You can never discount a rumour in this business, however
ridiculous it might sound. Take some of Campaign’s stories last week.
Ogilvy & Mather falling foul of the race issue with a Ford execution
again? Surely not, when even the deputy managing director of the agency
denied any knowledge.
Fortunately Ford came clean. And what about those rumblings that the
Office of Fair Trading is investigating TV sales, even though all
parties concerned insist it’s a non-issue. Can’t be true. Except that it
is and the OFT says investigations have only just begun.
So when we heard that Lowe Howard-Spink was plotting to buy Manchester
United, we didn’t think it as daft as it sounds. Particularly in the
light of last week’s news that Rupert Murdoch had splashed out pounds
210 million for the LA Dodgers baseball team.
Murdoch’s acquisition is, of course, based on some very sound commercial
thinking. The deal will give his Fox Group the Dodgers’ stadium in LA,
their training facilities and, crucially, the broadcast rights to the
Dodgers’ games. But this is not a new game. Fox already controls the TV
rights for 22 Major League teams and knows full well how important sport
is in driving TV audiences. If you own the team as well as the TV
rights, the sky’s the limit on how you exploit the commercial
opportunities - and you can bet Murdoch’s done all the calculations.
Which is exactly what Frank Lowe is rumoured to have asked his media
operation, Western, to do: work out the sums involved and the potential
advertising and media pay-offs. OK, it may all sound like the stuff of
fantasy but think about the implications. Ad agency buys football team
(leave aside, for a moment, the fact that Man United’s price is running
a little higher than most could afford), controls commercial
exploitation and even, perhaps, launches a Man United TV channel.
Imagine the advertisers who’d like to buy into that little package, not
to mention the fans prepared to shell out to see the games.
Advertisers are even doing it for themselves. Nike recently spent
dollars 200 million on a sponsorship deal with the Brazillian football
team in a tie-up that also gave the sportswear giant TV rights to a
number of games.
The arguments in favour of advertisers getting closer to TV’s editorial
product and exploiting that association off-screen are well-rehearsed
and sport gets top marks as a prime marketing vehicle.
With O&M proving that a seemingly inoffensive 30-second ad can be
fraught with problems, and the OFT illustrating the potential pitfalls
of TV trading, it’s no surprise that the big agency networks are
embracing the higher margins and fee income of areas such as event
ownership and event marketing.
And while Murdoch’s personal interest in the Dodgers’ performance is not
well documented, Lowe’s passion for Man United is not in question.