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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Beckham's brand power
By Briony Hale
BBC News Online business reporter

David Beckham is in apparent despair at being used as a political pawn in a Spanish football club's elections.

The fact that he is a financial pawn, it seems, is taken for granted.

Beckham advertising Police sunglasses
David Beckham: an advertising icon
Football was once accused of having thrown all corporate and financial logic out of the window.

Winning - at any cost - has always been the name of the game.

But the recent spate of lower division clubs going into administration and the high-profile collapse of ITV Digital has put a new emphasis on football finances.

And calculations about shirt sales and sponsorship deals are suddenly a valid part of a club's tactics. And nowhere more so than at Manchester United.

Commercial interests

Fiery Eric Cantona famously accused his old team of caring more about merchandising than the team or the players.

It is no coincidence that United's chairman is Roy Gardiner, the man who turned a brand as dull as British Gas into a marketing machine that now sells household names such as Goldfish credit cards and the AA.

Chocolate statue of David Beckham in Japan
Japanese fans made a chocolate replica of their hero

And United is the world's most profitable football club, largely thanks to the sheer size of its international fan base.

Maybe that is what gives the club the confidence to get rid of the man who, for so long, has been its most valuable asset.

Since Beckham is a home-grown player, he is not listed as an asset on the balance sheet, meaning that a fee of 30m becomes immediately available for other purchases.

Merchandising, meanwhile - essential to the Beckham brand - makes up only 7% of United's revenue, the majority of which comes from ticket sales and media rights.

United are banking on the fans still turning up or tuning in, with or without their star midfielder.

Beyond football

While analysts say the prospect of Beckham's departure is not likely to cause too much of a dent in United's finances, the story is completely different from a buyer's perspective.

This is especially true if Beckham ends up at a European club with only limited international appeal.

Beckham's fame could carry almost any club - Barcelona, say - into the limelight, making it the new darling of far-flung countries with few international stars of their own.

Japanese fans of English football
Spanish clubs would like to convert these Japanese fans
One of Beckham's key selling points is that he goes far beyond football, and is marketable to teenage girls in Japan who would not normally be excited by penalty shoot-outs.

And he spans many sectors of society, simultaneously managing to be a gay icon and the face of Marks & Spencer's schoolwear.

"He's stylish and good-looking as well as being a family-man, his reach is enormous," says Sam McCollum, a consultant at FutureBrand, who put a brand value of 60m on Beckham.

"His football, his experience with dealing with the media, his very sexy image all add up to a killer brand," says Interbrand's Rita Clifton, who adds that he comes with guaranteed fashion earnings.

Skill profile

Clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona have a weak profile in Asia, a key market for merchandise sales, and want to compete more effectively with United.

A 30m ($50m) fee could be paid back through increased shirt sales alone within four years, according to the sports marketing firm Apex.

In short, it makes sense for Manchester United to sell Beckham at his financial peak while he still has a few decent years left.

And, despite the 30m price tag, it could still be profitable for a club to cash in on Becks-appeal.

So it all makes perfect sense.

Unless, of course, you still believe that clubs should sign their players because of their ability on the pitch rather than their marketing potential.

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