Opinion: Chelsea FC listens to its brand advisers

Chelsea FC's dual announcement today (Thursday) of its first CSR report and a new charity partner will inevitably draw a mixed reaction.

Some will report it straight and positively; some will position it as an attempt to ‘turn around the club’s brash image’ at a time when it’s rarely off the back pages; others will be cynical, unfavourably comparing the five-year £2m fundraising target for Right to Play with, say, John Terry’s huge salary.

But whatever your position on the ethics, the initiative is intellectually intruiguing. Chelsea is the first major football club to commit itself to a professional CSR programme, using a leading PA agency, LLM, to advise it – and the first to employ a senior executive (director of comms and public affairs Simon Greenberg) with a high-profile PA remit.

Indeed, it is an example of a football club acting like a professional 21st-century business, which must be the sign of things to come as clubs increasingly resemble global corporations. This was effectively endorsed at the launch by sports minister Richard Caborn and David Cameron.

Even more interesting is Chelsea’s approach to charity. Somewhat controversially, given its owner’s billions, the strategy is to eschew philanthropic donations in favour of franchising its glamorous brand and resources to build a charity almost from scratch.

The approach was the result of a brainstorm among Chelsea’s executives who, unusually, include an experienced brand marketer (chief executive Peter Kenyon), a former sports editor (Greenberg) and several former commercial/sponsorship consultants.

Ultimately it is a recognition that Chelsea’s true power and value may lie in the brand rather than in its bank account, the prevailing media perception.

So while headline-grabbers Jose Mourinho, Roman Abramovich and Frank Lampard may come and go, this week’s initiative could change forever the way football clubs deal with their stakeholders.

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