With no other arena to compete in but the marketing world, the New York Cosmos are doing everything they can to make their brand larger than life, while the Red Bulls struggle to find something that works.
Say what you will about the Cosmos, but they are an ownership group with very high ambitions and a laser focus on brand building. Their latest coup is one that has made international headlines; the non-existent club has been chosen to play the foil as Manchester United hosts the Cosmos at Old Trafford for a testimonial match in the name of Red’s great, Paul Scholes, on August 5th.
The news has spread like wild fire. Scholes is a widely respected, even revered player in World football. Headlines have playfully pit Manchester United Boss Alex Ferguson in a battle of wits against former player Eric Cantona, who is expected to be managing the New York squad in this encounter. Speculation has begun to run rampant over exactly which international superstars would represent the Cosmos come the big day, and, all in all, it has been positive press from all angles.
Not bad for a completely imaginary side.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls spent there time building a viral rumor that has left large numbers of hardcore supporters up in arms. Monday of last week, the Red Bulls twitter account teased the trial of a new player. “The Red Bulls will be joined by a new trialist at training on Monday, 6/13. More info to follow” it read. Exciting news, especially in light of a winless May and a depth averse roster for the month of June. The tweets continued, fueling the rumor with a little more meat: “Trialist on 6/13 will be from Germany, successful career so far & at the top of his game.” Sunday’s tease included this gem: “Fresh off 3 pts, #RBNY set to welcome German trialist Monday.”
Thoughts of Edson Buddle and Miroslav Klose danced through the minds of Red Bull supporters everywhere. In the middle of this rut, a tiny sliver of excitement creeped through the door. You can imagine then the disappointment this morning when a blurry image began to shine light on this marketing ploy gone terribly awry.
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bulls 23 year old F-1 Championship race car driver, turned out to be the payoff of the week long viral campaign. Now, there is nothing wrong with celebrity tralists; I was all for Chad “OchoCinco” Johnson’s involvement with Sporting K.C. earlier this spring. But the delivery and timing of this attempt was shockingly mishandled.
Look, May was not exactly a banner month for this team and June is certainly not getting any easier. The last thing you want to do is excite a rabid fan base with a prank marketing scheme. One win in six weeks hardly builds enough cushioning to mask the stench of underachievement this team has carried since the end of April. The timing of this prank and the target audience involved (the hardcore supporters of this team) made for a massive marketing failure not seen around these parts since the “Bulls On Parade” campaign.The tease announcement and it’s subsequent let down had the adverse effect of upsetting their fan base and reminding all involved of the various failures this team has suffered in their marketing attempts since 2007. Every other facet of the Red Bulls, top to bottom, has shown improvement in one way or another. From the front office, to the on the field product, to the shining jewel known as Red Bull Arena, Red Bull GMbH has poured significant dollars into their New York product. The marketing aspect however, whether due to lack of budget or lack of ideas, always seems to disappoint.
It is worth noting that this Vettel idea was probably of the “can’t refuse” variety, and presents another unenviable issue when speaking of the Red Bulls. The global business of Red Bull had a chance to showcase itself just before a major race in Canada, and by golly, they had the property and stage to do so. Surely, an organization independent of the reach of a global umbrella would think twice about bringing in an A list star from a Z list sport to attract attention to soccer in the tri-state, but in this case, we are reminded that the global brand trumps all other concerns.
Nevertheless, the boomerang effect of this tease has brought to light the shortcomings of the Red Bulls strategy, especially when compared to their fledgling counterparts. The unrestricted flexibility of the Cosmos Marketing strategy gives their ownership group the opportunity to spend dollars as they wish in meaningful ways that are aimed at establishing roots in New York. Away from the Scholes Testimonial and the global focus that announcement garnered, the Cosmos have been able to establish strong connections on the ground level as well, putting up meaningful billboards throughout New York City, reaching out to the community through popular programs like “The Cosmos Copa” that pits the different nationalities in New York against each other in a miniature Empire State World Cup, and sponsoring celebrity charity games to help local causes and spread the recognition of their name. Their development system, under the watchful eye of Giovanni Savarese, has expanded into one of the most respected academies in local youth soccer circuits. They have even begun selling kits and apparel, hoping that the nostalgia fashionistas out there help revive the colors of their franchise for a new generation.
Though a lack of an actual team forces the Cosmos to do nothing but market, they still manage to pull off the right moves with soccer being the main and controlling focus. With stars like Henry and Marquez on board, the Red Bulls could be doing a lot better than intentionally leading their fans by the nose to a rumor that goes nowhere. No one is against a celebrity trialist; they are against a professional franchise being used for the cross promotional efforts of a global billion dollar industry at the expense of the people that support them.
Perhaps Austria could look at the Red Bulls imaginary rivals for some marketing tips. They may learn something.