Matt Maher: Explore growth opportunities – but football trumps ‘brand’

Several years ago a frustrated (now former) Villa employee expressed frustrations about the most popular stories on the club’s website.

Russell Jones
Russell Jones

The crux of his angst was that, no matter how inspired the idea or original the feature, the most read story on the site every week would, without fail, be the injury update posted after the manager’s pre-match press conference.

“We are trying to get the site away from just being about football,” he told me.

It was a conversation which sprang to mind earlier this week, when Wolves chairman Jeff Shi claimed Premier League football alone was “not enough” to drive the club’s brand.

During the same online Q&A session, general manager for marketing and commercial growth Russell Jones explained how the management board no longer view Wolves as a “traditional football club”.

“We think of ourselves probably more of the Red Bull model,” he said.

It is a comment which no doubt raised some eyebrows among supporters, yet for several reasons both Jones and Shi were talking a lot of sense.

Wolves are now a very different club to the one Fosun bought five summers ago with commercial revenues having tripled from their days in the Championship.

Yet it is still less than a sixth of that generated by Arsenal and much smaller still than those made by the two marketing behemoths of the Premier League, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Any aspiring club looking to close the ground on the top flight’s elite in the coming years will need to get a little creative, so sidelines in motor racing, fashion and esports are at the very least worth exploring.

Wolves did this last year by going into partnership with Gulf Racing for a virtual race at Le Mans, while a high end fashion range was launched at the opening of the club’s Shanghai megastore in 2019.

The key is to not lose sight of the fact that, when all is said and done, your primary business remains football. Success or failure will still be determined by results on the pitch and the majority of supporters will still find updates on a player’s muscle injury more interesting than any side project.

No matter how clever your marketing, nothing can ultimately grow a football club’s brand quicker than winning lots of football matches.

Just ask Red Bull. For all the company’s success branching out into motor racing and now football, it still sells plenty of energy drinks.

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