As the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year in March, football seemed to be the least of the concerns in the world. Three months later, most of the leagues in Europe resumed action, albeit behind closed doors with no fans in the stadium.
That meant, football clubs had to look at new ways of not only engaging with fans, but also at alternative methods to fill in the gaps that matchday revenues left in their wallets.
In a conversation with Campaign India, Liverpool Football Club’s commercial director, Matt Scammell (who moved from Manchester United last year), explains how the club went about their business during the time and followed a successful year on-ground, in which they won the Premier League title, by also making it a successful year commercially, as it signed on seven new partners – Expedia, Sonos, Kodansha, 188Bet.com, SCJ, Monster and ThinkMarkets, during the time.
You moved after a nine-year stint from Man Utd to Liverpool. How different do the clubs function commercially?
All clubs within the Premier League share a similar global vision in terms of what they want to do and commercial revenue is hugely important for clubs.
At Liverpool Football Club specifically, we are very focused on being run financially in a very sustainable way. Our synergies with partners are very strong and it’s all about making sure we deliver up to their objectives. At the same time, we know that when partners invest in the club, it ultimately comes through to the field of play and investing in talent, which plays the entertaining style of football Liverpool FC is known for. It’s this football that encourages our fans around the world to support the club and also bring in more fans which benefits our partners. Liverpool FC does that very authentically and a great example is a partnership that we entered with SC Johnson last week. It was aligned with our beliefs on sustainability and thinking about the planet. We have a programme called ‘The Red Way’ which aligns with the thought of doing things more sustainably.
We also showcase authenticity in our interactions with our fans. We want to be close to them and we see them as the heart of our club. We want to do things that demonstrate the value of the global fandom we enjoy.
In terms of market size - how big would India and South Asia be for Liverpool FC? Would it be one of your priority markets? Is there a lot of commercial interest from India? Are we looking at brands that are wanting to invest in the club?
We are not up there with cricket in India, but are growing in the region for sure. The number of fans is at 96 million (9.6 crores), according to a Global Web Index study. (GWI interviews internet users across over 40 markets and 96 million Indians have self-identified as showing any interest/level of LFC support during the year to the end of June 2021).
The viewings and the engagement of Liverpool FC in South East Asia and India are strong. So, it’s really important for us.
Our foundation has been doing work with Right to Play, an organisation that looks to improve people’s lives in different parts of the world and the first country we entered with that programme was Thailand. It’s something that’s going to grow and expand to other markets too.
Right now, we have partners that are interested in activating across different markets and those that are headquartered across Asia Pacific – MG Motor being one.
We don’t have any Indian headquartered organisation partnering with the club at this moment, but we see India as a market where we should be creating partnerships. Some enormous companies are headquartered within India and have global aspirations in terms of how they promote their brand and sell their products and services outside of India. That’s an area we can help with massively.
While the club has always been among the bigger ones in the world - it was lacking a English League title for 30 years. When it was achieved in 2019/20, did it make any difference to the commercials? Were more brands involved with the club post the title?
It does matter to be successful, however, appealing to partners is a blend of many factors. It’s about a blend of success, having a high-quality team with skills, playing an exciting brand of football that engages viewers, and having a manager like Jurgen Klopp who is entertaining and charismatic in his own right. The history as well is massively important. Even before we won the UEFA Champions League two years ago, we were the most successful English team in Europe. It’s great that we are continuing to build the trophy cabinet, but we have a strong supporter base on the back of earlier successes and the exciting football we play.
So (success), it’s an important factor, but it’s not the only thing. The media and digital team has been doing great things to engage with the fanbase and reach new fans too. When all of these things come together, it does make it commercially successful.
The 2020-21 season wasn’t a vintage one. We had injuries and yet, all the metrics demonstrate that we were doing well in terms of views and were certainly engaging with fans worldwide across multiple platforms.
When the team was crowned Premier League champions, there were many brand activations. One of which was seen in India too with Carlsberg rolling out the Red Champions Cans. So, does a trophy win make it easier for you to get brands on board because partners can activate the partnerships in different ways?
Yes, it gives them a new way of activating for sure. The Carlsberg activation was successful for them in terms of the number of products they were able to sell. But even without that success, Carlsberg still has many successful activations with the club and that’s a constant because we have a strong customer base around the world.
The players and managers have a global interest, which allows activation opportunities too. So, there are various ways to activate associations, regardless of whether you are winning the Premier League.
The pandemic affected most businesses. Except for a couple of games, the entire season last year was played behind closed doors which would have hampered revenues. Were sponsorship deals affected too?
It impacted us majorly in terms of matchday revenues and that’s no surprise. Given that we can have fans in the stadium helps beyond just commercials for the club, as we like having that passionate support for the team.
With regards to the sponsorship community, our partners have been incredibly resilient. If we look at the last year, we have signed on several new partnerships, even though we have the underlined challenge or opportunity of the pandemic going on. Commercially, we are now more successful than we have ever been. We would have preferred Covid not happening, but the appeal of Liverpool FC has been great during the time and thankfully we have been able to grow our partner base.
Women's football - how is that growing? Do you have a separate commercial team that works on deals for the women's team?
The commercial partnerships ultimately come up to my position even though the women’s football team is managed by a different team within the club. Women’s football is extremely important and it’s incredibly important for us to demonstrate our commitment to it.
How that impacts me commercially is that if you want to partner with the women’s team, it has something that has tangible value.
Whilst women’s football isn’t as big in the UK or globally, as men’s football is, it is certainly growing very quickly and we are respectful of that. If you want to be a partner with the women’s team, that drives a very separate commercial consideration compared to the men’s team. The women’s team rights don’t come as a part of any deal with the men’s team and partners have to invest separately because they have real value.
The deal with Nike began in August last year. Are sales as expected? Has it helped you reach out to more parts of the world compared to New Balance, the previous kit sponsor?
One of the benefits that have shone through for being with Nike, is how they have grown the revenues in non-core markets. The traditional market where most of the sales came from was EMEA. The growth rate we are seeing outside that market with Nike is particularly strong. Their global market appeal and distribution across the world is working well for us. The kind of performance we have enjoyed over the last year has been ahead of what we did in the six years before that.
Nike gives us the ability to get appealing products in front of an enormous fan base around the world.
How many LFC retail stores do you have around the world now? Where are they situated and are there plans to enter new markets?
We have 16 retail stores around the world. Six of them are in the UK, three in the UAE, five in Thailand, and two in Singapore. We also have more shop-in-shops and online stores in these regions and in USA, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nordics, Germany, France, Austria, and the Netherlands.
We hope to be present in India soon too. Ultimately, we want to bring a little of Liverpool Football Club to different regions around the world and having a branded store gives us that ability.
What else can football clubs do to grow their fan base across international markets?
The best way to grow your fan base around the world is by playing entertaining and engaging football that people want to watch. It seems like a cliché but it’s true. If you play entertaining football, the fans will follow.
Having said that, there are things that the club has done before Covid and will also happen in the future, once we start coming out of it. We want to make sure we are getting out in different markets around the world. The club has been on tours across the world and has had fan events in different locations, which is something we should continue. However, those events will only touch around 1,00,000 people when you visit a country. That’s why it is important to be an entertaining proposition to watch on TV, and to engage with on digital platforms. Digital will be another area where the club will look to optimise what it does.
Any challenges the football market has with regards to attracting new fans and brands?
There’s no such thing as a challenge, it’s always about an opportunity! There are plenty of opportunities in the market, but the big opportunity now is harnessing digital so that you can engage with fans across new demographics and take them on a journey, outside of what normally happens on a match day. I’m excited about these opportunities and they crossover to the world of partnerships as well. But it’s about doing it most authentically so that the partners feel like they are an integrated part of the Liverpool Football Club family.
Whether you’re a partner, an employee or a fan, we want everyone to feel like they are part of the Liverpool Football Club ecosystem and that’s something that comes through again. The fans ultimately are at the core of everything for us.