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Manchester United is in talks with marketing groups including WPP, Publicis and Omnicom about an ambitious global strategic partnership to drive the club's digital fan base to 50 million users.

The club is in talks with four global companies - the fourth being McCann Worldgroup - with the aim of finding a partner to implement a five year plan to drive the club's global digital operation.

"We are a football club and a global brand, a media phenomenon, but at the moment we are not doing enough for our fans," the Manchester United group commercial director, Lee Daley, told

"Our database is currently 4 million and we want to drive that to 50 million-plus globally within three years. Our future is community and content."

Mr Daley said that he intended to form a "strategic marketing relationship on a global basis" with one of the four groups.

"The right partner has to have global reach, it will be a network-based relationship and there has to be core strength in Asia," he added, speaking at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

"We are a global brand currently attached to local operating capability."

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, told "It is about raising awareness in this part of the business world.

"We are a worldwide brand but not everyone knows that and we can never be complacent."

Mr Daley, the former chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi London, was responsible for bringing the club to the Cannes festival for the first time this year.

During the festival last week he gave a seminar with former United player and 1966 World Cup winner Bobby Charlton, now a club director, and on Friday hosted a media and marketing drinks on a motor yacht in the Cannes marina with Sir Alex in attendance.

Mr Daley said that the club was set to complete research into its global audience that was likely to show a fan base of around 90 million.
In 2003 the club conducted a similar project, using Mori, which put its global audience at around 75 million.

Mr Daley said that the increase was due to the increased penetration of the Premier League on TV around the globe.

He added that he was keen to tap new fan bases in regions such as Africa.
The figures are likely to show that the Man Utd fan base in China "has probably doubled in the last four years".

"The club has a remarkable following but for most fans there can never be a direct relationship of, say, going to Old Trafford," said Mr Daley.

"We need to figure out how to enhance the experience for the fans, increase the ways they can enjoy us. That is the aim of the strategic partnership I want to make."

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