x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A new formula in football marketing

As Chelsea and Sauber join forces, Gary Meenaghan plays matchmaker between the Premier League and F1 marques.

Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, was at the Sauber garage in Monaco last weekend.
Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, was at the Sauber garage in Monaco last weekend.

The sight of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich relaxing in the Sauber motorhome in Monte Carlo last weekend drove home the reality of the recently announced partnership between the two sports teams, one an English football club celebrating 20 years in the Premier League, the other a Swiss racing marque celebrating two decades in Formula One.

It was this quirk of the history books that Ron Gourlay, the West London club's chief executive, had earlier spoken of when discussing the similarities of the two teams.

When asked by The National whether he expected rivals to strike similar deals, he said he thought others would follow suit, but stressed "the key is the lead".

Only Chelsea are not the first football team to display their logo on an F1 car. In fact, they are not even the first football team from West London to display their logo on an F1 car.

Caterham have been carrying logos and messages regarding Queens Park Rangers for more than six months and their partnership makes a lot more obvious sense: the Malaysian race team owner Tony Fernandes bought QPR from Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore last August.

Gourlay was adamant that while Abramovich is an ardent F1 enthusiast, he has no intention of purchasing Sauber, meaning the deal is likely to remain primarily a vehicle for what advertising gurus call "cross-platform marketing".

The idea is that Sauber, a team often cast as middle order, become synonymous with football's champions of Europe, while Chelsea, a team often labelled rich and lacking history, become intrinsically linked with an F1 marque that, over time, has built itself up from nothing to compete at the pinnacle of its sport.

If Gourlay is correct and other English Premier League teams do follow suit, it will be fascinating to see to which marques they align themselves.

Forget the mutual ties to Abu Dhabi that Manchester City share with Ferrari, the English league champions could surely partner with no team other than Red Bull Racing.

Boasting forward-thinking owners with barrels of wealth, both have attracted the wrath of traditionalists critical of the way money has seen the teams rise meteorically from mid-table to championship winners.

For Sebastian Vettel's heroics at Yas Marina Circuit, where he won the drivers' title at the last race of the 2010 season, read Sergio Aguero's injury-time winner earlier this month against QPR to seal City's first league title for 44 years.

Ferrari, steeped in history and clad in red, would prove an ideal match for Manchester United.

The Italian manufacturers secured eight constructors' championships in 10 years between 1999 and 2008, but have recently seen their domination derailed by youthful upstarts.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men have enjoyed a similar spell of superiority - eight titles since 1999 - but were dethroned this season.

The positive that both teams can take, however, is that even when the team is underperforming, they have the personnel to keep them in the hunt.

For Fernando Alonso's unfathomable performance in Japan last year, where his vastly inferior car had absolutely no right to be fighting for a podium yet finished just 1.16 seconds behind the winner, read Wayne Rooney's overhead kick against City in 2011.

United had just conceded an equaliser and were being steamrollered on their way to a derby day defeat before the English forward pulled off a sensational bicycle kick to hand Ferguson's men the three points.

Who else but Arsenal could align themselves to McLaren-Mercedes, an illustrious team built around home-grown talent, but seriously lacking on success in recent years?

The North London side are lauded for the elegance with which they play the beautiful game, yet style must also have substance and Arsene Wenger's team have not won the ultimate domestic prize since 2004.

Likewise, McLaren have flattered to deceive: great looking car, talented drivers, but no constructors' championships since 1998. Additionally, both teams have the habit of shooting themselves in the foot.

For last month's Chinese Grand Prix, where a botched McLaren pit stop ended Jenson Button's hopes of fighting Nico Rosberg for victory, read the 2011 Carling Cup final where a calamitous communication breakdown between Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny gifted Birmingham City victory.

Perhaps Tottenham Hotspur could sign a deal with Mercedes. Both teams chase the success of bygone eras with recent results showing gradual improvement, but signs suggest that to achieve their goals they must cut ties to the past and invest in youth.

For Michael Schumacher and his ageing body, read Ledley King and his dodgy knees.

Of course, much of the above is a tongue-in-cheek hypothesis, but as Alan Pardew, the Newcastle United manager, said after visiting Marussia in Monaco last weekend: "The sports are completely different. But there are a lot of parallels."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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