Football. Futbol. Fußball. Calcio. Pêl-droed. Soccer.
However you say it, wherever you say it, football is undeniably the world’s most popular sport. Travel to anywhere on the globe and you’ll more than likely see a budding young football hopeful donning the colours of their favourite team – usually one of the giants of European football: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern München.
It's a sport that, amazingly, is continuing to grow. There are an estimated 27 million people around the world who participate in football – whether that’s playing, refereeing or coaching. And there are so many more who love to watch it. Big events like the FIFA World Cup will reach viewers by the billion.
It's undeniable that football clubs are some of the world’s biggest brands – after all, they evoke passion and emotion like no other business can. At the end of the day, however, they're businesses. Unlike other global brands, they run on low margins because they must continue to invest in their infrastructure and their product (i.e. their players) to stay competitive. This means that generating revenue streams is vital to their success. And just like any other global business, they require an international marketing strategy to help them achieve their goals.
A global appeal
The English Premier League has grown to become one of the world’s most televised and loved sporting competitions. Fans from all over the world tune in each week to watch a brand of football that is electrifying and completely unpredictable.
One of the many factors which make the Premier League such a global success is the massive diversity of nationalities that are now present in the league.
In the past, England’s top teams would focus on bringing through talent from the local town or city. While that is very much still the case – at the moment, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Southampton have particularly prosperous youth team systems – clubs have realised the importance of scouting talent abroad. The ability to recruit players that can come in and have an immediate impact on the team is a vital commodity for a business that is entirely dependent on consistent success.
Historically, this approach has helped attract some of the most talented and exciting footballers to England. Cristiano Ronaldo, Dennis Bergkamp, Didier Drogba, Sergio Agüero and Son Heung-Min are all great examples of this phenomenon.
This injection of foreign players has created a melting pot of diverse nationalities and languages, and has made a huge impact on the league we know today. Nowadays, it's not uncommon for fans to go to a Premier League match without seeing a single British player on the pitch. To boot, modern-day teams are sometimes made up of players who don’t even share a common language.
At the beginning of the 2017/18 Premier League season, Watford’s team was comprised of players with 20 different nationalities and who spoke 12 different languages.
The translation game
The result of this surge in global popularity is that the Premier League is now beamed across the world to over 200 countries by more than 80 broadcasters. Games are broadcast in over 50 different languages – ranging from the world’s most widely spoken language Mandarin (1.2 billion native speakers) to lesser known languages like Tagalog (28 million native speakers) and Tajik (8.4 million native speakers).
But even with the global exposure and their instantly recognisable branding, football clubs still don’t generate as much money as you'd expect. Take Manchester United, for example. The Red Devils are by far and away the most valuable club in English football, having generated a record-shattering £581mil in 2017. But that total revenue doesn’t put them anywhere near the top 100 best performing companies in the UK.
Compared to the company which, at the time of writing, was 100th on the UK FTSE 100, Direct Line, Manchester United’s revenue for 2017 was approximately one-sixth that of Direct Line’s £3.34 billion for 2017.
So, the big challenge facing Premier League clubs now is how do they convert their international exposure into revenue?
Football is a business that is fuelled by emotion. People don’t simply buy into a team, they adore them unlike any other brand on the planet.
To cater for an insatiable football appetite, most clubs are generating vast amounts of content to get fans fully immersed in their culture and community. The aim of the game is to give fans more insight into how their club is run, to provide exclusive news on their favourite players and to give sneak previews behind the scenes at training and media days.
Producing content solely in English means that clubs miss out on connecting with 80% of the world’s population who don’t speak it as their native language.
Some of the Premier League’s top clubs have finally cottoned onto this notion and now provide access to their website in several different languages.
And it's not just Premier League teams who are busy creating multilingual content. Real Madrid translate theirs into a staggering eight languages.
When choosing languages for translation, clubs focus on the countries and regions in which they are most popular. And there appears to be a common theme: most of the translated languages are Asian. Chinese and Korean are the most popular translation requests for the Asian market, followed by Thai, Indonesian and Japanese.
Manchester City, three-time winners of the Premier League and current champions, are one of the most forward-thinking teams when it comes to translating their content. Back in 2013, Diego Gigliani, their director of marketing said: “We hope that, by reading news and watching videos direct from the official source and in their native language, they will feel closer to the club they love.”
Currently, it is the Cityzens that offer the most variety in terms of language choices. They have 13 different languages to choose from, which means that almost 80% of internet users around the world can access City’s content in their native language.
Without website translation, only 25.3% of all internet users would be able to fully engage with the English language content.
Localised social media accounts
Another factor which clubs now take into consideration is their presence on social media. Staple platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are all utilised by Premier League teams. They are invaluable for clubs looking to gain brand exposure and improved fan engagement.
Through their social media accounts, United share match reports, team news and transfer updates. This presents them with a terrific opportunity to link to their store and drive those all-important merchandise sales.
As well as improving sales, it also acts as an opportunity to give a major team sponsor international exposure. Manchester City for instance unveil their game line-ups in co-ordination with major sponsor, Nissan.
But even on social media, teams have realised the importance of translated content – and have created region-specific social media accounts to aid fan engagement. Liverpool, for instance, have specific Twitter accounts for 24 different regions. And not only are these accounts in different languages like Italian and Arabic, but they are also localised for regions of English speakers, like Australia and the United States.
For the Premier League as a whole, the popularity of the English game is as high as it's ever been. In 2016, it was reported that, internationally, the Premier League had a global reach of 901 million households. The league is also set to generate a whopping £4.25 billion for the period of 2016-19 from international TV deals alone.
It’s also commonplace to see teams at the top of the league appealing to their international markets in Asia and North America by taking part in pre-season friendly tournaments. Realising the popularity of the game abroad, teams use these tournaments to drive international fan engagement as much as possible.
Before the start of the 18/19 season, Arsenal – one of the most popular Premier League teams in Asia – will be playing two games in Singapore against European giants Atlético Madrid and Paris St. Germain. This is a regular fixture in the Arsenal calendar as they regularly organise pre-season tours of Asia to cater for their international fan base.
Clubs individually have also benefited greatly from this new-found exposure. Take Manchester United, for example. In recent years, they have leapfrogged Real Madrid and Barcelona to become the world’s leading club in shirt sales.
This success is made possible, in part, because of the significant efforts Premier League marketing teams are making – with translation and localisation at the heart of their strategy.
How to prepare your content for translation
Adopting an international marketing strategy isn’t just reserved for sports teams or brands that are globally renowned, however. It can be hugely beneficial to any business that has a service or product that has demand in foreign countries. And, if there is a demand, translation could be the vital ingredient which makes a venture into international markets successful.
So, what are the things to think about when getting content translated?
Firstly, just like the teams from the Premier League, you need to identify which countries or regions you are going to target. Depending on the level or amount of translation you need, it can become quite expensive and is a big commitment. Therefore, you want to know that the investment you’re making is as solid as that Juventus back four. A reputable and knowledgeable translation company will help you to identify not only the languages that would be of most benefit but the type of translation you’d require.
Secondly, prepare your content to be translated. When writing copy in English, you can go a long way to preparing for translation by avoiding over-complicated or niche wording that would be difficult to translate into other languages. In short: write copy with an international audience in mind. This also applies to the image layout for brochures, leaflets and posters, as this can cause spacing issues in some languages.
Lastly, take into consideration the social media platforms of your target countries. While Facebook and Twitter are hugely popular in the UK, this isn’t necessarily the case globally. Sina Weibo is usually the platform of choice in China and the same could be said of Vkontakte in Russia. Social media can be a vital cog in your marketing machine and you want to make sure you’re getting maximum exposure.