Stand by for the Man City scooter and energy drink

Ian Herbert
Monday 08 September 2008 00:00

The vision of Manchester City's future, which is believed to have helped persuade the club's new Arab owners to take the plunge, projected the team as a brand of Virgin proportions with cars, scooters, restaurant chains and energy drinks all carrying the "City" name.

An 83-page document, believed to have been prepared by City's executive chairman, Garry Cook, ahead of the club's sale by Thaksin Shinawatra, sees a new City brand which could hardly be further removed from the current image of a club with a tendency to implode at crucial junctures.

In its new commercial climate City's aim must be to become "the Virgin of Asia and the world," it is envisaged, with a range of new commercial spin-offs including Citycars, produced in association with the Indian car maker Tata and a range of energy drinks in partnership with Red Bull, called City Powered, City Energy and City 24/7.

Other products include City mobile-phone cards distributed in association with China Mobile, a City fashion range, a range of food outlets called City Eating and a range of Citycard credit cards. Other possible links could produce City Mini Coopers, City helmets, City buses and a City Training facility in partnership with Manchester's Ricky Hatton.

The entrepreneur at the helm of the City takeover, Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim, said last week that the brand-building expertise of Cook, developed during a career with Nike in Portland, Oregon, which saw him become president of the Nike Jordan brand, was key to the club's future and the document certainly has all the hallmarks of the executive chairman's philosophy.

Cook believes that the Premier League is 10 years behind the United States in terms of merchandising, and that even Manchester United, the pre-eminent exponents of brand building in the Premier League, have, in his words, "not scratched the surface." Cook believes City's merchandising operation has been shockingly poor. "You look at our brand and it's Thomas Cook," he said recently. "There's something not right about watching us in a bar in Beijing or Bangkok or Tokyo and seeing 'Fred Smith's Plumbing, call 0161 ...'"

City's vision, seemingly grander by the day, does not appear to be causing the Manchester United chief executive, David Gill, too much lost sleep. Gill acknowledged yesterday that the kind of £135m bid for Cristiano Ronaldo which Fahim has talked about trying in January would be put to the Glazer family but that it should also be taken with a "pinch of salt".

"I think it's a fan's-type comment," Gill told the BBC. "It's interesting when Alex [Ferguson] mentioned the Dimitar Berbatov signing in advance that complaints were made to the Premier League. He [Fahim] mentioned [Fernando] Torres and [Cesc] Fabregas [too], so I think we will treat that with a pinch of salt. I have never met the gentleman. It [£135m] is a fantastic amount of money and would turn the industry upside down so I can't believe he is serious at those sorts of levels. We are not in the market to sell our best players."

After a turbulent week in which the apparent interference of wealthy owners gave rise to two managers quitting, Gill drew a line between United and other clubs. "Alex Ferguson has been here 20 years, made the decisions, decides who he will let go," Gill said. The model of chief executive and manager working together, minus a director of football, will remain unchanged at the club, he said. Gill also indicated that United spending for this season is over, once the £32m deal to make Carlos Tevez a permanent player is concluded.

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