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'We shouldn't take Premier League's global success for granted'

16 Jan 2023
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Rick Nye of Yonder says the soft power of the Premier League abroad is valuable to the UK

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As the British Icon Index that measures the impact of UK brands across the world is released, we spoke to the report’s author, Rick Nye, senior counsel at Yonder, to learn more about the “soft power” that the Premier League has.

What distinguishes the Premier League from the other UK brands that you measured in this survey?
Rick Nye: Essentially, the Premier League is the best encapsulation of all the most positive attributes that the UK wants to project to the rest of the world.

As in previous British Icon Index editions, we took a range of British institutions, or brands, and we tested them among different publics around the world. We asked them how much of the positive attributes we asked about they consider each of those brands or institutions or industries have.

Much has changed over the last five years since our British Icon Index in 2018, whether events of global significance like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or more domestically divisive like the completion of Brexit.

DOWNLOAD: British Icon Index (PDF; 6.1MB)

Some things, though, remain constant. One is the need for Britain to be able tell a compelling story about itself to the rest of the world and the importance of brands and industries in conveying that message.

If the UK aspires to be seen as successful, trusted, admired, and open, people around the globe have to recognise those qualities in some of Britain’s most prominent organisations and companies.

In the report, you talk about how important it is that the positive impression of the Premier League is stronger among 18-34-year-olds. Why is that?
Nye: Partly because they are the leaders of tomorrow. If you look at it from a soft power point of view, these are the people Britain will be dealing with in the future.

The 18-34 age category are the more outward-looking elements of a population and a country. Clearly, having an understanding and an appreciation of the Premier League as a common language or a common ground on which you can meet people from different countries is extremely important for the UK.

You also talk about how the Premier League can help the UK strengthen alliances around the world. How does that work?
Nye: These are based on personal experiences, but when dealing with opinion-formers or decision-makers, anywhere you go in the world, the moment people know you're from England, they want to know which Premier League team you support. What do you think about Club X versus Club Y? Or Player A versus player B?

The Premier League offers an immediate way of engaging with people. The fact the Premier League is such a compelling, exciting competition, watched around the world, means it acts as a shop window for what we would like people to think of as a modern Britain, open for business. Dynamic, passionate - all of these things the Premier League is an extremely powerful advert for. That's what you want from your icons as a country.

Other brands and institutions do very well, such as luxury car brands, British universities or the BBC, it is simply that overall, the Premier League has been the most consistent performer.

In five years, do you envisage any change for the Premier League as a global icon?
Nye: The important thing for the Premier League, particularly outside the UK, is that the fundamentals of how it delivers the sporting spectacle that is Premier League football remain.

As long as the Premier League is allowed to do that inside the UK, it will continue to have that reach and appeal beyond.

So the model that has taken English top-flight football and made it a major cultural and sporting talking point throughout the world over 30 years, the most potent icon of modern Britain, as long as people respect that model, it ought to continue to have the same success.

Do you feel it will grow further? Or are there challenges that might threaten its position as the No 1?
Nye: There are always challenges, in the sense that people are used to more choice, to follow other sports, for example. The power of brands can be fickle. They rise and they fall. You see that a lot with luxury brands, some having reputational challenges.

But for the Premier League it's about resilience. If it can continue and is allowed to continue to serve up the compelling sporting spectacle it's known for, admired and appreciated for around the world, it will be able to maintain its position as one of the most powerful symbols of Britain around the world.

If you're a business or political leader in Britain or just someone who wants Britain to have a positive image around the world, you should want that because that's worth something.

There are not many institutions or brands that this country has that can do what the Premier League does. So don't take it for granted.

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