Are Manchester United and their rivals paying the branding penalty?

It’s a massive week for English football clubs – Chelsea and Man City fight it out for the Champions League title this Saturday, following Manchester United’s defeat in the Europa League final on Wednesday. But after the European Super League controversy, have these football giants been shown a red card by the wider public?

We took a look using our Fame, Feeling and Fluency brand health methodology. Our data shows that the European Super League (ESL) fallout has damaged the brands in the near term – but looking forward, at least one half of Manchester may have reason to be cheerful…

A quick reminder of our Fame, Feeling & Fluency method for measuring brand health. Fame measures how quickly a brand comes to mind, and reflects current market strength. Feeling represents positive feeling towards a band, and predicts future growth. Fluency measures how distinctive and quickly recognisable a brand and its assets are, and it predicts how much of a price premium a brand can charge.

Taken together they form an overall measure of brand health – and when we look at the big English football clubs we see that the traditional big boys still lead on the 3 Fs, with Manchester United and Liverpool the strongest brands in the country. Manchester City and Chelsea are very much at the head of the chasing pack, though, both coming out as strong 3-Star performers.

So let’s take a closer look at the three clubs appearing in the European finals. United come top of all three Fame, Feeling and Fluency measures – not surprising given their stellar history and lasting success. But while City have a way to go to catch up on Fame, when it comes to Feeling they’re almost level.

Create a campaign fit for champions

Download the System1 Starting 11 Playbook - our 11 guiding principles for creating winning ads.

That’s to be expected given City’s unprecedented recent success, which has won them new fans. When a brand’s Feeling is higher than you’d expect given its size, we predict growth, and that’s the case with Manchester City at the moment. The trend also holds for the US, reflecting the work the club has done establishing its brand overseas.

So much for positive emotion. It’s when we look at negative emotion that we see the immediate impact of the abortive European Super League.

Every football club attracts negativity – rivalry is part of the game. But most people are neutral towards any given side. In the case of United, City and Chelsea, though, their involvement in the ESL has clearly boosted negative feeling. We see it crop up repeatedly among people feeling Anger and Contempt towards the clubs, allied with more general sentiments around greed and money.

We see the effect of the ESL when we look at Bayern Munich, also a massive club but partially fan-owned and one which didn’t join the proposed new league. Bayern attracts a lot of neutrality, some respect for its fans and traditions, but almost no negative emotion compared to the English clubs.


ESL involvement also impacts brand associations – Bayern Munich enjoys a far stronger association with Integrity and Trust than the English clubs. Though again, we see Man City associated with Growing More Popular, reinforcing the pattern we saw with its Feeling score.


What kind of lasting damage will ESL involvement do? Probably not a lot. Given continued investment, strong brands remain strong. Positive feeling for the English clubs is driven by performance on the pitch and wide support rather than any expectations of responsible behaviour. Nonetheless, the anger from just two days’ involvement is real, and it’s clear international leagues are toxic for club brands, at least for now.

Assuming no return of the ESL, though, the future looks secure, and particularly for City, whose on-pitch success is translating into fan growth. Win or lose on Saturday, their brand future is very bright.

Want to see how your brand stacks up?

System1’s Test Your Brand ensures you have the right information to explain brand share movements, predict likely future gains & surface the actions required to grow your brand.

Get In Touch

Got a Marketing problem? We'd love to hear about it. Tell us what you're looking for and we'll get in touch ASAP.