Watford is gearing up for arguably one of the most important matches in the club’s 138-year history – the FA Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley Stadium tomorrow (18 May).
The club has a reputation for being an underdog, only re-entering the Premier League in 2015. It has floated between various leagues for years, not posing any real threat to London-based neighbours Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea.
Given Watford’s size and history, securing 11th place in the Premier League this season and a spot in the FA Cup final is no mean feat.
However, while success on the pitch no doubt helps bolster the club, it doesn’t change what Watford stands for.
“I know people get annoyed when you describe football clubs as brands but being in the FA Cup doesn’t change what we want to be, it just gives us a platform to shout about it a bit louder,” Watford’s head of marketing Graeme Ford tells Marketing Week.
If Watford does win tomorrow, Ford says the club will be faced with a bit of a marketing dilemma (albeit a nice dilemma to have) because it will no longer be able to play to its underdog status.
“There is one thing we’ve been batting around and it’s the fact we don’t have a history of success, we are an underdog team, and I know if we win the cup it’ll ruin that,” he jokes. “But we would want the opportunity to win the cup over being able to be an underdog. It gives us a huge platform.”
The beauty of sport is that it’s often unpredictable and for Ford accepting the fact he cannot plan his marketing messages around whether Watford win or lose is crucial.
“I can’t plan [marketing based] on what happens on the pitch, it’s too uncontrollable. I have to make sure everything we do – whether we’re winning the league or struggling at the bottom – fits with Watford,” he adds.
“If we do really well it gives us a platform we have to take advantage of. If we do really badly, things aren’t going to be as great, but as long as we’re consistent in the messaging and the output, that’s what’s important.”
A different approach to marketing
Given its underdog status, Watford knows it has to do things differently to stand out, especially when competing against Premier League heavyweights. For example, its connection to life-long supporter Elton John, who owned the club between 1976 to 1987 and from 1997 to 2002, and is an honorary life president, is something Ford says makes it stand out.
“We’ve always gone slightly against the grain and that shows in the fact we are massively punching above our weight by being where we are now. For the size of town Watford is and how close we are to London, we’ve had to do things differently and in our own way to the extent that a lot of the people working at the club know the supporters incredibly well,” Ford says.
“The hardest thing for me now is to grow this club without ruining that. But I guess it’s actually not that tough a job because the supporters get us, and we get them. We can’t just throw that away to try and chase the big.”