I think many folks were a little worried when Manchester City found themselves bought by the Abu Dhabi group and immediately touted as the biggest, greatest thing ever to happen to soccer. It all sounded more than a bit naive and now the ownership has given City fans even more reasons to worry.
Manchester City’s billionaire new owners are planning an extraordinary vision for the future that will see the club branch into financial services, the fashion industry, telecommunications and even bring out a range of Citycars. The aim is to become “the Virgin of Asia and the world” with a major re-branding that will involve, among other things, City 24-7 energy drinks, branded Mini Coopers, official club scooters, telephone cards and a chain of City Eating fast-food stores.
How City plan to do this is revealed in an 83-page blueprint, A New Model for Partnership in Football, which was influential in convincing the Abu Dhabi royal family to buy the club from the previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra. It is understood the document was put together by the ultra-ambitious Garry Cook, a former Nike executive who was recruited by Thaksin earlier in the summer and whose vision of football involves a Premier League structure with 10to 14 clubs and, most controversially, no promotion or relegation.
His plans for City include a partnership with Red Bull to bring out drinks called City Powered, City Energy and City 24/7. There are plans to open designer clothing stores and tap into the Indian market, via the Tata Motors Group, by bringing out a range of cars and other vehicles, as well as branded motorcycle helmets. A deal is being discussed with China Mobile to sell City-branded phone cards and Ricky Hatton has been identified to help City Training fitness schemes.
This is clearly insane. Manchester City as a brand does not nearly have enough global cachet to pull this off. A club with the history and global cachet of a Manchester United might have been able to pull something like this off and make it a success. But City is not nearly that big and no amount of star players and even success might change that. Ask any marketing guru – great players and two Gallagher brothers does not make a brand. And it especially does not make a brand with the prestige to turn a scheme like that one described above into a success.
I can’t help but worry that this could turn into a massive disaster for City.