Customer Engagement Triggers Manchester United’s Brand Loyalty

Manchester United is one of the most popular and recognizable professional sports teams on earth. With nearly 660 million global supporters, Manchester United always wants to improve the customer experience to maintain its lofty global standing.

Customer engagement is critical for Manchester United.

During the team’s Sept. 21 fourth-quarter earnings call, Ed Woodward, executive vice chairman of Manchester United, said the fiscal 2017 results set records by generating higher revenues, EBITDA, and operating profit.

Manchester United announced 12 sponsorship deals, including nine global partnerships, one regional, one financial service, and one MUTV international deal.

“As we reached to more mature profile for our sponsorship business, we see higher levels of revenues each year being subject to renewal considerations by our partners,” Woodward explained. “In respect to both renewals and new business, we are taking steps to ensure that we continue to innovate, maintain our advantage in an increasingly competitive market, and harness the advantages of digital and social marketing.”

Manchester United continues to test and learn from its MUTV direct-to-consumer proposition as it builds on the February launch of the MUTV app in February.

“We live-streamed all seven of our summer tour games, both linear and digital, produced over 32 live shows during the tour, and we learned all aspects of the progress,” Woodward explained. “From the effectiveness of the different marketing methods to drive awareness, downloads, and subscriptions to geographic, consumption habits, and operational learning.”

Regarding the launch of the MUTV direct-to-consumer, Manchester United diversified its audience demographic, significantly reducing the average age of subscribers from 54 years old on MUTV linear to 32 years old on MUTV digital; and secondly, the U.S. now accounts for more than 20 percent of its global subscribers.

Meanwhile, Manchester United plans to launch a new website and official Club app in the near future.

“These new products will highlight our video, editorial, and production capabilities, focus on providing a best-of-breed matchday experience for fans aligning storytelling with affinity, and bring fans closer to the Club and other fans,” Woodward added. “There will be a much broader offering than our current products, with the far wider range of functionality including news, data, player and team statistics, and improved personalization.”

What’s more, Manchester United’s social profile includes more than 150 million global followers. Twitter recently confirmed that #MUSC is the most tweeted team hashtag in global sports and Mailman Consultancy announced in its sixth Annual Red Carpet Report earlier this year that Manchester United is the most influential sports team in China.

E-commerce recorded 13 percent year-over-year growth.

“This growth was supported by strong growth in the United States, following the decision for Fanatics to operate this market independently from the core United direct site,” Woodward said. “We also had a record-breaking year for official membership with over 180,000 memberships being sold for the 2016-17 season, beating the previous record of 155,000 memberships, which was set 14 years ago.”

Imagine Experience founder and CEO Bill McCoy told Loyalty360 that Manchester United is the worldwide model on how to market and grow a sports organization.

“And its secret to success is growth through customer engagement,” McCoy explained. “The key aspect it understands is that it isn’t really a sports team; it’s a content creation organization. Delivering a winner on the field is the first step, which it does year after year to attract fans, but finding unique and new ways to retain, engage, and grow these fans is unparalleled in sports. Learning where its customers live and knowing how to deliver content to them is the reason Manchester United’s brand continues to grow, and other sports teams would be wise to copy this approach.”

Evan Magliocca, brand marketing manager for Baseman Insights & Marketing, told Loyalty360 that Manchester United is the first of what will be many teams bringing their products direct-to-consumer. 

“Sports fans can’t get enough content and there’s definitely a vacuum in the space right now,” Magliocca explained. “The global sports news industry is too surface-level and it can’t provide the depth fans want on their favorite teams because it has so many categories to cover. As content becomes richer and teams invest in production capabilities, they can enhance their share of the market even more. Manchester United can capitalize on that at the expense of ESPN and other sports networks.” 


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