A pioneering deal signed between Manchester United and Hong Kong based telecommunications giant PCCW this month has pretty much gone under the radar as far as most of the mainstream media has been concerned. Yet it presents a clear indication of why club owners like the Glazer family and Liverpool’s Tom Hicks are absolutely determined to hang on to their prized asset despite piling on debts of millions upon millions of pounds on themselves and their clubs. Despite the efforts and prayers of so many football fans, those owners will go to any desperate measure they possibly can and are not likely to be going anywhere soon. If they do, they will simply be replaced by others – JUST LIKE THEM!
In an article which appeared in The Independent on September 8, Simon Stone explains how there will be huge profits to be made out of the major football clubs in a few short years – Manchester United have offered the first glimpse of how they intend to maximise their massive global potential. It was always felt that the owners, the Glazer family, had a grand plan when they completed their controversial takeover of the club in 2005.
The initial feeling was that it might involve finding a way to smash the central bargaining concept which underpins the Premier League’s TV rights deals. Those theories were quickly dismissed by the American owners, who feel there has to be some element of competition within the league for it to retain its status as the most valuable domestic league on the planet.
However, in announcing an integrated media deal with the Hong Kong based telecommunications giant PCCW, United have created the first in a possible long line of potentially very lucrative regional partnerships.
Within Hong Kong, PCCW will broadcast the club’s television channel, MUTV, in addition to making content available online, through mobile phones and its EYE2 portable media centre. It means, for instance, that supporters will have access to Sir Alex Ferguson’s weekly press conference at 12pm UK time, barely two hours after it has concluded.
With reserve team games, pre match Premier League build up as well as post match phone ins, it is the nearest fans are likely to come to the club without access to the actual matches themselves. Every country presents different challenges but as United’s commercial director, Richard Arnold, admits, if the club’s strategy can work in Hong Kong, the template can be used in far more populous – and wealthier – parts of the world, which opens up untold possibilities.
“We continue to support the collective bargaining because it makes the Premier League incredibly competitive” Arnold said yesterday. “But there are other rights that centre around the club and players, where our access is not paralleled anywhere else. It would be very surprising not to put into place something that allowed you to communicate with fans all over the world.”
Arnold bristles slightly when it is suggested that the huge number of fans United claim to have – 193 million in Asia – is rather stretching a point. A fan can be many things to many people. His argument is that the loyalty of a supporter in the Far East or the United States, where the Red Devils toured last summer and where they are set to return next year, who has to watch his favourite team at all hours of the night, is as strong as the traditional fan from Stretford.
“It is very emotive when you start to measure what constitutes a fan” said Arnold. “The people who never miss a game are easily measured. How do you compare that with someone in Hong Kong, who is staying up until 4am to watch Manchester United play? The point is, no matter where you are, now it is a lot easier to get a lot more of what you want.
“Already Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and Bebe are household names around the world, despite having such minimal exposure with the club. Using media to reach the people who either can’t afford, or aren’t able, to travel to the stadium, can be connected to the club.”
In the Far East and the United States that is clearly through hi-tech media. In parts of Africa, United have found radio is still the best method of communication. “We have to adopt something sensible in each market” said Arnold.
“Is this the road paved with gold? Put it this way, a football club has three sources of income; ticketing, sponsorship and media. Media has become the lion’s share of that cake through collective bargaining. But the element left over could also be very significant.”
Arnold insists in this article that clubs like Manchester United will continue to support the current Premier League collective agreement but the reality of life indicates that it’s only a matter of time before the smaller clubs are left to fend for themselves the best way they can – even if it means the creation of a European Super League for the big boys with or without the approval of UEFA or FIFA. Why? Simply because some of the major clubs around Europe have become much too big, the huge money at stake makes it irresistible.
Can you envisage a time when a European Super League is created?