11 Brand Management Lessons From Edwin van der Sar – Soccer Legend Turned Marketing Professional

Edwin van der Sar started his career as goalkeeper at Ajax FC, later going on to play for other top European clubs such as Juventus, Fulham and Manchester United. He also made 130 appearances with the Dutch National team. He played a total of 605 games, winning over 25 trophies, including 2 UEFA Champions League titles in his 21 years professional career.

In November 2012, the goalkeeping legend returned to his childhood club, Ajax, to join the board as Marketing Director, a position he holds till date.

In a recent interview he had with Marketing Week Magazine, we found a couple of lessons that can be useful to Marketers & Brand Managers all over the world.

Challenge Yourself. Be Ambitious: “A lot of people asked me why I didn’t become a goalkeeping coach but where is the challenge in that?

“There isn’t one, I could do it way too easily. I wanted to stretch myself and learn something entirely new. I could have made lots of money being a club ambassador at United and getting jetlagged while endorsing beer but I wanted to aim for something different.”

Study. Learn New Stuff: In the pursuit of a fresh challenge, van der Sar did a masters degree in Sports and Brand Management at the University of Amsterdam after retiring from football.

Let Failure Propel You Further: Van der Sar’s choice of Marketing came after his last ever game for Manchester United, which they lost 3-1 to Barcelona in the 2011 UEFA Champions League final. Painful night for Man U fans.

Be Inspired By Another Brand’s Success: The inspiration to become a marketer was largely sparked by his time at United, which remains the world’s most valuable football brand according to Brand Finance – at £789m.

Travel the world. Meet people. Learn from those outside your profession: “There were a lot of pre-season tours at United of the US and China, and I soaked up everything I could from David Gill [the Man U chairman at the time] and the marketing guys – it made me see a whole new side of football.”

van der sar

Know Your Brand’s True Value: “While Aegon was still our main kit sponsor, we noticed that we weren’t capitalising on all the press the Ajax players were generating from their training sessions. So much like the United model, we introduced a separate training kit sponsor.”

Always Strike Good Deals: When insurance giant Aegon stopped their main shirt sponsorship with Ajax, van der Sar managed to strike a new deal with Ziggo, Holland’s largest Cable operator. The new deal was worth €8m per year, over 4.5 years. This was a huge improvement on the former deal.

Learn To Make The Best Of Small Budgets. Learn How To DIY: “We get €9m TV revenue per year, while a relegation battling side in England like Bournemouth gets 20% higher TV revenues than us. So we must do it in a different way.”

“When we had to find a new sponsor, I couldn’t let an agency find one as they take 15%. It is better to get creative towards marketing yourself.”

Master The Media. Especially Social: “My focus is how we can use social media or Facebook to get a more global appeal. We don’t have a Messi or Ronaldo but we are making moves.

“Last week in China we made a deal for Ajax TV to air special documentaries on our club’s history. There are 18-year-olds in China who might not know about the great 1995 team, so we can raise the profile.”

No Part of Your Life’s Experience Is Useless. Everything is Applicable: “I didn’t study marketing for 4 years at university or make my way up through Unilever or Coca Cola but what I am used to is having 75,000 people judging every save and every mistake I make – that’s real pressure,”

“I’m not going to say delivering a great campaign can replicate the buzz of saving the penalty kick from John Terry to win the Champions League, but it’s a different kind of pressure and one that’s creatively challenging.”

Build Yourself A Good Team: “Sir Alex Ferguson knew how to build a great team. When I look at my marketing team I want a Gary Neville, a Ryan Giggs, a Paul Scholes and a Ronaldo around me.

“When surrounded by great people, you have a better chance of winning something. Whether they are really good at selling tickets or marketing, I want to aim for the very best.”




Photos: Marketing Week, Man Utd.

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