Styles Of Play Build Brand Success

By Mick Hoban

What do Manchester United, AFC Ajax and the University of North Carolina women's soccer teams have in common? They have each developed a distinctive, entertaining and successful style of play for which they are famous.

Manchester United is renowned for its ability to identify and nurture young talent and produce an expansive, entertaining, attacking and successful style of play. Tactically, they have always put great faith in wing play exemplified by Best, Morgan, Aston, Hill and Coppell, and for the past decade the mercurial Giggs.

AFC Ajax uses a proprietary evaluation system ("T.I.P.S." - technique, insight, personality and speed) and a highly competitive "streaming" system to identify and develop players to play "The Ajax way." With former players such as Cruyff, Van Basten, Bergkamp, Rijkaard and Kluivert, four European Cup championships and unparalleled success in the Dutch Eredivisie and KNVB Cup, few would argue with the sporting and commercial success stemming from Ajax's brand of soccer.

Anson Dorrance has built a phenomenally successful women's soccer program at UNC based upon a style of play forged in the competitive cauldron of UNC practices and honed using: a 3-forward system, the '"flooding" of attacking zones, support for "take-on artists" and an aggressive mental approach.

We believe there is a direct correlation between a club's style of play and its commercial success. Players, coaches and a team's style of play provide the sporting foundation for commercial brand-building as sponsors, fans, the media, alumni and investors are all looking for a style of play that resonates in their hearts, minds and souls.

The value of a club's brand is the sum-total of its tangible assets (stadium, long-term revenue streams, players' contracts etc.) as well as the intangible assets such as a style of play. The more distinctive, exciting and effective the style of play, the more likely a club's brand value will increase. Something Manchester United, AFC Ajax and the UNC Women's program figured out long before brands became chic.

The United States men's national team and teams in Major League Soccer have a great opportunity to build distinctive styles of play that reflects the U.S. melting pot and soccer's diversity in the USA.

It is exciting to think what the combination of outstanding athleticism, college-educated players and the introduction of players and coaches from the Hispanic, Asian, African and African-American communities will look like.

This reminds me of a conversation we once had with Doug Hamilton, the former President & General Manager of the LA Galaxy who died last year, about his vision for the Galaxy. We spoke extensively about the importance of establishing a style of play in keeping with: the breadth of resources on offer from their owners (the Anschutz Entertainment Group), the unique facilities available at The Home Depot Center, and the club's advantageous location in the flourishing Los Angeles market and soccer-crazy Southern California.

Doug spoke enthusiastically about a Galaxy style of play that would be dynamic, progressive, aggressive, inclusive, attacking, entertaining and successful.

As David Beckham starts the next phase in his career with the L.A. Galaxy, we hope and trust that Doug's vision for the club will be fulfilled.

Creating an exciting, successful style of play in one of the world's leading sports and entertainment markets will undoubtedly increase the Galaxy's brand-equity and greatly enhance the likelihood of commercial success.

A native of England, Mick Hoban is a partner in sports marketing firm, Soccer Solutions. His partners are soccer marketing expert Warren Mersereau and former Germany World Cup coach Juergen Klinsmann. Hoban started his professional career as a player with Aston Villa and played for three clubs in the North American Soccer League. He served as Community Relations Director for the Portland Timbers, is an "A" Licensed Coach, a former coach at college and club levels, a former member of the NSCAA's Governor's Council, and has worked in the soccer industry for Nike, Umbro and adidas, for whom he served as a consultant. You can contact him at or visit his company's website at .

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