Wolverhampton Wanderers recently become the first Premier League club to launch their own record label.
The announcement barely caught the attention of fans beyond the West Midlands, but in a football world where innovation is becoming more and more 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’ might just be a very smart move.
Those of us in the sports industry will hear the phrase ‘Sports Entertainment Brand’ numerous times each day. Often followed by crazy ideas to marry a sport with an element of culture where there is seemingly, no natural link. Judo x Grime? Hockey x NFTs? Tennis x Monkeys? Wolves Records is one instance where it’s a marriage made in heaven.
Football crosses into culture more than any other sport in the UK and especially in music. The charts and the terraces have been linked for more than fifty years. From Liverpool fans singing ‘She Loves You’ in the sixties to the Style Council like ‘casual’ fashions of the eighties and bands battling to be on Soccer AM in the noughties. Football and music have never tried to link up to give each other an aura of cool. As the two dominate cultures in this country, it just happened.
Strangely, the beautiful game has rarely tried to capitalise on the fact that football sells records, although the music industry is savvy to it. In the last couple of weeks a few lucky bands and artists have been celebrating the golden ticket of music marketing – making the soundtrack of FIFA ’22. No TV show, tour schedule or Spotify Playlist can have the impact of being played in the background of the world’s most popular video game.
Wolves Records of course, isn’t looking to compete on that scale. Not yet anyway. The label launched with a muted piece of content featuring producer S-X and quotes from strategic consultant Peter Rudge, former manager of The Rolling Stones and The Who.
Warners are involved on the distribution side of things and together it all looks like a solid mix of the old and new, the untried and the tested. Any criticism of the idea was focused on there not yet being any actual recording artists, but I feel this is the cleverest marketing ploy of all.
Wolverhampton is both a one club city and something of a cultural melting pot thanks to its diverse population. Musically it has produced everything from Dexy’s Midnight Runners to Goldie and Slade to One Direction’s Liam Payne. It’s never been closely linked to one particular scene, (other than perhaps Grebo in the early 90s and the less said about that the better) and by not jumping in with one type of artist or genre the club, sorry the label, has left its options open. “Artists, bands, producers and songwriters, send us your music now!” screamed the launch press release.
The record label can appeal to the public, search for and sign artists it’s A&R people rate, regardless of musical genre, and that they think the Wolves fanbase and the people of the Black Country might like too. Enabling it to operate in the low-risk, audience focused manner of a small, underground label. Rather than immediately sticking 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 might be listening 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 both football and music, authenticity is everything.
It’s only a few months since Premier League fans were up in arms at the planned European Super League primarily because it would destroy the cherished traditions of the game in this country. Something new and shiny and all about making money interferes with the giant-killing potential which is the romance that underpins the English love of football.
The 92-club structure is how it’s always been and even though money has been making the game less and less competitive for years, this ‘authenticity’ is what fans love and marketeers trade on. And in music it is the same. Major labels may produce pop bands for teenagers, but they will never have the authenticity and cool marketability of that bunch of lads who started off rehearsing in a garage together.
The desire to be ‘sports entertainment brands’ is ultimately a need to appeal to young, next generation sports fans who many, rightly or wrongly, believe haven’t got the concentration span to watch a full ninety minutes. As part of the package they want cross culture events, cool collaborations and relatable influencers presenting the sport to them.
Currently, the ‘influencers’ hold all the cards. Clubs and fans must work with them to tap into their young audiences which they’ve grown by being more ‘authentic’ than the clubs and the rights holders. Wolves Records can be seen as a step towards the clubs taking back control and shaping the football brand themselves.
All the other big clubs will be watching Wolves Records as it might just be the first of many. The opportunity to blur the boundaries between the music and football sides of the club is endless. How long before Wolves matches on FIFA are sound tracked only by the club’s own artists? The Hundredesque half-time shows could become a regular thing? Artists touring in line with Wolves away fixtures? Maybe even Hi-Ho Silver Lining’s days are numbered as Wolves’ pre-match music?!
Wolves Records is ultimately good for the club’s brand and of course, there’s money to be made. Record labels are big marketing machines, and few can launch with a ready-made reach of almost three million on social media, as well as 32,000 fans to market to in-person, every fortnight.
Not that all fans will be on-board. My Dad has been watching Wolves for over sixty years and his reaction on hearing the record label news was “they need to sign a striker, not the Spice Girls.”