Brand Beckham still needs "Spice" for US market

Will the Beckham brand be successful in America? Married to a Spice Girl, good looking and a skilful soccer player - that is the verdict on David Beckham, following a large-scale survey undertaken in North America by the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, University of London. In a study designed to determine whether or not the Beckham brand will be a success when the England star arrives in America, findings indicate that Mrs Victoria Beckham remains fundamental to the success of Brand Beckham. The study’s results indeed show that she is currently the most important feature of the brand. After the ex-Spice Girl, the player’s good looks, stylish clothes and football skills were then identified as the most important elements of the Beckham brand.

The research brings good and bad news for the former England captain, ahead of his move from Real Madrid to LA Galaxy. Under half of the people surveyed knew exactly who David Beckham is, what he represents and the products he endorses. Many of these people also identified the player as a trend setting, stylish, metro-sexual, Englishman. The bad news is that more than half of the people who responded either knew nothing, or very little, about him. In addition, Beckham and his brand were rated very weakly when people were asked if they thought he is a family man, patriotic, down-to-earth, caring or faithful.

It was also found that North Americans clearly like their sports stars to be free of scandal and controversy, successful, credible and charismatic. Moreover, it seems that sports celebrity brands are more likely to be successful when they are associated with golf, basketball, American football or ice hockey. Someone who appears to epitomise what North American’s look for in their sports stars is Tiger Woods. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed identified Woods as currently the most marketable sporting celebrity brand in America, people indicating that they like him because he is intelligent, hard working, well spoken and consistently successful.

“There is obviously a great deal of hype over Beckham’s move to Major League Soccer” said Birkbeck researcher Nick Burton, who headed up the study. “So, we decided to try and find out more about what the general public in North America knows and thinks about David Beckham. In particular, we wanted to get a sense of how successful Brand Beckham can be.”

Dr Simon Chadwick, a Director of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, believes the results: “bring mixed news for Beckham and his advisors. On the one hand, amongst brands that are successfully introduced into new markets there is often a level of awareness and expectation built up around them. In this respect, the Beckham brand already has some equity. However, in the American market, much of this appears to have been built on the back of Victoria, the Spice Girls, his good looks and a belief that he is a skilful footballer. If Brand Beckham is to have any longevity, David must strive to make the most of what else he has to offer.”

Chadwick continued: “This is not necessarily going to be easy. Americans not only identify more with personalities from sports other than soccer, they also like successful, eloquent, trouble-free, clean-cut types. David Beckham therefore faces the challenge of promoting such qualities if he is to maximise the chances of his brand being a success. At the very least, Beckham must do well in the games he plays for LA Galaxy and must be seen as a successful sportsman.”

Chadwick concluded: “America is a large and important sporting market. However, one cannot assume that it will be easy pickings for Beckham – he needs good advice, his brand needs careful management and it is unlikely that football alone will be enough for the Beckham brand to become as powerful as, say, the Tiger Woods brand.” Burton added, “I think Beckham will have to look beyond football if he is going to successfully establish himself in America.”

The Brand Beckham research study was undertaken in North America (the United States and Canada) in May and June 2007 using a 32-item questionnaire. Using a combination of random and structured sampling techniques, a total of 614 responses was generated and analysed. The research is part of a report about Brand Beckham that will become available in September 2007.