relying too much on their history, their performance and their personalities on the pitch to create their identity.

For both the smaller clubs looking to engage more local supporters and for the big clubs wanting to grow their brands worldwide, a bit more effort to articulate and present who they are and what they really stand for could go a long way.

I think it matters for the local fan, who might want a reason to support a club beyond it just being “the local club”; and for the more global fan, who might feel a bit more loyalty if they can connect with a team based on something more than just a current period of success or a particular set of players or charismatic manager.

It also matters for sponsors, who are often looking for a property that aligns with their own values. A couple of years ago I was working on the sponsorship strategy for a global brand, and they wanted to partner with football clubs that had a specific set of values and a clear identity. That was harder to find than it should have been.


Eddie May is a consultant with 30 years of experience, helping brands in sport to cut through

and resonate with their audience through positioning strategy, brand voice and copywriting.

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