Are United Missing a Commercial Trick?

Opinion

We all know that United are a well-oiled, commercial machine. Have they, however, been making a commercial mistake since 2014?

Since the summer of that year, and the sale of Shinji Kagawa back to Borussia Dortmund, the club haven’t had an Asian player in the squad. Prior to Kagawa’s sale, their strategy of driving lucrative partnerships with Asian companies had been coupled with having a player from the continent within the squad. The Japanese midfielder failed to cement a regular starting spot, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t utilised off the pitch in various marketing activations with numerous Asian-based partners.

While Kagawa wasn’t a success on the pitch, Park Ji-sung certainly was. His period of being Fergie’s go-to in key matches was one of remarkable success for the club. The relentless energy of the South Korean international, along with the club playing pre-season fixtures, opening official shops and setting up soccer schools contributed to United’s fanbase growth across the continent.

A simple fact though, is that Asian football fans aren’t as loyal as their Western counterparts. It’s comparable to shoppers struggling to choose between Sainsbury’s and Tesco; loyalty is rare. Sports marketing guru, Professor Simon Chadwick, outlined this previously:

“A Manchester United fan’s favourite player might be Gareth Bale, and this same fan could also support the Spanish national team.”

United had to work hard to continue driving growth across Asia, but has their strategy now moved on? It certainly looks that way. Chevrolet becoming the main shirt sponsor (or principal partner as is deemed on the official website) in 2014 has coincided with the club putting more focus behind attracting fans in the United States. The 2014 pre-season tour of the US saw over 109,000 fans turn out in Michigan for their match against Real Madrid. They returned a year later for more and the club recently announced that they’ll be back again ahead of the 2017/18 season. It’s clear that North America is taking prominence over Asia for not just United, but most football clubs right now.

Coming back to that well-oiled, commercial machine point though; why can’t they focus on both continents? The club should have the resources available to be able to put some effort behind marketing to both Asia and America. One easy way of doing this? Purchasing a player from each continent! Now, of course, this might become slightly trickier in years to come with Brexit looming. Ignoring that for a second, here’s some recommendations of a few players United could buy to enhance their commerciality once again.

Takumi Minamino

Of course, it’s very rare that a promising player playing for Red Bull Salzburg these days will head to any other destination other than Leipzig, but you never know. The 22-year-old still only has 2 Japanese international caps to his name, but has 24 goals in his 60 games for Salzburg, including 11 goals this season in the Austrian Bundesliga. Thinking about how United have lined up so far this season, he’d likely slot in on the left-hand side cutting in. Could he succeed where his countryman Kagawa couldn’t?

Heung-Min Son

If we thought it might be difficult to lure Minamino from Salzburg, how about the tough task of securing Son’s signature from Spurs and Levy? Arguably one of the highest profile and best performing Asian players in the world right now, the Korean international has been in great form for Spurs this season. Comfortable with both feet but doing most of his work from the left flank, he’d be a great asset to both United’s squad and in commercial activities with his bubbly personality from viewing some of Spurs’ content this season.

Christian Pulisic

One of many young jewels in Dortmund’s crown right now. The American might be put off, however, after seeing how Kagawa’s move from Dortmund to United, and subsequent return to Dortmund, panned out. The brightest prospect to come from the States since Landon Donovan, he’s going to be the US commercial and marketing poster boy for years to come. He’s not too bad on the pitch too, with some standout performances across this season in the German Bundesliga and the Champions League. If United want to continue to grow in America, this signing is a no brainer for me.

Hirving Lozano

A bit of a wildcard suggestion. With Chicharito in mind, Lozano is a fellow Mexican and securing his signature would potentially appeal to the huge Latin American market in Central and North America. He’s currently plying his trade in Liga MX with Pachuca, and has 10 goals this season, following a 12 goal haul in the 2015/16 season. He has made the step up to the national team with 13 caps to date. Chicharito made the move from Chivas to United, why couldn’t Lozano do the same?