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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 06:24 GMT 07:24 UK
Can Thai cash spice up Liverpool brand?
By Bill Wilson
BBC News Online business reporter

 Thai man walks past a Liverpool poster at a soccer shop in Bangkok, Thailand
Liverpool could be seen as a "national club side" in Thailand

In the brave new world of billionaire football owners and "galactico" star-players, international marketing clout increasingly plays as important a role as what happens on the pitch.

As Manchester United and Real Madrid have discovered, there is a huge audience in the Far East eager to be associated with top-flight European clubs and stars.

Liverpool, despite being a romantic, historic, and well-thought-of brand name, has seen itself fall behind in the high-powered world of overseas brand awareness, where others have been increasingly stealing a march.

The main reason for Manchester United's financial dominance in the UK is its huge fan base in the Far East, where it is estimated the club has nearly 17 million supporters.

And part of the lure of David Beckham for Real Madrid last summer was the enormous appeal he had to Asian supporters.

It would be hugely advantageous if they(Liverpool) were to receive this money without problems or complications
Vinay Bedi, Wise Speke

Now Liverpool is hoping to increase its presence and sales in that part of the world, with news that Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is hoping to clinch a deal to buy a 30% stake in the club.

There is a counter-offer from Liverpool-born construction magnate Steve Morgan, who has promised 73m investment, but the Thai premier has indicated he will not increase his 60m offer.

It is not yet clear whether any Thai money would come from his personal fortune or government coffers - but it could help kick-start a new Far East adventure for the club.

Although the source of any funding remains hazy, analysts, brand experts, and academics are all agreed it provides the Merseyside outfit with a great opportunity to improve both its on and off-field fortunes, although the two are linked.

'Falling behind'

Michael Stirling is head of pricing strategies, as part of the sports analysis team, at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse.

He said: "There are two types of top teams in the modern game. There are those like Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United who push their brand by buying quality players.

"And there are clubs who don't have access to the same amounts of funds, but have the skills, expertise and facilities still to compete on and off the field. A club such as Arsenal has these qualities and has made a few select buys for the future.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry and Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra
Never walk alone? Liverpool's CEO Rick Parry and Thaksin Shinawatra

"Liverpool is falling outside this top bracket for two reasons; people want results now without having to wait for team development, and also the Premiership has become about much more than "football".

"It is about excitement, image, high-profile players, and marketing strategies. Liverpool have not moved with the times and need to be much more dynamic off the pitch.

"The 60m will not bring Liverpool up to Manchester United or Real Madrid's level, and Thailand is not the biggest market.

"However, this deal may be the first step towards a more dynamic approach and a restructuring both in terms of acquiring football ability and a higher brand profile."

'Star-driven market'

Lauren Henderson, director of brand analytics at FutureBrand, agrees there is work for Liverpool to do in terms of catching their rivals.

She said: "The job for Liverpool now is to try and step up to level of Manchester United in Far East, and see how much they can make from its brand in terms of shirt sales and perhaps sponsorship.

"One of the main driver of sales in the Far East is through star players, and, although Liverpool have Michael Owen, the money will allow them to bring in other big-name players and so increase their Asian presence."

Liverpool's star forward Michael Owen
Liverpool's Michael Owen: Marketable asset in the Far East

Whether Liverpool will be allowed the luxury to use their Thai windfall merely to buy a big-name star for boosting off-field activities, is debatable.

As Anthony Grimes, a marketing lecturer at University of Hull specialising in football, observes: "In today's Premiership they need the money to be able to compete for third and fourth place, and a shot at Champions League football, never mind first place.

"The money might also be needed to help them with their move to a new stadium across Stanley Park."

'Merchandising push'

However Mr Grimes sees a marketing potential if it is Thai government money, and not private cash, used in the deal.

"Manchester United and Real Madrid have shown that there are marvellous marketing opportunities in the Far East.

"Liverpool has one million supporters in Thailand, and this could raise their profile even further and give an extra push to their merchandising.

"If it is Thai government money that is being used, it could lead to the nation as a whole identifying with Liverpool - it will become the club of the country, which increases marketing opportunities further.

"If they are successful on the playing field, there could be a cross-over in sales to other neighbouring countries and Liverpool could be seen as a standard bearer for Asian football."

However, as football analyst Vinay Bedi from Wise Speke points out: "They can only do so much off the field without winning trophies, which is something they need to start doing again."

And he warns: "It would be hugely advantageous if they were to receive this money without problems or complications."


SEE ALSO:
Thai PM yet to clinch deal
11 May 04  |  Liverpool
Owen makes Anfield pledge
10 May 04  |  Liverpool
Thais deny Liverpool link
16 Mar 04  |  Liverpool
Thai PM eyes Liverpool bid
23 Feb 04  |  Liverpool
Thai PM renews Fulham talk
30 Oct 03  |  Fulham


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