Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Football shirt advertising: Punching above your weight

Justin O'Brien in the AAP3 box at St Marys stadium

I am not a very secret Southampton FC fan.  I'm always a bit contrary, love underdogs and will chose an opposing position often for the pure intellectual stimulation it can bring.  Politically this brings me into deep water, as my left leaning friends (I have a few - remember I work in a uni) think I am a raging Tory and my right wing mates think I'm a leftie liberal.  It's an interesting position to hold, and in reality I am apolitical. 
Hailing originally from Sussex, by rights I should be a Seagulls fan (Brighton & Hove Albion FC) having spent teenage birthday parties watching Mark Ward and Fozzie play in blue and white stripes during their brief sojourn in the top tier.  But, watching the 1976 FA Cup final (back in the days when live football on TV was a big deal) with my dad and a neighbour both rooting for Manchester United, I chose to support serious underdogs, Southampton.  A league lower, wearing golden yellow, Bobby Stokes scored the only goal of the match and my fate was sealed.  Those without a football association may not know that the stories everyone holds around how they first identify with a club are legendary fables.  And once you pick a club, you can never change, whatever happens.

You are allowed 'second' teams, particularly if your team plummets into the lower leagues, as Southampton did for a while not too long ago.  I did like pre-Emirati money Man City back in the eighties for a while when Mick Shannon (also an England legend, famous for his winding up, circling arm goal scoring celebration)  transferred there.  This is a really good thing as my wife, her family and my boys are now avid 'Citeh' fans.  Back to the Saints.....

Now, you are getting the feeling that I am quite into football and Saints FC in particular, you will appreciate just how excited I was when, thanks to a mate referral from Gavin, who is terribly well connected, we were invited by Southampton's shirt sponsors, IT solutions provider AAP3, to watch a game from the comfort of their centre line executive box. 

By avoiding the match day crowds we got to park right outside St. Mary's stadium and enjoy a friendly three course lunch with CEO Rod, Sales Director Mike and Business Development manager Oliver from All About People, Process and Productivity (AAP3).  If you use the 7P's of marketing regularly, as I am prone to, clever use of three P's is always attention grabbing, particularly if you have seen it on your teams shirts for three years without realising its origins.

During our pre-briefing session (ok, chatting in the car on the way to the ground) Gavin and I had discussed the value of a shirt sponsorship deal, particularly as Gavin had experience putting together such deals, with his club Reading before ethically minded Waitrose took that space. CEO Rod described the highly successful marketing strategy for his firms 500 person strong, mid-sized, organisation, which has operations in USA, as very much targeted at building awareness. Of course, the rather unexpected and significant improvement in Southampton's position in the table over the course of the three year deal, combined with the screening of English premiership footie  (EPL) now 'free to air' on US network major, NBS also helped. 

The AAP3 team offer a friendly and effective approach to using their corporate entertainment box, following up a highly entertaining afternoon talking about and watching football with social media links and business opportunity call.  I don't think Business Schools put enough emphasis on personal selling and networking (it is very rare to see modules on sales embedded in UK programmes), but this is something I have begun to put more emphasis on in the Royal Holloway MBA.  I really enjoyed learning about AAP3 and plan to write up a case study to use in my marketing teaching next term.

Justin O'Brien, MBA Director, Royal Holloway University