«Leicester City FC: The Sports Story Of The Year»
The presentation organized by the director for the development of new business opportunities Mark Davis for the students of «Management in Sports» RMA business school program was titled «Leicester City FC: The Sports Story Of The Year». This title was a significant case of understated modesty, since it should have more appropriately read - not a year but at least a few decades with a tail worth another five years to spare. And of course, what had happened to «Leicester» this season, has not happened to anyone throughout the entire history of the Premier-League.
Many clubs, when they sign the agreements with the sponsors, routinely list all the extra benefits and bonuses due to them in case of a major competitive achievement. Have you, by chance, had any such clauses this season stipulating the special conditions in case of your victory in the Premier-League?
Well, frankly, I have only now beginning to resign myself to the idea that not only we can win, but that we actually will win. And it happened here in Moscow, when I found out that «Tottenham» drawn out against «West Bromwich». Had I been openly making any such assumptions before the beginning of the season, had I been psychologically investing into this particular outcome, I would probably have been a laughing stock, if not lost my job altogether. Would you yourself have ever believed that this was something to be expected? Have you, honestly, even heard of such club as «Leicester» before?
I definitely knew this club existed.
That means you are a truly avid football fan, and I’ll tell you what. In fact, which is something that is now commonly known and even Ranieri has spoken about it, our goal this season was exactly the same as in the one before, that is - simply to not get blown out. We aimed ourselves at scoring around 40, and thereby secure ourselves from the inevitable departure, and that is pretty much it, nothing more, nothing less.
What will it mean for your club to have finally won a Premier-League, which is now appearing increasingly likely, perhaps in the area of commerce, marketing, or maybe in your ability to accrue new partnerships?
Firstly, it means a very rapid growth of our audience that will find us appealing and interesting to follow. This growth is already quite sizable, and can’t hardly be compared to anything else we’ve experienced. Do you know how many Facebook subscribers our team had prior to this season? 55 thousand. And now, there is over 3 million of them. By this metric, we are currently number 7 in the Premier-League. The nearest competitor on the list is «Tottenham», and the rest are the clubs with major histories and countless trophy’s behind them. And despite the fact that our team has been in existence for quite some time, we have yet to win a single Premier-League, something that we are obviously nearing very steadily. And this clearly leaves a very strong impression, including on our potential sponsors.
You know, when you can offer your partners a trip to a Champion’s League game, VIP lounge, accommodations in the same hotel with the team that is part of the major European tournament, that, in and of itself, is an elevation to a new level that is highly attractive to them. At this point we can already sense that, and I can tell you with certainty, that almost all companies that we’ve partnered with so far are expressing their strong desire to renew the contracts with us with significantly more generous and beneficial conditions than ever before.
And what of the other new ones?
The other ones are starting to answer our calls whenever I reach out to them. Just a year ago the situation was very different.
The attractiveness of the League is of course unquestionable. What other areas you can name where you see your advantages forming? What products are you selling? Could you offer any examples of out-of-ordinary solutions you use to foster the sponsorship?
Here is one such example - no so long ago we’ve become the first club of the Premier-League, whose mascot has a personal contract with the manufacturer of sports apparel. And, of course, it wasn’t personally Filbert Fox who signed it up, yet it is a fact: now he is advertising the sneakers by Puma, who is our official technical sponsor, and will continue to do it in the next two years.
Regarding what we sell… We sell an absolutely fantastic story, we are selling a fairy tale. It is a tale that teaches one crucial lesson; if you devote yourself to working really hard, then you will get elevated very high, even if you will have the fraction of the money your neighbor has. You probably know the history of our players - these are all mostly adult lads that haven’t quite been spoiled by the stardom, if you know what I mean.
The same Vardi - just five years ago he was working at a factory manufacturing prosthetic limbs for the handicap, and had been playing football strictly on the weekends as an amateur.
The same Shmeihel - the son of the great father, yet he by his 30’s he had gotten little in the way of significant achievements with not a single large title to his name.
And even Ranieri - he is already 64 years old, he has been coaching for the past 30 years: He did score a few cups in Spain and Italy, but wasn’t able to score any top-level championships.
And here they are getting all together, and showing off a spectacular result, which was unattainable to any of them for at least a quarter century. And instantly they become stars, who are being nominated to the status of best players, and are being invited to represent their national teams, with 7 of our team’s players preparing to travel to partake in the upcoming Euro 2016 championship. Who could have ever imagined that a year ago?!
Overall, I would like to say that this entire chain of events carries very big opportunities for the future our commercial partnerships, as well as very deep marketing potential. And I’d like to add something else, even though it doesn’t directly relate to our work with sponsors, but is a great source of emerging hope for us nevertheless. I know how much support we are getting from the small clubs all over England, I know how much they want us to win. This victory will mean that there is still hope, that not everything is lost for them, that the most important thing in football - is, after all, not the money, that miracles do in fact happen, and that no one can be denied the right to strive toward big success. If we are able to pull it off, why couldn’t the others?
Could you bring a concrete example of how you were able to capitalize on the big marketing potential of the newly acquired stars by the club? Or the fruits of these efforts are yet to be seen?
No, these examples do exist already. For instance, Sindzi Okidzaki: last year when we signed him up, we were immediately able to establish a partnership agreement with the British branch of Toyo, which manufactures car tires. This year, when «Leicester» has firmly established itself among the main contenders for the championship, we have signed a contract with their head office in Japan - thus, expanding our partnership even further and bringing it to a global level. And now, Sindzi, whose image is the epicenter of Toyo’s advertisement campaign, is advancing «Leicester» all around the world.
And in general, the marketing potential of our lads is very high. Particularly of some of them, such as Christian Fuchs. He is a great defense, but moreover, he is highly positive, creative and enduring.
He is highly active on the social networks, he is constantly coming up with something new, regularly posts all sorts of funny videos. Have you seen one where him and Vardi are playing the so called «Russian Egg Roulette»? You should definitely check it out, it is highly amusing.
There was, however, a bit of a problem for us with Fuchs… To put it succinctly, it had to do with the pronunciation of his last name in English, which has a tendency to sound indecent at times. So, he ended up coming up with a way to play it around - by creating a motto - No Fuchs Given, which was very warmly received by the fans, and now it appears on the apparel that is available for sale.
By the way, regarding the apparel… «Liverpool» had recently patented a phrase said by Klopp «I’m not special, I’m - normal». And had issued a series of t-shirts with these words written across the chest. Your Ranieri is known to be quite eloquent as well, have you thought to possibly doing something similar with him?
Possibly. During the recent press-conference, when it became obvious that the Champion League isn’t going anywhere away from us, he literally said the following: «Hey guys, we are already in the league, dili-din, dili-don, and you haven’t even noticed?» And so this «dili-din» has instantly become a meme. So it is very likely we will come up with some way to incorporate it into a product.
Are you at all concerned that perhaps after this championship your team will be taken apart and dismembered by the better established richer clubs and that all the players that you are resting your high hopes for with respect to your marketing strategy, PR and advancing the relationships with the sponsors, will be leaving your very soon?
Well let me address this from afar. Do you remember what I began our conversation by saying? I said that our main goal for this season was merely to hold our ground and not get knocked out of the league. Why you might ask? Because the very continued presence there, not even in the leading role, gives us the kind of financial confidence that we couldn’t even hope for otherwise.
For starters, the interest toward the tournaments varies significantly. While here, every single match is completely sold out, each one of the 32 thousand seats is occupied, and 23 thousand of these are the seasonal subscribers. And considering the fact that the revenue from 3 thousand tickets in every match has to be given the guests, the remainder is somewhere around 5-6 thousand tickets, which are extremely hard to get hold of.
In the last two seasons, we’ve had 10 thousand people buying our club’s membership, and these people are now paying their dues to receive some sort of preferences in the process of the ticket distribution. I’m not even mentioning the price difference between the ticket for the Championship and the Premier-League. It’s a big difference.
Secondly - the sponsors, who we already have discussed. Now thirdly, and perhaps the most important - the broadcasting revenue. If we do win this season of Premier-League, then according to the current broadcasting regulation we’ll be receiving 110 million pounds. However, even if we finished in the last place, we would still receive 80 million pounds. And if we consider the newly drawn contract, which takes effect starting next season, the team that would finish the last would be getting 20 million pounds more than the top team will receive this year. I’m telling you all these details so that you understand that neither us nor any other team that is a member of the Premier-League is experiencing the kind of financial pressure that would prompt the sale of their star players, just to make their ends meet. While in other countries, such as Italy or Spain, that kind of circumstance is very much possible if not likely altogether, but certainly not in our case.
That is why, when answering the question on whether or not we are afraid of losing the leading players, I confidently say: No, we aren’t afraid of this. Each one of them is bound contractually, and these are fairly comfortable conditions mind you, the same Vardi had recently extended his contract with the club. So we will never be interested in selling them out on free will - that is absolutely certain.
And if the time comes where we’ll be getting some hard to turn down offers, we will still defer to the players on this, and then only time will tell. Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention: I’m not responsible for the transfer policy in our club. And thank God for it being that way.
Can you please outline your priorities as you see them for the near future, business and sports wise…
Regarding the sports, our minimal goal remains the same - we must continue to play in Premier-League. I think after the success of this season, we can begin to set ourselves higher goals - such as, for example, to permanently remain among the Britain’s top 6 teams. However, we should keep our calm and try not succumb to euphoria, as it is important to understand that a single season was enough to bring us up to the top from the bottom, and that a path downward can be equally short. I would like to stress - the departure from the league is very bad. It can void all the hard work that has been done previously: for example, «Aston Villa» had been knocked out this season, and what do we see? They have already announced the upcoming cuts of over 500 employees…
And regarding our business plans, I can say that we intend to concentrate our efforts on furthering the significance of our brand «Leicester», particularly on the global scale. After all, the winner of the Premier-League is the guaranteed participant of the Champion’s League, and that is no longer a local story of one small club in a one small town. We do, of course, understand that we’ll have to expand our staff, increase our expenditures, which, I hope, will ultimately prove to be effective and instrumental. The owner of our club, as you probably know, is the family of Mr. Vishay, the native of Thailand, the owner of the chain Kings Power Duty Free, the billionaire and one of the richest people in his country. Considering all that, we are maintaining traditionally close ties to the companies in the Asian region. We are planning on expanding our presence in China, where English Premier-League is enjoying it’s highest popularity, and we are developing a particular action plan in that direction. First of all, we need to find a unique ground and perspective that would make our approach different from such clubs as «Manchester United» who are enjoying nearly a decade of presence in that market which is supported by nearly 150 strong staff.
Moreover, we are developing plans in to establish ourselves in India and Africa, and we cooperate with a number of marketing agencies to test the grounds in other countries as well. Some of the projects have already been started: for example in South Africa we have a kids football school that operates under our name.
Are you planning on having stage matches abroad? What is the likelihood of seeing «Leicester» in Russia? It would be really fascinating to see you play with «Rostov». By the way, do you what is «Rostov»?
I’ve just recently learned of them. I was told here in Russia that you have one club that is being referred to as a Russian «Leicester». In terms of organizing a game, it might be a difficult proposition… Our schedule for this summer is completely filled up. We are playing a game with «PSZ» in Los Angeles, with «Barcelona» in Stockholm, and then with «Celtic» in Glasgow. So i’m afraid in this trans-seasonal period meeting «Rostov» is going to be impossible. But that isn’t the end of the world, after all we still have a Champion’s League to count on.