Friendly Exposure: When Fans Cannot Access Matches

For a club that is owned by a company claiming to specialize in sports and entertainment marketing, Milan is falling back into the dark ages of marketing and communications. Not just the bizarre marketing choices of transportation devices that were literally popular when the club was founded in 1899, but also the lack of information from the club, and most importantly, the lack of fan access to preseason matches. If RedBird and Cardinale were half the marketing geniuses they claim to be, they would be selling these opportunities to watch friendlies, along with their ridiculous baseball hats and maybe a bag of peanuts or popcorn, too. But even paying to access the matches is not possible. So what exactly are they doing with the team? What good is friendly exposure when the fans literally cannot access the games?

How could you deny 500 million fans the oversized trophy and pyrotechnics of a preseason friendly?

Case in point, Tuesday was the first ever Trofeo Silvio Berlusconi match in honor of the recently departed former Milan and Monza owner. Fans in Italy had access to this one, which was actually the most watched programming in its time slot that evening, but there was no legal access outside of Italy. In an ironic twist, the Italian government put a law that went into effect on that day with harsher sanctions for piracy, and claiming that all pirated streams would be cut within 30 minutes. (Luckily, like everything else they do in Italy, they did not exactly get around to it for this one just yet.) But the club has over 500 million fans worldwide. People want to watch their team play, even in friendlies.

Nearly 3 million viewers tuned in for 6 rounds of penalties, but it could have been so much more.

Why wouldn't you want to give access to these games to as many of them as possible? Elliott always did. That was one of the major selling points to get people to download Gazidis' precious app, you could stream some of the Primavera, Women's and some First Team matches on the official Milan app or on the club's YouTube channel, usually for free. But not since a sports and entertainment marketing company took over. Only a "vulture fund" had the benevolence and respect for the fans to provide this service. Weird that they understood both sports and marketing better than a company that specializes in them.

Or is it just the Italian elitism? I understand that fans from a region feel ownership over their local club. I have experienced firsthand the resentment from these fans for the other fans worldwide. They look at us condescendingly, even though many of us wake up in the middle of the night to watch matches and spend thousands of dollars just to travel to Italy to see one match. In a way, we are actually so much more devoted to the club. Without the income and sponsorships that a global audience brings, their precious little club would be just that: precious little. They can only afford the big players and the right to compete in Serie A and the Champions League because of the income that comes from a worldwide audience. You can't have it both ways.

"2 teams, 1 President, always in our heart..." and he would have wanted everyone to see this match, too.

Trofeo Berlusconi Notes

Luckily for us fans, there are people who are as devoted to piracy as we are to Milan, so many of us were able to network on social media and find illegal streams to watch the match on Tuesday. For those who only watched the highlights, they may have been left with a false sense of security. Milan's social media emphasized Reijnder's magical sombrero, a moment which led to nothing, but looked sweet. They posted the penalty shootout, which went six rounds until Birindelli missed his and gave Milan the win. Great.

As for the match itself, it was great to see the debuts of both Okafor and Chukwueze, even if they only got about ten minutes. Pulisic earned a penalty, took it, De Gregorio saved it, but the American was able to score the rebound. Monza's goal was far more worrisome, it came from the run of play, and demonstrated what is going to hurt Milan most this season: the changes in midfield. 

Okafor made his debut in a Milan shirt, something a lot of fans wanted to see.

What We Learned from Friendlies So Far

Losing Bennacer to injury until January and selling Tonali forced Pioli to rethink his entire system. The club went all out on attacking players, but did not yet replace backup center back Gabbia, who was sent on loan, nor did they bring in a proper defensive midfielder. (Musah is said to be possibly planned for this important role, but is young and unproven in Serie A.) After nearly four years of playing a 4-2-3-1 almost exclusively, Pioli announced when the team came back that he was switching to a 4-3-3 this year due to personnel changes, which we have seen thus far in the friendlies. But his attacking style of play, combined with the new system and players, leaves Milan's defense very vulnerable.

Pioli is rumored to possibly be pushing Reijnders to play deeper and more defensively, as he has played that position before, but even he admits that his defensive game is where he is lacking. Krunić reportedly asked to leave following the departure of Rebić, and was linked to Fenerbahçe, but the clubs have been unable to agree on a price so far. Newer reports indicate that Pioli has asked Krunić to stay, and that his wages could be doubled with a contract renewal. Hanging onto Krunić makes sense for continuity, and we know that Pioli trusts him a lot. But so far, it is still not enough to address the midfield weakness.

Is Maignan giving Krunić career advice?

What Happened in Milan vs. Trento?

This weakness was evident as Milan also conceded goals from Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barcelona in the preseason. Because the Club chose not to televise the training ground friendly vs. Trento on Wednesday, despite having promoted it, fans have no idea what acgtually happened there. This was a departure from previous seasons under Elliott, when all friendlies were not only broadcast, but the Club also provided both Italian and English streams for many of the matches. But this 1-0 loss to the Serie C side less than 24 hours after the Trofeo Berlusconi match finally has many fans concerned.

We do know that after Pioli played what is currently likely to be his starters for 80-90 minutes in Monza the night before, making only four subs for the final ten minutes, he played largely reserves and youth players for the Trento friendly. Our newest signing, Musah, got his debut from the start, but the starting 11 also included two Primavera players. Outside of Chukwueze and Bartesaghi, who each played ten minutes the night before, no one else was even called up from the Monza match. 

Apparently, Musah made his debut vs. Trento, fans don't know, because it wasn't televised.

We also know that it was still scoreless at the half, but Milan conceded in the 69th minute, after Pioli had subbed off newcomers Chukwueze and Musah for Primavera players. He brought on three more Primavera players in the 78th, including 15 year-old goalscoring phenom Camarda, who will be playing with the Primavera team this season. Pioli made one final sub in the 88th minute, but the match finished with a loss for Milan.

Questionable Marketing Tactics

While I do not put a lot of weight into friendlies, before the team even played, it was obvious that there were likely to be some issues this season with all of the changes. But as a fan, having access to the matches is still very important to me. Fans like to see the new players, they like to see how the team is shaping up, the tactics the coach is trying out, and maybe even get a look at some of the best Primavera players that often get some time in these friendlies. We are fans. We want to see our team play as much as possible.

Chukwueze's personality is golden. Milan should maximize this and share it with the world.

From a business standpoint, why wouldn't you want to show the matches to the fans? The team playing is the very best marketing tool that you have (even when they play poorly.) It creates interest in the team, including new fans, and helps sell jerseys and tickets for the season. Sure, there are all different kinds of fans, from those who are not even aware that the team are playing a friendly, to those who will only watch highlights, to those who will watch every single minute no matter what timezone they are in. Making the matches accessible at least gives the fans the idea that the Club is inclusive of all types of fans.

Before purchasing Toulouse or Milan, Cardinale had spoken about his desire to 1) own a team and 2) monetize fans in the stadium. His focus at Milan has been to build a stadium, and it appears that he is so hyperfocused on this goal of building a stadium and making money on gameday that he has lost focus of the fans at all, let alone properly marketing the team year round for his own profit. Either that, or he is worse at his sports marketing job than imagined. 

Cardinale so focused on the stadium, he forgets the 500 million fans.

He has apparently wanted to reach out and build the U.S. fanbase, which Furlani told us repeatedly they wanted to do, without actually doing anything different than before (except the cringe transportation devices.) Certainly, the purchase of two U.S. national team players seem to be part of that plan. But the rest of their marketing, including ensuring that U.S. fans have access to all of the games, has been embarrassing, to say the least. 

And they have not even addressed the fact that our city rivals' shirt sponsor is also the streaming service for the U.S. market. This is not only a conflict of interest, but seriously infringes on what they are trying to do here. (The Premier League stopped a similar deal with Chelsea because it was a conflict of interest for the league, so teams could have appealed to Serie A to do the same.) After spending around €40 million on American players Pulisic and Musah alone, you would think they would be interested in protecting their investments. Plus, we as fans don't want to stream our matches on a platform that sponsors our rivals. We are literally being forced to give money to our rival team's sponsor just to watch the matches, and that is not okay as fans.

If the U.S. market is so important, why haven't you raised hell about this?

So what has Cardinale been doing? He has been captured watching Jennifer Lopez dancing on tables and taking selfies with fans while vacationing in Capri, making promises about winning, when six months ago, he didn't even realize how successful Milan had been in the Champions League. After losing face with the entire footballing world by sacking Paolo Maldini and also our talented Sporting Director, then upsetting many fans by selling lifelong Milanista and fan favorite Tonali this summer, management had a lot of damage control to do. 

With seven players out of contract, and Rebić and Gabbia also leaving, a number of new signings were necessary. So they spent. They spent all of the income from the sale of Tonali and then some, nearly twice as much so far, actually. Many fans were appeased by the purchases, which Furlani has been congratulating himself for in the media ever since. This is not marketing.

Please learn the difference between gaslighting and marketing.

Scaroni has jumped in as well, and has gone so far as to tell fans how great certain players are, even if we would rather just watch them and decide for ourselves. This is their focus. Rather than keeping us informed about important changes in the personnel at the Club, what is going on, when matches are, and how we can watch them, they are gaslighting us and telling us what a great job they have done, going so far as to tell us that we should be happy. We just want to watch the matches.

The matches are literally why we are fans. Please let us watch them.

Why Match Access Is Important for Both Club and Fans

The most important part of playing friendlies is obviously to prepare the team for the upcoming season. But there is an additional opportunity here, to allow the fans to watch the team and stay invested with the Club throughout the summer months as well. This also provides marketing and money-making opportunities, like the Soccer Champions Tour in the U.S., which also pays teams a lot of money to participate. 

If the players are playing matches anyway, why not give fans access? As Elliott saw, providing access and treating the fans with respect created an exceptional atmosphere amongst the fans, which both increased revenue and helped support the team to victory. This also applies to giving fans access throughout the season by ensuring that all countries have legal access to Serie A matches, which will be even more important now with the new Italian laws. Given the big spending in the transfer market, as well as all of the controversy and changes this summer, this management could use both the revenue and the support. Instead, they are heading into the season with yet another controversy, which is what happens when fans cannot access games.

This post inspired by the music of Måneskin's "Timezone"

Our next match is 
a training friendly
AC Milan vs. Étoile Sportive du Sahel
Saturday, August 12, 2023 • 18:00 CEST (12noon EDT)
It is unclear whether or not this match will be televised at all

Our following match is 
a training friendly
AC Milan vs. Novara
Sunday, August 13, 2023 • 11:00 CEST (5am EDT)
It is unclear whether or not this match will be televised at all

Friendly Exposure: When Fans Cannot Access Matches Friendly Exposure: When Fans Cannot Access Matches Reviewed by Elaine on 11:55 PM Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.