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Brand it like Beckham

June 21, 2003

THERE is nothing quite like 'Brand Beckham'. Non-smoking, non-drinking and happily married, carrying his son, Brooklyn, in one arm, and pop star wife, Victoria 'Posh' Beckham on the other.

He sips only Pepsi, wears the three stripes of Adidas, sports Police sunglasses, uses only Brylcreem for his much-talked-about hair and wears clothes from Marks and Spencers.

So do many others-- but no one gets paid money that would compare favourably with the GDPs of many an impoverished nation, to wear these brands.

To boot, he is a brilliant footballer. He's the captain of England and the biggest name Manchester United-- the world's most popular club-- has had for the last 15 years.

In fact, in this merry-go-round of professional football, he has never played for any other club. So he is loyal, too.

Villain to hero in four years and in a performance that only the most imaginative script writers would have dared to write.

In 1998 he was sent off in a World Cup match against Argentina for an impetuous foul. In 2002 he scored against the same team in a crucial World Cup match.

Beckham is the hero of a zillion kids across the world. He inspired a film made by a non-resident Indian, where a young Indian girl aspires to 'bend' the ball like Beckham and change the course of not just the match, but her life itself.

The fact is that Beckham is a marketing man's dream. His moves are carefully orchestrated.

Just like the Beckham on the football field, forever looking for that opening for his trademark through-balls, he knows his off-field activities are what earn him huge sums and at the same time, the club he turns out for capitalises on his image and brand.

Even if they are letting him go now, the fact remains that Beckham was the best-known face that Manchester United had. And the club built its marketing strategy on that face and made a packet. Now that 'brand' will belong to Real Madrid.

For Beckham's agent Tony Stephens, this latest move to Spain will be another opportunity to further the brand he has carefully nurtured. Beckham will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish club after they agreed to a 25 million fee.

Many feel the timing of the announcement of his move had to do with his ongoing tour to Japan and other Asian countries.

Soon he is expected to be in China, where Real are bigger than even Man U. That's the market where Real would like to score in a big way.

REAL, who already have the world's best including Ronaldo, Zidane, Carlos and Figo, may have figured that the addition of Beckham will make them the most marketable club on and off the field.

Over the past few seasons Real have made a determined bid to match Man U's commercial operations.

Market research surveys in the Far East suggest that though they have the best in football, Beckham is by far the most popular player in the world. His is an English-speaking aspirational image no one else can match.

Real's president Florentino Perez, a construction magnate, built his entire re-election plank on getting Beckham to Spain.

And within days of winning the election again, he has managed to make Beckham's arrival official.

Now with the best players in the world, Perez can not only corner all the trophies, but also the markets in Asia.

For instance, what did Man U achieve with Beckham? In 2000 they opened a giant store in Singapore and put in place plans for similar operations in Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei.

In 1999, they enticed 10 million Thais to enter a competition centred around Man U. Nike's 13-year-long deal inked in 2002 also has a lot to do Man U and their erstwhile star.

It is always difficult to quantify a brand such as Beckham, but he is believed to be worth around 200 million (US $334.5 million) according to newspaper. He is not just a footballer but a lifestyle product.

Real's sponsors include Adidas and Pepsi and it's more than a happy coincidence that these two companies are also banking on Beckham.

So it can be safely said that all parties would have conferred before Beckham and his agents put pen to paper.

There has been talk that Beckham has been used as a "political pawn" in the campaign for the club's presidential elections but all that only adds to his appeal.

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