The Beckham Effect

4 minute read


There are very few people as canny and as successful as David and Victoria Beckham. Together they have become one of the world’s most famous celebrity couples and at the same time, each has successfully monetised their fame, building powerful brands and generating huge earnings. And now David – brilliant footballer, father, husband, fashion model and global icon – is realising his dream to launch his Major League Soccer team in Miami. What will this do to Brand Beckham? 

Commercially, this is a very interesting deal. Major League Soccer (MLS) is in its infancy and growing fast, the league is currently in year three of its eight-year deal with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes and in 2016 Forbes Magazine valued the average club in the MLS League at approximately $185 million. That’s a big number and pretty significant when you think that back in 2008, it was worth considerably less – in fact it’s estimated that the value increase in those clubs alone has been 400% – a great deal for Beckham who bought in at $25 million.

Andy Milligan is the author of ‘Brand It Like Beckham­­­­­­’, a book which shows David Beckham in a new light: as a man who has harnessed his skills and his fame to market himself in the same professional and disciplined way that a successful company markets its brands. By looking at the choices Beckham has made on and off the pitch, Andy helps us understand how he has achieved his phenomenal commercial success.

What I find interesting about David Beckham is that very early on in his career, he seems to have spotted the opportunity to become much more than just a ‘footballer’, he seems to have deliberately and purposefully grasped the opportunity to build himself into a global brand. In fact he used a lot of the tools and techniques for brand building that you might normally expect to be deployed by a global corporation. When Adidas were looking at Beckham as an endorsement opportunity, it seems Beckham was looking back at Adidas, studying how they built their franchise. Beckham appears to have been the first sports star to successfully and proactively develop his brand outside of the confines of the sport for which he was already known.

I think there are five main reasons why David Beckham became so big:

  1. He was in the right market at the right time. From 1990, football exploded as THE global sport that could be watched or consumed 24/7. Basketball is global but it is really only big in USA and Eastern Europe. Golf is global but it is a premium niche sport. Football is universally popular and as a consequence it attracted enormous amounts of money from TV companies and sponsors. If Beckham had been in any other sport, he just would not have got the same level of constant exposure over many, many years.
  2. Beckham’s unique personal qualities were ideal for this market: highly telegenic and photogenic, the cameras loved him, incredibly dedicated to his football, so the fans loved him; always ‘down to earth’ and humble when speaking publicly, so everyone else loved him. A bit like Princess Diana he is able to appear in touch with us as ordinary people, whilst living a life that is actually as far removed from ours, as it is possible to imagine. I think other more naturally gifted footballers just did not/do not have that same combination of personal qualities.
  3. The Beckham brand is not just David. It also includes Victoria. This guarantees front and back page coverage of the brand, and keeps a story going about the brand for all kinds of people at all kinds of time. Her love of and expertise in fashion, together with her pop-star background brings her own followers and of course creates a ‘celebrity’ family which is rarely out of the media. And brands – particularly celebrity brands – need media coverage. Again, I don’t know of any celebrity couples who have had the same impact.
  4. The Beckham brand has been remarkably well managed. Brand Beckham operates with the disciplines you’d expect of a commercial organisation that has been building brands for years (e.g. Procter & Gamble, Adidas). The choices of what to do are consistent (sports, lifestyle, charitable causes around children and football), the brand image (logos, graphic imagery etc) are remarkably coherent over time, the management of the intellectual property (trade marks, image rights etc) is first class and there is an astute management of communications which means that even where there are problems, they tend to be dealt with swiftly (e.g. the Rebecca Loos incident, the social media leaks alleging his anger about not getting a knighthood). But above all in my opinion he has conducted himself so well over so long that he has created a reservoir of goodwill towards him (as has Victoria) and that has also seen him endure tough times when there has been negative press.
  5. David Beckham has also stayed relevant – like a great musician – he’s managed to move with the times. He’s gone through a multitude of looks and styles, from Skinhead to Miami Vice street cool.

I think that it’s these factors that have enabled Beckham to become the globally recognised icon that he is today, while at the same time looking like he enjoys doing all this and wants to do it. It’s much harder work than it looks! I am not sure if Ronaldo would have the same drive as Beckham outside of the drive for improving their football skills?

All great brands and all great brand owners are driven by something more than just profit, so when Beckham talks about this deal with MSL being a connection with his passion, with the thing that drove him – that relentless drive both on and off the pitch – there’s an authenticity to that and that’s what he’s using here. The David Beckham brand has been built on Football, Fashion and Feeling (a capacity for and an ability to engender empathy) and this deal sees Beckham return to the heartland of Brand Beckham. I have no doubt that, despite the early teething troubles, this will be another successful chapter in the unfolding story of Brand Beckham.

Simon Bailey was interviewed on Sky News to talk about Brand Beckham. You can view the full interview here.

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Simon Bailey

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