From the Editor - Adug must win hearts, not just matches

This weekend, once the furore over the World Cup qualifiers dissipates, the sports media - and indeed many business journalists - will turn their eyes to the North West.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

On Saturday afternoon Manchester City FC hosts Chelsea FC. On one level this is just a Premier League match between two well-established clubs. On another, it is the first showcase for a torrent of new investment from the energy-rich oligarchs that increasingly dominate the worlds of sport and business.

Much has been written in recent years about the transformation of Chelsea with the money of Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich. But the fresh narrative is how the huge investment of Abu Dhabi United Group (Adug), which is buying Man City for £210m, plans to turn its new purchase into 'the world's biggest football club and a major global brand'.

Adug certainly has massive resources. It makes tens of billions of dollars from oil each year. But as Abramovich has found, the battle for hearts and minds of stakeholders requires more than deep pockets.

The new owners are riding on the crest of a reputation wave. Almost everyone, from leading pundits to fan club founders - even the outspoken Man City fanatic Noel Gallagher - has so far expressed enthusiasm for the new regime.

But things could quickly turn around if the communications are not handled adeptly. The American owners of Liverpool FC were much loved two years ago, when they invested in the iconic club, only to find their reputation at a new low recently, with fans demonstrating against their presence here. Their tenure is likely to short.

Contrary to popular opinion, football clubs are not simply businesses, nor are they brands. They are institutions woven into the fabric of British society. They are family heirlooms. They are pillars of their communities.

So the sooner Adug sees through the hype and begins to develop comms strategies for the various stakeholder groups - fans, local councils, local businesses, local youth groups and charities - the better.

Those who really know football plan each victory carefully.

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