Reds rise to commercial challenge
Manchester United have offered the first glimpse of how they intend to maximise their massive global potential. It was always felt the Glazer family had a grand plan when they completed their controversial United takeover in 2005. The initial feeling was that it might involve finding a way to smash the central bargaining concept which underpins the Premier League. Those theories were quickly dismissed by United's controversial 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 competition on the planet. However, in establishing the concept of territorial partnerships within their marketing portfolio, it is only a short step to the kind of integrated media deal United announced with Hong Kong-based telecommunications giant PCCW. Within Hong Kong, PCCW will broadcast MUTV in addition to making content available on-line, 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 12 noon 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 commercial director Richard Arnold admits, if United's strategy can work in Hong Kong, the template can be used in far more populous - and wealthy - parts of the world, which opens up untold possibilities. "We continue to support the collective bargaining because it makes the Premier League incredibly competitive," said Arnold. "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 - 193million in Asia - is rather stretching a point. A fan can be many things to many people. His argument is the loyalty of a supporter in the Far East or United States, where the Red Devils toured last summer and are supposedly heading back to again 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 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 high-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."
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