The last two decades have seen a significant increase in the global appeal of sports leagues and teams which have broken national and continental boundaries. Some leagues, most notably the Premier League and the NBA, have been pioneers in taking their sports to new markets, with others following suit by leveraging their brand and sporting achievements in pursuit of the commercial opportunities presented by new markets.
As an example, the recent launch of a new brand identity by Juventus FC, who swapped the Torino crest for a sleeker and more neutral logo, was welcomed by sports marketers as a bold move to establish the team as an ambitious sports brand that is not confined within the limited geographical and commercial borders of Italian football. On the other hand, Juve fans in Torino were more sceptical about the move, expressing their fear that the club is losing its roots and affiliation with its home city.
Another interesting trend is the rise in new football leagues in the US and Far East paying hefty sums to attract talent to the top of their game from established European leagues, such as Shanghai International Port Group F.C.’s acquisition of Brazilian stars Hulk and Oscar, while at the same time trying to nurture home-grown talent. Although perhaps not sustainable, for sports brands the commercial attractiveness of these markets is undeniable.
Based on these developments, what are some of the scenarios we might see play out in the future?
1. Geographical expansion of leagues and clubs
With leagues and clubs generally not being able to scale their business internationally at the desired pace, a potential geographical expansion to new territories could start with early regular season games being played abroad (similar to the NBA). This could pave the way for the creation of new inter-continental league formats with the participation of teams from multiple continents.
2. Creation of a new closed league system in Europe with guaranteed spots for top teams based on their commercial and sporting performance
Euroleague Basketball pioneered the first closed league system in Europe, and although it is embroiled in an ongoing dispute with the FIBA, football clubs and governing bodies can draw many lessons from its experience. So far, the UEFA has managed to stave off any breakaway efforts to create a European Super League by working closely with the ECA and conceding more privileges to the elite clubs. Nevertheless, top European clubs may well continue to seek to increase their popularity and revenues across borders by developing a more attractive competition format with guaranteed spots and a match schedule suitable for their international fan base.
3. Proliferation of new leagues and formats leveraging existing sports brands, such as e-sports or women’s leagues
Paris St-Germain, Manchester City FC and FC Schalke 04 are some of the latest clubs to create e-sports franchises in the hope of tapping into new demographics and geographies. Additionally, women’s football has gained significant popularity in mature sports markets through the performance of their national teams (e.g. USA, Japan, Australia, Canada, UK), representing fertile ground for the expansion of women’s football leagues.
In sum, as big football clubs shift their focus to new fan bases to sustain their growth, the commercial appeal of scenarios such as those mentioned above will become increasingly difficult to ignore. Keep an eye on our site for all the latest developments.
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