According to numbers from 2014, Liverpool Football Club had a worldwide fan base of 580 million. Compare that to the city’s estimated population of 4,67,000 in the year 2016 (and the city also has another club, Everton FC). Those numbers reveal the reason why the club is looking at markets beyond the city and the country.
The club famously calls its fans the ‘12th man’, and now a substantial chunk of those fans come from Asia. According to a survey conducted by the Premier League, 75 million Indians were considered to be ‘very interested’ or ‘interested’ in Liverpool Football Club. Based on this number, India makes it to the top five markets in terms of fan numbers globally, a list that is led by China.
In a conversation with Campaign India, Billy Hogan, chief commercial officer and managing director of Liverpool FC, explains how the club is reaching out to these fans. He says, “The way that we operate with respect to the commercial side of the club is that we focus on how we can bring the club closer to the fans. If you look at certain markets around the world, we only have the opportunity to do in-market activations and leverage our digital, social-media platforms to engage directly with our fans. So, that’s kind of broadly how we look to reach fans across different markets.”
He adds, “We were in Mumbai a couple of years ago for the Premier League Live event. We got a chance to see how passionate the fan base was. There was a flag march organised by the fans. The passion and support the club has in the area was incredible. We are looking forward from an on-ground activation point-of-view at least, for India to be a key market going forward.
The club has had an academy running in India in partnership with DSK Shivajians in Pune and had also a partnership with Xolo. While the contract with Xolo hasn’t been renewed this year after a three-year association, the academy is going strong. Hogan reveals that the club is currently having a number of active conversations on the sponsorship front in India, but is far from the announcement stage. Two of the players from the academy have gone on to represent the youth national team.
Hogan explains, “With regards to Asia and India in particular, we think that’s a very significant market for us. As we go forward, these markets have a tremendous opportunity for us. We are focused on what we can do on a grassroots level through the academy. In addition to academy, we have other on-ground marketing executions across Asia. We launched ‘LFC World’, a project that was presented by Standard Chartered. That’s an initiative we started this season and have been to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur so far. We will be in Hong Kong next weekend and other Asian markets before the end of the season. We are right now working on what the scenario is looking like for next season. Among others, India is obviously a market we want to be in soon.”
The club has also signed an agreement with Baseline Ventures to reach out to fans and make merchandise accessible to them in India. Hogan further reveals that New Balance, the current kit partners of the club are also focusing on increasing distribution and getting merchandise ready for the start of next season (which starts in August 2017). “The endeavour is to bring more products to the fans”, says Hogan.
Indian player Yan Dhanda
It’s no secret in the footballing world, that when a local player makes it to a top club in the world, fan following for that club increases too.
And Liverpool FC has one in its youth ranks currently in Yan Dhanda. The player of Indian origins was born in Birmingham, and has trained with the club’s first team on several occasions now.
While Hogan agrees that a local talent boosts following, he adds that the club respects young talent and puts growth ahead of marketing. “We are trying to get the best talent we can possibly can to help the football club. That’s a global endeavour. Having a young player at the academy from India is terrific for the club and for our fans in India too. We are most interested in marketing the club. To be fair, particularly with our young players we want to be respectful of the fact that we are trying to develop the footballer first and foremost. We will go out of our way to make sure we put as little pressure on them as we can. So, to feature a young player before he features in the first team will make it kind of difficult for them. At this point, it’s about his ability to continue to improve and make it to the first team” explains the CCO and MD of the football club.
Big name players
While an Indian player is at the club currently, Liverpool FC currently lack a big-name star player in the squad. Among the benefits a big-name player get for a club are shirt sales and global appeal. Ever since the retirement of Steven Gerrard and the sale of Luis Suarez to FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC have lacked that star with global appeal.
But that doesn’t concern Hogan. While the club lacks a ‘global star’ on the football pitch, he believes the club doesn’t have a reason to worry. He says, “It certainly has (marketing) value when you have a global star. From our perspective we have one of the biggest global stars in football in Jurgen Klopp (manager of the club). From a personality standpoint and from a leadership perspective it has been incredibly valuable and beneficial for the club since he’s joined.”
“In the past we’ve had global iconic players come to the club and that’s been terrific. Today, we have a talented young squad of players that are growing into their own and some of them are destined to become ‘big name stars’. I don’t think it (not having a global big name player) hurts us by any means. The club is such a big significant club that it stands on its own in terms of passion and following. We’ve seen this when we go around on tours. We’ve had no impact in terms of crowd size or passion. As we look at it, we are one of the few teams in the world that can sell out stadiums. And there are clubs with big stars who can’t do that. We are focused on winning. We believe the club is in the right hands with Jurgen Klopp. We’ve seen this season that we have a competitive team playing in the most competitive league in the world,” he adds.
Most trusted sports brand in India
According to the Brand Trust Report, Liverpool FC was ranked number one among sports brands in India in 2012 and number two in 2013.
Hogan believes it wasn’t a coincidence and that the club is a ‘trusted brand’ globally.
He surmises, “I think one of the things about Liverpool, and what makes it special, is the history, heritage and values. The term ‘family’ gets used a lot with regards to the club. We operate in a way that we let our values lead and we believe in ‘the Liverpool way’. That was the reason why we were voted as the most trusted sports brand in India. We are proud of our history, fan base in India and other markets. We care deeply about the market and were honoured to receive that.”