Wolverhampton Wanderers recently became the first Premier League club to launch their own label.
The announcement barely caught the attention of fans beyond the West Midlands, but in a world of football where innovation is becoming increasingly difficult, Matthew Fletcher-Jones, director of sports communications at Cake, with previous experience in the music industry explains why the label dubbed “Old Gold Discs” could be a very smart move.
Those of us in the sports industry will hear the phrase “Sports Entertainment Brand” several times a day. Often followed by crazy ideas to marry a sport with an element of culture where there is apparently no natural connection. Judo x Grime? Hockey x NFT? Tennis x Monkeys? Wolves Records is an example of a marriage made in heaven.
Football crosses culture more than any other sport in UK and especially in music. Maps and terraces have been linked for over fifty years. Liverpool fans singing ‘She Loves You’ in the ’60s to Style Council like’ casual ’80s clothing and bands that were fighting to be on Soccer AM in the 2000s. Football and music didn’t never tried to team up to give each other an aura of cool. As both cultures dominate in this country, it just happened.
Strangely, the beautiful game has rarely tried to capitalize on the fact that football sells records, although the music industry is aware of it. Over the past two weeks, a few lucky bands and artists have celebrated music marketing’s golden ticket – making the soundtrack for FIFA ’22. No Spotify TV show, tour program or playlist can have the impact of being played in the background of the world’s most popular video game.
Wolves Records, of course, is not looking to compete on this scale. Not yet anyway. The label was launched with muted content featuring producer SX and quotes from strategic consultant Peter Rudge, former director of The Rolling Stones and The Who.
The Warners are involved on the cast side and together it all feels like a solid mix of old and new, new and tested. Any criticism of the idea focused on the fact that there weren’t any actual recording artists yet, but I think it’s the smartest marketing ploy of all.
Wolverhampton is both a one-club town and a kind of cultural melting pot thanks to its diverse population. Musically, he’s produced everything from Dexy’s Midnight Runners to Goldie and Slade to One Direction’s Liam Payne. He’s never been closely tied to a particular scene (other than maybe Grebo in the early ’90s and the less we talk about the better) and not pouncing on one type of artist or Like, the club, sorry the label, left their options open. “Artists, bands, producers and songwriters send us your music now!” Shouted the launch press release.
The record company can appeal to audiences, seek out and sign artists that it values, regardless of musical genre, and that it thinks Wolves fans and Black Country folks might like, too. Allowing it to operate in the low-risk, audience-driven way of a small underground label. Rather than immediately planting its stake in the ground and losing the interests of fans of other genres. Don’t launch by announcing the next Oasis if your 18-year-old fans could listen to Dave and Dua Lipa.
This potential for underground label-style “authenticity” is what ultimately makes this Wolves start-up a clever marketing ploy. As in football and music, authenticity is paramount.
It has only been a few months since Premier League fans rallied around the planned European Super League, mainly because it would destroy the game’s cherished traditions in this country. Something new and shiny and all about making money interferes with the potential for giant murder which is the romance that underlies the English love of football.
The 92 club structure is as it always has been and while the money has made the game less competitive for years, that “authenticity” is what fans love and marketers negotiate. And in music it’s the same. Big labels can produce teen pop groups, but they’re never going to have the authenticity and cool market value of that bunch of guys who started rehearsing together in a garage.
The desire to be “sports entertainment brands” is ultimately a need to appeal to the next generation young sports fans who, rightly or wrongly, think they lack the ability to concentrate. to watch a full 90 minutes. As part of the package, they want cross-cultural events, cool collaborations, and relevant influencers introducing them to the sport.
Currently, “influencers” hold all the cards. Clubs and fans need to work with them to tap into their young audiences that they have grown up being more “authentic” than clubs and rights holders. Wolves Records can be seen as a step towards regaining control by the clubs and forming the football brand themselves.
All the other big clubs will be looking at Wolves Records as this might just be the first in a long streak. The opportunity to blur the lines between the music and football sides of the club is endless. How long before Wolves matches on FIFA are recorded by the club’s own artists? Could the centennial halftime shows become a regular thing? Artists on tour with Wolves away games? Maybe even the days of Hi-Ho Silver Lining count as Wolves pre-game music ?!
Wolves Records is ultimately good for the club’s brand and of course there is money to be made. Record companies are great marketing machines, and few can get started with an out-of-the-box social media reach of nearly three million, plus 32,000 fans to market in person, every fortnight.
Not that all the fans will be on board. My dad has watched Wolves for over sixty years and his reaction to hearing the news from the record company has been “they need to sign a striker, not the Spice Girls”.