For a club which is accustomed simply to counting trophies, it was a very different way of measuring success.
Manchester United's executive vice chairman Ed Woodward today used Daley Blind’s growing Twitter following, Radamel Falcao’s Google analytics and the number of news stories which are written up from content on the club’s own website as evidence that they are on the up.
The club’s global commercial appeal has helped the club almost double its first quarter profit - despite United suffering a 10 per cent revenue hit by dropping out of the Champions League - and it was the corporate sponsorships, the worldwide TV appeal for football and a social media reach which suggests that every other person on the planet seems to be clicking on United stories, which was what Woodward chose to list in his pitch to New York Stock Exchange investors, where the club’s shares are traded.
Woodward, who said that purchases in the January transfer market would only come in the “low probability” of one of United’s summer 2015 target becoming available this winter, admitted that Louis van Gaal’s squad was “still evolving as a team.”
But he presented the absence from the European elite as a temporary state of affairs, during which the appetite for United was continuing relentlessly. He cited Google searches for Angel di Maria – “a 12 times increase on Google on the day of his transfer from Real Madrid” – and Falcao – “a ten-times increase in searches compared with the day he signed [for Monaco] from Atletico [Madrid.]” Blind’s Twitter following increased by 72 per cent when he signed for United, Woodward added, “with his daily increase up an incredible 50 times.”
The growth in sponsorship revenue made this the first set of results to be accompanied by news of animated Japanese Wayne Rooney, Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie.
Nissan, United’s global noodles partner, has launched a Japanese marketing campaign, Woodward said, in the in anime style of Kazuto Nakazawa, who has graduated from work on the Kill Bill movie to re-creating United’s stars.
All this, taken with the 160 articles and 13,500 social media posts which flow from each of the 150 pieces published on United’s website each month, produced a powerful sense of the Manchester United phenomenon. Journalists know what Woodward is talking about. No club holds a candle to the response to United content procures, though Arsenal and Liverpool have a powerful reach, too.
There was another piece of consolation for United to take from their absence from Europe. One of the most striking aspects of the first quarter results was a drop in player wages at the club, despite a £150m investment in the transfer market.
Di Maria and Falcao are being paid handsomely, but the departure of big earners – Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra – as well as absence of bonuses paid to players for each point gained and game played in Europe, has seen a reduction of £3.5m - 6.6 per cent - in wages, compared with the previous first quarter.
The club also generated £18.3m from the sale of players compared to £1m in the equivalent period last year – a gain “which related mainly from the sale of Danny Welbeck,” United revealed.
American investors – who learned from Woodward that NBC’s streaming of the opening weekend of Premier League season drew a mind-stretching “8.9million minutes watched”, a figure up 56% from same weekend last year – are not the only ones who might find the Twitter statistics attractive. Players are looking increasingly to those kinds of metrics to build their personal commercial worth.
But the recipe for a successful football team has nothing to do with Rooney’s 10m followers or a tangential link to Kill Bill. Woodward spoke for many at his club when he said that “there is a feeling at the club that we have the start of something special.” But he and everyone else is still looking for evidence that it will build into something more concrete than the current seventh spot, with 16 points from 11 games.
The stakes are high. If Van Gaal cannot rebuild United rapidly, the pursuit and retention of the best players will become more difficult and revenues will drop, though Woodward is not considering that outcome.
“We look forward to getting further news on the total Champions League [TV rights package] for the 2016 to 2019 seasons,” he said. It is when we hear nothing about noodles partners, global TV rights and a “multiplier effect” on website articles that we will know United are back.
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