Kenyon: best club brands based on loyalty, passion

Modern football is no longer just about playing the game; it’s also about building football clubs as “brands”, Peter Kenyon told guests at a Kuala Lumpur Business Club luncheon on the theme "Building Brands – From Manchester United to Chelsea". Chelsea FC’s chief executive officer presented in the Malaysian capital on his way home to England after a successful series of meetings with football administrators in the People's Republic of China. Kuala Lumpur is also the residence of the Asian Football Confederation with whom Chelsea has just signed an MOU in support of the Vision China program.

“In football, loyalty and passion first and foremost come from the fans and without acknowledging the fans, then you cannot expect them to become a consumer or a customer," he told the intimate meeting of top business executives. "For far too long, football treated fans as fans and forgot what customers wanted. Clubs have now started to think about fans and the amount of money they bring into football. You have to engage them better and give them better facilities. Fundamentally, I don’t think you can buy success,” he said.

Kenyon, who moved from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge, said the club's aim is to be the world's biggest club by 2014 - just 10 years after Roman Abramovich started bankrolling the club. "This is the biggest football opportunity in Europe in a decade," he said. "The job offers a huge amount of challenges. I am absolutely privileged to be involved in this industry and having helmed two premier brands - Manchester United with their great history and, now, Chelsea." He said Chelsea's game plan was to build up a stylish, contemporary image, apart from winning trophies, as they do not have the heritage or history of clubs like Real Madrid or Manchester United, Associated Press reported.

According to Zack Yusof in The Star, Kenyon attributed the phenomenal growth of football worldwide to satellite television with more people watching it than any other sports. The English Premier League alone had seen TV deals rising from US$120 million when it was started in 1992 to US$600 million now with the telecast of 128 matches per season. In 1992 when the EPL started, matches could be seen in only 27 countries but today it had grown to 194 countries. "Football is absolutely essential to the growth of satellite tv itself. It is just incredible how important football is to the media over the last five years. Football encapsulates everything, the excitement, passion, loyalty," he said. "This year being the World Cup year, 207 countries are now affiliated to FIFA, the world football governing body, and this is more than the United Nations. It's just staggering," Kenyon said.

Despite having been knocked out of the Champions League and the FA Cup, Chelsea is odds-on favourite to retain its English Premiership title, a feat only achieved by Manchester United. “The back-to-back Premiership title has only been done once in 15 years. There’s no doubt about it – the team which wins the Premier League is the best team of the season and that’s very different from competing in a club competition,” he emphasised.

Rajan Moses of the New Straits Times asked him if the salaries of football players in the English Premier League are getting too high and unrealistic. "We are involved in a global sport and the EPL is the most successful league in the world. It is televised to 195 countries on a regular basis. I think you have to put the salaries in that context ... it is a core part of what your business is ... it is your marketing spending and all that gets wrapped up in the sport. So I think the real cost is about how successful you are, against how much you have spent," he replied.

Azman Ujang of Bermana newsagency noted Kenyon's response to the question if controversies such as generated by Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson helped to build a brand."Controversies come from the external view. Controversy starts when you win matches. If you don't win, nobody cares and there no controversies," he said.

On Chelsea's market development in China, Kenyan mentioned that "some 2,000 retail outlets were selling Chelsea's merchandise in China and the number was expected to increase by two per day until 2008".

He later told Matthew Garrahan of the Financial Times that "pseudo marketing strategies do not work ... fans want to see a football team that's successful; that's what drives commercial success." He added that Chelsea was on course to break even by 2010 and was investing in other long-term projects, such as the development of the Asian market. Chelsea has about 4 million supporters worldwide, although this is much less than the 50 million that reportedly follow Manchester United.

Kenyon continues to hold Man United in high esteem. Referring to its marketing expertise, he said: "They do it better than anyone else." But he expressed confidence Man United could be overtaken. "Three years ago I would have gone to China and there was nothing there but Man United [fans]. Chelsea are now there. Our growth trends are faster [than Man United] in new territories."

The number of Chelsea fans has increased by 300 percent since Abramovich took over three years ago, a period in which the club's rivals took "their eye off the ball", Kenyon said. "If you look at Arsenal moving to the new stadium, it's a fantastic project but it eats up time and while that was happening some of the on-pitch issues were not being addressed so quickly."