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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May, 2005, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Man Utd - still the brand of champions?
By Ben Richardson
BBC News business reporter

Merchandise
Will the Man Utd merchandise be as attractive if Glazer is in charge?
Football is all about what happens on the pitch, right?

Wrong. How very wrong.

The game is as much about profit and loss as it is about attack and defence. At the top of the business league is Manchester United, one of the world's most successful and best-known clubs.

The Man Utd brand speaks of history, tradition and success, all of which can be traded on.

And, indeed, United has pulled in big-money sponsors and diversified into financial services and TV.

The question being asked by many analysts now is what US sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer's takeover bid will mean for the world-beating brand.

Selling power

He has launched an unstoppable, if unpopular, 790m ($1.5bn) takeover.
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Daniel Gomez of Brandinstict has no doubts about the selling power of United's famous red shirts, its Old Trafford Stadium and famous faces such as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"United has a huge potential," says Mr Gomez. "Football has exploded recently - our sporting icons are going global.

"If the brand is strong enough then it doesn't matter who owns it - it should be able to drive itself."

Chinese potential

The biggest opportunities lie in overseas markets especially in China and the US, where Mr Glazer owns an American football team and the England team will tour this summer.

"Many countries are only just catching on to the joys of football and if they support United, it will give a tremendous merchandise sales boost," said Lars Hemming Jorgensen of Large.

United and its footballing rivals are in a difficult situation - without the business there would be no football; but without the football, there would be no business.

"Football is the essence of their brand," explains Mr Jorgensen. "The cornerstone of the most successful football brands, past and present, has been their footballing success."

Allied with success

The concept behind United as a brand is simple, and linked to our emotions, consultants said.

The team wins and consumers want to associate themselves with that success.
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How we do it depends on our lifestyle and spending power - we can subscribe to the team TV channel, buy match tickets, replica team strips and merchandising such as scarves and novelty knickers, or sign up for United credit cards and mortgages.

"What they are offering becomes part of a philosopy, a way of life - it becomes a lifestyle brand," said Brandinstincts' Mr Gomez. "United is trying to turn fans into lifelong customers."

"It stops being about football, it becomes like a celebrity endorsement."

Unscripted

The trouble with football and emotions is that they rarely happen as scripted.

Rather than welcoming Mr Glazer, many United fans have turned on him and dismissed his plans as a disaster waiting to happen.

And this could end up damaging the brand that he fought to acquire.

"The equity of the United brand can't be written down in a balance sheet," said Peter Matthews, managing director of Nucleus, whose clients include EMI and Toyota. "It exists in the minds of United supporters, players and employees."

Keeping a positive picture in their heads will probably decide how United does both on and off the field.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
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