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Sun 11 Dec 2011 09:51 AM

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Abu Dhabi-owned Man City are firing on all cylinders

Ignore the 'splash the cash' headlines: Manchester City is genuine business proposition, writes Ed Attwood

Abu Dhabi-owned Man City are firing on all cylinders
Manchester City is playing some of the best football in Premier League history

Earlier this season, Arabian Business was offered exclusive behind-the-scenes access to what is now one of the most talked-about and exciting football clubs on the planet. Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s Manchester City.

It’s fair to say that for your average football fan, the meteoric rise of Manchester City over the three years since HH Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) swooped in to take over the club, has raised conflicting emotions. On the one hand, the team is playing some of the best football in Premier League history, and superstars like David Silva and Sergio Aguero would grace any side in the world.

City haven’t yet lost in the league this season, and - notwithstanding last week’s exit from the Champions’ League - more often than not they’ve blitzed the opposition. Arch-rivals Manchester United were left dumbstruck as they were thrashed 6-1 by the Sky Blues only a month ago, in what is being seen by many as a sea-change in the highest echelon of English football.

On the other hand, articles about the club, which routinely shoot to the top of newspaper websites’ ‘most-read’ lists, tend to focus on one, or more, of three issues; the club’s seemingly bottomless pockets, the new financial fair play rules (which will ban teams from playing in Europe if they do not break even within a certain time period), and off-the-pitch issues involving some of the club’s biggest stars. There has also been a certain degree of sniping about what has been reported as the world’s biggest ever football sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways, which some experts have put at around $550m over a ten-year period.

But let’s take a quick look at those figures. For – let’s say - $55m a year, Etihad has won the rights to shirt sponsorship, stadium naming rights, naming rights for the new Etihad Campus, and, potentially, naming rights for the bridge that will connect the campus and the stadium. By comparison, Liverpool’s current shirt sponsorship deal is worth $32m a year. From that perspective, it looks like a pretty healthy piece of business.

But, after meeting with many of the club’s executive team, it’s also clear that there is a different story to tell – one that, for various reasons, doesn’t tend to make the headlines.

East Manchester, the district in which the newly named Etihad Stadium sits, is by any measure, one of the most deprived areas in the UK. A report from the Save the Children charity earlier this year claimed that levels of child poverty in the city reached 27 percent, one of the highest in the country.

In tandem with success on the pitch, City’s executive team have also quietly unrolled a blueprint that will help to regenerate the local community. Alongside the number of jobs that will be created by the construction and operation of the Etihad Campus, the club’s City in the Community scheme has already helped 200,000 people in the surrounding area. The club’s soccer school officials say they can reach parts of Manchester where even the police fear to tread, giving them an important voice in areas which saw potent civil unrest during the summer.

As the club’s chief communications officer, Vicky Kloss, pointed out to me: “It’s not necessarily about resources, the resources are well-documented. You can have as much money as you want, but if you don’t have the right people to execute it, with the right intentions, with the respect and willingness to listen, then you might as well not bother.”

Last month’s financial results – showing a significant loss – again caught the headlines. But with the spending spree now over, one word you’ll hear from anyone associated with the club is sustainability. Manchester City may be winning the plaudits on the pitch, but the quiet revolution off the pitch is resulting in a genuine business proposition that will be the envy of its peers.

(Ed Attwood is the deputy editor of Arabian Business. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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John 8 years ago

The difference is, Liverpool have an estimated 42 million fans worldwide. Only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Man Utd have more. And Liverpool shirts are sold in all the places where those many fans are, turning the 42 million fans into walking billboards for Standard Chartered. So $32m a year is not too bad.

City have a fraction of that support and I can’t see how naming a campus and a small bridge nearby is going to justify the $55m a year that Abu Dhabi are pumping in.