Brand Beckham is back in town

John Davidson Roar Guru

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The David Beckham show has hit Australia, and three years after his last visit with LA Galaxy, little has changed.

Brand Beckham is in town to play against the Newcastle Jets in an exhibition match, and three years ago his team faced Sydney FC in an exhibition game at Telstra Stadium.

That match in 2007 attracted around 80,000 spectators, was won by Sydney FC 5-3 and was a solid ratings success for broadcaster Network Ten. It received around 1.7 million viewers over a three-hour broadcast period.

This Saturday’s match will take place at Energy Australia Stadium and will be broadcast by Fox Sports.

Three years on, little seems to have changed as a lot of the focus of Beckham’s visit hasn’t been football but on other things – why his wife Victoria didn’t come too, why he didn’t wave to a woman at Newcastle Airport and the Daily Telegraph’s “paparazzi chase” of him through the streets of Newcastle.

Putting this contribution together, I revisited an opinion piece I wrote for the advertising and marketing magazine AdNews back in November 2007 titled, ‘The great marketing hoax”. At the time I wrote that Beckham was in Australia to play against Sydney FC, but that was the trivial detail.

Here’s part of it: “The interesting part is the humungous public interest Beckham generates wherever he goes. Brand Beckham has long superseded Beckham the footballer.

In fact, as any knowledgeable soccer fan will tell you, Beckham ain’t that special as a footballer. Never has been. Sure, in his Manchester United days and England prime he put in some impressive performances. He won a string of English Premier League and FA Cup titles, and captured the European Champions League in 1999.

He’s also scored some phenomenal goals in his time, like this free-kick against Greece. No one can deny that Beckham is a very good footballer, and has been great at times in the past.

However, no one can honestly say that Beckham is the best footballer in the world.

Or ever has been, even in his absolute prime. And right now, as yesterday’s England international showed, his powers are definitely on the wane.

But Beckham has probably gathered more popularity and advertiser support than any other sportsperson, let alone any footballer, in the world. Beckham is the perfect example of how successful marketing can create and perpetuate a brand message, which is far at odds with actual reality.

Style over substance. Fiction over fact.

Like Pele and Michael Jordan before him, Beckham has become a global sporting phenomenon. Unlike Pele and Michael Jordan, he has never been the best in the world in his chosen game, or able to justify the column inches he generates.

But this hasn’t stopped companies falling over themselves to throw money at Beckham to get him to plug their brands. Among them, Adidas, in this ad, and the likes of Motorola, ESPN, Pepsi, Gilette and Walt Disney. Beckham has had films made about him, launched his own perfume range and has had his own TV series.

He is a fashion icon, the pioneer of the metrosexuality fad and has appeared on everything from Jay Leno to the cover of Vogue.”

The piece does on to say that the Sydney FC game is meaningless in itself, but all that doesn’t matter as Australia will go Beckham- mad and media outlets and sponsors will get their pound of flesh out of him.

“But here’s my prediction: The game will be a dud. Sydney FC to win by two goals. In the 1995 film The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey says: ‘The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist’. I’d say in this case, it was marketers convincing the world David Beckham is the greatest footballer on the planet.”

Now, to the present day. I must say I fluked predicting that Sydney FC would win by two goals, and I won’t be making any bold guesses for the Jets game.

But three years on and it’s true very little has changed. Beckham no longer plays for England, and surely can’t have more than a season left in his tired legs. This game is arguably a bigger stunt that the Sydney FC one. However, from a marketing and PR point of view, I applaud it. It has been great for the Jets, a club on the up, and great for the NSW Government and NSW Tourism.

The NSW Premier Kristina Keneally may be under fire at the moment, the same as Qantas, but both her and representatives of the airline were at the airport when Beckham arrived to ensure they got a great photo-op. To get that valuable Beckham association. Sponsors have fallen over backwards to get involved.

This game will also attract a lot of people who probably never watch football, or who have never attended an A-League game. So for that reason, it’s a great idea.

It may help to spread the football message to the non-believers and convert some of them.

But as a long-time football fan and a Jets supporter, I see this match as a farce and merely a novelty. Wednesday’s night match against the Mariners, where the Jets scraped home with a late goal to secure a point, was more important. So was last Saturday’s game against the Phoenix where the Jets got a 1-0 win.

That’s why I’ve passed up an $86 ticket for Saturday’s game. And that’s why I’ll be more interested in the Jets next game against the Fury on December 4, when three A-League points are up for grabs.

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