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Volume 23 No. 18
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Fan passion a priority globally and at home

Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis was happy on a snowy Thursday recently in New York City. The night before, he found a local pub and watched a full schedule of English Premier League games, including his Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers.

He noted the fan enthusiasm in the pub and laughed at the fact that he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to view all the EPL games if he were in the U.K. because of scheduling and broadcast regulations. He also pointed out how the U.S. market’s reception of soccer has changed greatly since he left MLS as deputy commissioner in 2008 to join the EPL club. “Soccer is no longer the uncool stepchild in the U.S.,” he said.

Gazidis shared the anecdote before taking the stage with Sal LaRocca, NBA president of global operations and merchandising, at a conference presented by our business partner, Leaders, as the two discussed their strategies in developing a global brand. Many brands want to be perceived as global; the fact is, few are. Arsenal and the NBA truly qualify, and Gazidis was especially effective at articulating the steps that the brand has taken to reach fans throughout the world.

“Our mission is connect globally, engage personally,” he said. “You cannot have the same conversation around the globe.” The club has a specific strategy for each market — from events to a broadcast, digital and social strategy, to developing specific content for specific markets. He encouraged sports teams to leverage the reach of their brand partners to get them exposure into new markets, citing the team’s recent five-year deal with Puma, which “has put our brand in Puma stores around the globe.” He said India is a growth market for Arsenal, while the African countries, especially Nigeria, and Vietnam and Indonesia are full of potential.

The NBA’s LaRocca agreed with Gazidis on growth markets. “When we look at emerging markets, we have India right at the top of our list,” he said. He added that the league has built more events and news into its event-marketing strategy, such a store openings or new media agreements, all in an effort to leave something sustainable behind after a game. “We realized that having a game, then flying home, doesn’t build a brand abroad,” he said. “You need to do more.”

Earlier in the day, Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre said that club’s global growth strategy has largely been driven by social. “Over the last two to three years, we’ve built 50-plus new social channels to help us reach more than half a billion of our fans globally,” he said, believing that it has expanded the team’s base. “Twenty percent of our stadium audience is now coming from outside the U.K. on game day.”

> OWN THE CITY: It’s easy to see the passion that Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark brings to his job. He says he’s trying not to take wins and losses so emotionally these days, but you can expect he will be amped up for the team’s games the last few weeks of the season. The Nets are looking up at a few teams ahead of them for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and Yormark believes the team needs to make the playoffs to stand out in the competitive New York marketplace.

“Look, let’s be honest. In this market, it’s very competitive. We are competing against MSG and the Knicks, and the Knicks are struggling right now. I want to own this city and you only own it by winning. So I am really hoping we get into the playoffs and turn the casual fan into a hard-core Nets fan. That is how you build a fan base. … We don’t need to be a championship team, we just need to be relevant.”

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.