2013/14 Kits: A Move Away from the Brand that is LFC

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John Ritchie takes a look at the design of Liverpool FC kits under new manufactuer Warrior Sports and how LFC’s marketing is changing to appeal to a Worldwide audience.

agger2012_thirdkit

WHEN Warrior launched their strap-line #WeComeNotToPlay I thought to myself ‘here we go’. When I saw this season’s 3rd kit, my instincts were confirmed.

Working in marketing you get a sense when organisations do things to broaden the appeal across different cultures… look at the new Virgin Atlantic adverts. There’s a collection of characters with ethnic origins drawn from each of the earths continents, all with unique skills coming together to provide experience out of this world. It’s a brilliant piece of advertising and looks set to sweep the industry awards.

The message in the add tries to tap into your subconscious; it tries to tell you that Virgin is all inclusive, diverse and more importantly an amazing company that you must fly with. It tries to say look we’re a bit special, not on a local level, but on a global scale.

Marketers debate about making beautiful TV adverts, they also talk about broadening appeal, and they also talk about target audience and the demographic profile of the people you want to become customers. This debate has already been had at Liverpool, the commercial opportunity is no longer at home, it’s in Asia and the Middle east.

Forget new stadiums, Liverpool have realised there’s a whole other world out there with supporters who watch the Premier League all over the world.

Liverpool’s rumoured new kits have been widely laughed at by most fans in the UK. In my mind the new home kit looks a lot like Southampton this season, and as for the other two I’ve not got words to accurately describe the sense of pure disbelief, rage, or indeed horror that I had when I saw them back in January.

LFC Kits 2013/14
Rumoured new LFC kits for season 2013/14

I’m a massive fan of the current home strip, it’s for me is a work of art. I can even live with the black strip although I don’t see what it has to do with Liverpool. Yet the third strip makes me confused every time I see Liverpool wearing it. They look seriously odd and unrecognisable from the team I grew up supporting.

When I’m asked to approve something that represents my brand, my view is simple; I ask three very basic questions:

1)      Does it accurately represent your brand?

2)      Does it represent your history and tradition?

3)      Does it appeal widely?

If any of the above answers no, then it’s a non-starter. Can anyone honestly tell me that the new away kits (which I must state are at best rumours at the moment) represent anything of Liverpool’s brand as a club? Do they represent our history and tradition?

So why, oh why have Liverpool approved these new Warrior designs I hear you cry? Well it’s back to the global appeal of Liverpool football club.

Warrior who are approaching their second season with the Red’s, have seemingly had permission to create someone that appeals across the globe; and why not? Recent research shows the worldwide fan base is astonishing for clubs in the premier league.

Indeed Manchester United have an estimated 659 million supporters worldwide. The research firm Kantar, in their study last year found that for every 5 people all over the world, United have at least one fan. Roughly 325m live in the Asia Pacific region, 173m are from the Middle East and Africa, 90m are in Europe and 71m in the Americas.

Liverpool’s estimate is hard to find, in a recent Talksport survey it estimated our global fan-base at 77m, and United at 337m, however this was with a sample size of 1000. Kantars survey was based on 54,000 people therefore this study is clearly more accurate. So considering the bigger sample, you could legitimately double the estimate which would take us to 154m worldwide. That’s enough to fill Anfield a staggering three and a half thousand times over.

With Liverpool Vs Man United being broadcast to over 221 countries around the world, 5 times that of AC Milian and Internazionale, even Real Madrid vs Barcelona, the reach of the premier league is massive with the two most successful clubs in English football having a huge appeal. Surprisingly Arsenal have a larger fanbase estimated between 113m, to 326m depending on the sources you believe, however Rangers and Celtic have more people watching them than Arsenal do.

4.7bn people watch the Premier League every year. The commercial opportunity to capitalise is huge. Why do you think Manchester City’s away kits actually represent AC Milan and Internazionale? The reason is because they want people to associate City with the giants that are the two great Italian clubs. They knew that even though they were Champions, Liverpool and United both had trophy cabinets and global fan ratings that they could only dream of. So that had to do the old marketing trick, get people to associate with something familiar and enough people will surely buy it.

warrior-lfc_wide

That’s why Swansea City have turned to white and gold this season in order for the little known Welsh side to capitalise on their new audience which is the Premier League loving billions all across the world. Their current strip is meant to associate people with the giants that are real Madrid. This gives the little side from Swansea a new commercial opportunity that 2 years ago would have been sheer fantasy back in their leisure centre training ground compete with badminton court etchings and basketball nets. It’s a far cry from the Black and White Tartan waistcoat & scarf they had Brendan Rodgers and Joe Allen model in 2011.

Yet Liverpool already has a massive fan-base both at home and abroad. The lack of success in recent times has hurt the club financially, but it’s only served to stunt the rapid rise of the fan-base throughout the world rather than see it decline. They have a massive opportunity commercially to reach out to the developing world in new ways and they’ll take it. Why? So they can add new lines of revenue and in order to attract the top sponsorship/strip deals to enable transfers, new stadiums and the best budgets to run the club.

In my view, these new strips are designed for just that. They’re designed to appeal to Asian markets and a new breed of premier league loving fans. Barcelona have also done the same thing with their away kit this year, and why not? Barcelona knows that whilst La Liga is massive, the premier league has a far greater cut through and audience due a much more successful marketing strategy over the last 20+ years. Barca are all about building a sustainable business, look at their academy success in bringing world class players through. That’s not luck, that’s planning. They also know that they wont win the Champions League every year, therefore despite being the awesome side they are, they have to keep interest in the Barca brand alive and kicking. They know Asia is the very hotbed of football fan growth.

The current LFC away kit
The current LFC away kit

Liverpool in all fairness has never hidden the fact that they want to expand their global appeal. Twitter accounts across all the world and new websites launched is part one of the plan according to Paul Rodgers, LFC’s Head of International Development. They want Liverpool to become the largest followed side online and this year achieved that aim. That’s phase one, phase 2 is clearly more than that. Phase 2 is where the serious money is made.

Well that’s great I hear you say, what’s the issue? Well, the issue is that in doing all that you forget what makes Liverpool a little bit different. The Kop!

The Kop is flown all over the world on laptops, commercial brochures, powerpoint presentations and endlessly talked about by the clubs senior staff and rightly so. The Kop is probably as famous and the club itself. It’s a product the club sell to would be investors and it’s one hell of a product.

Yet with ever increasing ticket prices, many people now fear the Kop will become a bit like the centenary stand. You’d have to be crazy if you haven’t felt the difference in atmosphere at Anfield in the last few years. The singing is occasional, the flags, smoke bombs, and the wildness replaced by middle class calm and corporate hospitality. Ticket prices are ever increasing and the people who made the Kop what it is can either no longer afford to go, or each year finding it difficult to really justify the amount paid week in and out for a place on the hallowed turf.

Andy Heaton made a great point on The Anfield Wrap last week around this very point, he said ‘it’s like they’re destroying the very thing the club wants to sell’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Liverpool will no doubt deny this, and they’ll point to focus groups and research they’ve done to show how wonderful a concept Warrior have designed. Yet it’s all just talk.

Alas these are new strips and they’ll be around for a season. Yet with each commercial decision, the club seems to be alienating the very fans that make Liverpool FC what it is, and that would be a tragedy.

Part of the enticement of Liverpool for me is the culture, the people, the music and the brand of football that Shanks made famous. I’ve no issue in trying to appeal to a global audience, but I do have an issue with watching my beloved team walk out looking like Picasso has had a few too many jager bombs before the game and went a bit mad with the strips.

This for me is a departure from the wonderful brand we have as a club. Brands do evolve, but they evolve based on tradition. Let the brand appeal go too far away from the amazing fearsome reds of the past, and we’ll end up looking a bit daft like Deportivo did in 2005-6 with their famouns Da Wanka strips. Alas some idea’s seem good at the time…

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