No matter what the final scoreline is in Sunday’s match against Huddersfield, Manchester City FC will lift the trophy for England’s Premier League title. In fact, the club had pretty much sewed up the top spot a month before the end of the season, and in the process had set a record for the longest-ever winning streak at 18 games.
The club’s dominance in England this year was only slightly dampened by its early-ish exit from the most prestigious title in world football (soccer), Champions League–an ongoing tournament between the top teams across all European leagues. Manchester City also continues chasing its goal of becoming one of the biggest overall sports brands in the world. In world football, it still has a ways to go to match the reach and brand power of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and even crosstown rivals Manchester United. City’s rise to the sport’s upper echelons is much more recent, winning its first title in 44 years in 2012, sparked by the club’s 2008 purchase by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the half-brother of Sheikh Khalifa, the absolute monarch of the United Arab Emirates.
And like all major pro sports teams, Manchester City as a brand is equal parts sports team and media company, investing heavily in content and digital strategy to push its crest far beyond Manchester city limits. Nuria Tarre, the chief marketing officer of the team’s parent company City Football Group, says that aside from the game itself, the team’s digital and content strategy is probably its most important product.
“Our strategy is quite forward-looking,” she says. “Not only do you have to understand the various platforms and how to use them, you also need to know how to tell the stories that will set the right tone.”
Tarre says the brand voice and personality has been a bit more cheeky, trying to get its players out of their comfort zone. Part of this is shooting a lot of video content during training and around the clubhouse to bring fans inside as much as possible. The sponsored “tunnel cam” captures the moments before each game, when the players are in their final preparations. This season the team was also being constantly followed by an Amazon documentary crew.
“We want fans to get a real sense of the club, the players, and what goes on in training and elsewhere,” she says. “It’s always about trying to find more ways to bring fans closer to the club.”
As teams invest more in content, so too do their corporate partnerships expand beyond the kits, sidelines, and stadium name rights. Last month, Manchester City announced a multi-year partnership with Tinder, and has much of its video content sponsored, like the Tunnel Cam by Abu Dhabi-based telecom Etisalat, a “goal of the month” feature sponsored by Nissan, and a branded content series “City2City” with Etihad Airways.
“It’s fundamental to our business and reflects how brands want to engage with sports brands and football specifically,” says Tarre. “Some partners are looking for brand exposure, signage around the stadium that gets seen during the game on TV, but more and more are trying to engage with the audience in a different way, through stories. In some cases the brands bring ideas. In others, we come up with the ideas, but we always try to do it in such a way that satisfies the brand objectives while also making something great and engaging for our audience.”
Tarre says the brand has invested heavily in its content team and has seen success and growth so far due to four main factors. The first is making sure the production quality–from the stories and interviews, to the graphics and presentation–meets fans’ standards. Second is its work with influencers, not simply using players and celebrities, but also soccer content producers and Youtubers with audiences of their own. Third, it’s integrated the women’s team into the fold, not as a completely separate entity, but as much a part of Manchester City as the men’s team, even merging the two into the same Facebook page.
“That may seem like an obvious thing in markets like the U.S., but women’s football isn’t seen as a major trend in Europe and the U.K.,” says Tarre. “We’ve invested a lot, we have a very high performing women’s team, and we’re very proud to give them more exposure.”
The fourth factor has been how Man City has taken a localized approach to its global audience. Its web content is translated into 13 languages, and the club has producers and editors creating content for each language and market. “We have local offices in many countries, bringing us closer to the reality of our fans in various regions, and not having a one-size-fits-all approach,” she says.
City Football Group is a unique entity in world football. It owns or partially owns clubs around the world–the United States (New York City FC), Australia (Melbourne City FC), Spain (Girona), Japan (Yokohama F. Marinos), and Uruguay (Club Atlético Torque)–and leverages each to develop players and business in many markets. But Tarre is adamant that when it comes to individual brands, the parent is like the P&G of soccer, allowing each to build its own audience.
“The number one objective for each of the clubs is to engage with their own fans,” she says. “Of course, there are a lot of synergies and opportunities to learn faster about trends and test things in a much faster way. But it’s not about creating fans of City Football Group, it’s New York, Melbourne, and Manchester City fans.”