Here’s a warning to Manchester United for whenever a new major sponsor comes on board in the years ahead. It’s contained in a report which appeared in The Independent – widely regarded as one of the most reliable newspapers in Britain, clearly stating how easily the tail can end up wagging the dog. Global bank Standard Chartered is the shirt sponsor of Liverpool Football Club until at least the end of the 2013-14 campaign to the tune of £20m a season. That’s one hell of a lot of money to rely upon but there’s nothing unusual in it. Most major football clubs have no choice but to operate like that these days, so what’s so disturbing about it?
Nothing except the fact that such sponsors can eventually influence how football matters are decided within the club. Dictating is far too strong a word but a huge amount of pressure can certainly be used in order to have their wishes granted.
In a candid discussion of the bank’s relationship with the club, Standard Chartered sponsorship chief Gavin Laws said that Standard would like Liverpool to recruit Asian players to capitalize on their marketability in that continent where Standard have a huge market. He also said he hoped Liverpool appoint Kenny Dalglish as manager and stated the merits of the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group refurbishing Anfield rather than building a new stadium because the bank’s Asian customers apparently love Anfield’s quintissential football character.
Speaking at Manchester’s Soccerex conference, Laws said that the return to economic growth of its markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East were vital to Standard’s 19% rise in profits and it is the success of Ji-Sung Park in promoting Manchester United’s sponsors in the Far East which has whetted Standard’s appetite for a Liverpool Asian player.
“We would love the club to have players of nationalities from the markets in which we operate, they are not going to get them from all 75 but if they could sign some – if they could get a Korean, Indian, Chinese player – look what Park has done for United in terms of coverage in Korea” Laws pointed out in a reference to Manchester United.
Laws said Liverpool knew from their “first conversation” with the bank – at which Dalglish was present, that the bank coveted a player from Asia “Liverpool are more aware than most other clubs we’ve spoken to of the commercial opportunity for them. If they can sell a million shirts with another Mr Park on the back, why wouldn’t you?”
Dalglish’s presence with the new Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre at the London meeting which began sponsorship discussions was critical Laws said “It showed from the very first moment that they realised we needed a bit of the bling, a bit of the celebrity, a bit of the excitement. Dalglish is almost a Bobby Charlton.” There again is his envious link to United!
Standard’s obvious desire to see Dalglish installed permanently is another reason for Fenway Sports Group to do that. “Kenny is doing a great job” Laws said “we think he is an iconic manager. From a sponsors’ view point I have no power to make Liverpool chose Kenny as manager, but I would love him to be the manager.” How about that for a little bit of subtle pressure?
He then goes on to give his opinion about Anfield “It’s not as developed as some other clubs are which makes it very exciting for our guests from Asia. They love it. They love the fact that it’s, well, not exactly dirty and small because it isn’t – but because it’s a football club. We had customers from Hong Kong with us for the win over Manchester United last month. They couldn’t believe the noise, the atmosphere, the passion. For a corporate client on a day out for us, fantastic”
The pressure is not all that difficult to spot is it? Buying players of a certain ethnicity, appointment of a manager who is to their liking, getting involved in stadium plans, what next? Will sponsors want to select the team and decide tactics as well? This is by no means being critical of Liverpool because many clubs face the same dilemma – as United may in the future unless they are very careful. It’s simply a warning that £20m a year can not only talk, it can also make plenty of noise!
Are clubs getting to a stage where they are beholden to their sponsors?