Leicester City Football Club astonished the world by its rapid rise in the English football league tables.
But winning the top-tier English Premier League (EPL) championship this year astonished even the most ardent Foxes’ fan.
The squad were 5,000-1 outsiders to win the EPL trophy at the start of the season — but ended up clinching the title in what has been called “the greatest sporting upset” of the modern era.
And the underdog team from the distinctly unglamorous east midlands of England has made another meteoric rise — this time in the rankings of football brand valuations. Leicester City’s brand valuation rose by more than any other team, according to this year’s Brand Finance ranking of the world’s top 50 football brands, published today.
In the past 12 months the club’s brand valuation soared by a whopping 182 per cent, to be worth €218 million (Dh910m), the UK-based global consultancy said.
That makes Leicester City the world’s 16th most valuable football brand — up from 42nd place last year, and ahead of heavyweights such as Italy’s AC Milan and England’s Newcastle United.
But Robert Haigh, the marketing and communications director at Brand Finance in London, says Leicester City can certainly not afford to rest on its laurels.
“They can’t hope to stay in their current position without a significantly improved performance on where they were before this season,” he says, referring to the fact that the 2014-15 season saw the Foxes only just escape relegation from the EPL.
Brand Finance’s Football 50 2016 report scores football club valuations based on factors such as brand strength and teams’ historic and future revenue potential. This year, Manchester United was ranked as the most valuable football brand globally, worth €1.07 billion, or an 18 per cent increase on last year.
Mr Haigh says that — while a team’s on-pitch performance is important — building a valuable football brand takes time.
“Having that winning ability is fundamental to perceptions of the brand. You can’t really hope to expand your fan base and your desirability for sponsors unless you have a winning reputation,” he says.
“That said, Leicester will need to really sustain their success before they can start to build their fan base in, say, Thailand … where clubs like Liverpool still dominate. Long-term success is crucial for developing a sustainable brand strength.”
Still, as Leicester have been owned by the Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha since 2010, that particular market has proved responsive in the run up to the team’s amazing EPL title win this season.
Brand Finance’s Football 50 was made up solely of European clubs — with no UAE teams getting a look in. But Mr Haigh says Al Ain is one UAE club that is strongly building its brand status.
“They’re doing a lot of investment on the match-day experience [and] in terms of outreach to both develop domestic players and engage communities in football and building loyalty to the brand,” he says of the UAE team.
But Al Ain will not be challenging Manchester United or Leicester City in the top 50 football brand league anytime soon.
“The global top 50 is … very distant,” Mr Haigh says.
“However the global 100 in terms of brand value is a realistic prospect, I’d say.”
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