Billy Langsworthy talks to Miles Jacobson, studio director for Sports Interactive and Sissel Henno, head of brand licensing at Sega, about transforming Football Manager into a brand spanning apparel, accessories, publishing, gifts and novelty items

Sega and Sports Interactive talk evolving the Football Manager brand

Where is Football Manager now as a brand, and where do you want to go?

Miles Jacobson (Studio director for Sports Interactive): Historically, we’ve done a range of TV shirts that have been geared towards the hard-core Football Manager fans. We sold them on our website and they’ve always done really well, but the brand over the last few years has become a lot more than just a computer game. We’re now a football brand.

We’ve been working very hard over the last few years to be accepted by the world of football, to the point where we now are. So, moving away from, if you like, being a band with a few t-shirts, we’re now working with Sissel and her team and looking at ways to take our merchandise as mainstream as the games are. I don’t mean mainstream in Skylanders way, it’s the football mainstream.

Sissel Henno: We’re effectively offering fans the chance to show how proud they are to belong to the fan base. In order to do that, we wanted to find a balance between the iconic elements of the game, as well as fashion.

When trying to evolve a brand, does it help that you’re dealing with a property with such a dedicated pre-existing fanbase?

MJ: Very much so. You just have to look at our social network numbers. 700,000 on Facebook. We do have a rabid fan base. And people trust us. We did a survey a few years ago and the trust level was incredibly high.

The direction we’re going in here, we don’t want to do anything that’s rubbish. We’re not just licensing for the sake of licensing. We want to work with people who will do justice to the brand and deliver something that the people who like the brand and play the game want to be associated with. We want to do things that look really good.

We’re trying to create Football Manager as a proper brand that is completely associated with football. Away from the sportswear manufacturers, there isn’t really anything out there like this, which is one of the reasons why we want to do this now.

When will Football Manager products start to land on shelves?

SH: Timing wise, we should be able to hit the market with products in summer 2014. Some markets, like clothing, tend to be quite quick. If we can get a good assortment of clothing lines and accessories ready to go into retail by autumn time, when a new game is coming out, that will be really good timing. Then we can build on that and expand it.

Do you think the annual release of a new Football Manager game will also help maintain a yearly flow of new products for the brand?

MJ: We have an annual release, but Football Manager is something that sticks around for the whole year. Retailers are happy with that because it’s an evergreen game. We’ve been releasing Football Manager for 11 years and Sports Interactive have been releasing games for 21. Football Manager 2013 is 20 per cent up on FM 2012, which was already our best-selling game. As a game it is still getting stronger.

The other thing we’ll have in our armour when we’re talking to potential licensors is that we have proper stats on piracy. We don’t just know how many we’re selling in each country; we know how many people are playing the game in each country. This is going to help us in some of the territories where it looks like the game isn’t that big there, but then you look at the amount of people actually playing it. The merchandising is an opportunity to monetise in territories where the game is incredibly popular, but where we’re not necessarily selling games.

Video game indies are always looking for different things to stock to drive sales. Is a Football Manager clothing range something video game shops should embrace?

MJ: I think it’ll definitely be something the video game specialists and indie retailers could embrace. I also think it’s something the supermarkets will embrace because if you look at our sales in supermarkets compared to a lot of other titles, their market share for us is a lot higher because of the audience for the game. When people are walking around the supermarket, the dad is going to see merchandise and want his son wearing Football Manager merchandise because the dad might play the game on his PC, and the kid is probably playing the game on his iPhone. Because we’ve been going for 20 years, it’s something generations of people play. It’ll be great for both of those. I’d love to see our stuff in indie stores to be helping out those retailers. I think we’ll see it in a lot of places, sports shops as well. We want to transcend just the ‘normal gaming brand’ thing.

SH: An opportunity like this for a brand like Football Manager is unqiue.

MJ: It’s also important to make sure the brand is in the right place. The Total War books are absolutely ideal for that audience. For us, sports and leisurewear makes more sense. For Sonic, it’s a toy range. The way that Sega is looking at it is spot on. It’s not about flooding the market with stuff. They are trying to do the right merchandise for the right brands.

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