Brands can no longer afford to treat the Premier League as a simple badging exercise and must respect the value that fans bring to football or risk damaging it in the long-run, warns former Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour.
While he’s the first to admit he’s no marketing expert, the former player is sure brands could do more to ensure they don’t price the sport out of the “working class’” reach. Football is unrecognisable from Parlour’s era and while much of it is infinitely better, he’s aware many fans pine for a less sanitised version of the game that’s free from the influence of the big corporates.
It’s why he’s chosen to front a campaign by Virgin Media and Football Supporters Federation to cap away tickets at Southampton this season at £20. Parlour believes it could be an “eye opener” for other brands to follow, particularly in the wake of a heated debate over ticket prices earlier this year. Those discussions pushed Premier League clubs to cap away tickets at £30 for the next three seasons, but also caused some observers to question clubs’ awareness of fans.
“What Virgin Media are doing is a commitment for them but it’s a massive opportunity for them to get involved and give something back to the fans,” Parlour told The Drum. “Maybe this is an eye opener for other brands to do similar deals and if that happens then it’s good for football. Fans all over the world want to see a good atmosphere and that will help grow the league.”
His stance is clear but the former England international is pragmatic with regard to football’s reliance on sponsorship revenue to continue delivering the quality in which fans have become accustomed. The fanfare around Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United is a world away from anything he experienced during his 14 years at Arsenal.
“Where I was at Arsenal the sponsors were nothing like they are now…whether that’s a good for the game is up for debate,” he explained.
“I still see quality every week on the pitch. I still get the excitement and a real buzz around watching football whether there are sponsors involved or not. The money has got a little bit out of hand but we want the best players and the supporters want to see the best players in the league. Sponsorship deals give you more opportunity to buy the best players in the world. Some might say the wages are underserved but maybe you wouldn’t have the opportunity of watching somebody like Pogba if there weren’t sponsors about.”