Lifestyle & Culture

‘We’ll Always Be Blue’: Cardiff City fiasco an example of thinking globally, failing locally


(Editor’s note: The Globalists is part of Dispatches’ Tech Tuesday series covering technology and global management in Europe and Asia.)

Overseas business deals are part of the global landscape but often bring serious unintended disruption. Just ask Cardiff City, where foreign investment caused their soccer team to turn from blue to red.

What happened in this Welsh town is a story about the challenges of investing abroad as well as the growing trend of Asian investment finding its way west.

Around Cardiff, tattoos of bluebirds and the football club’s blue crest cover forearms and biceps. Cardiff sports fans are a lot like the Red Sox nation’s faithful because like the ink, team loyalty in this old mining town is permanent.

But a few years ago, the club hit financial trouble and Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan stepped in with cash. He also brought conditions, insisting the team colour change from blue to red, giving the Welsh dragon prominent placement. The beloved bluebird was awkwardly demoted down to the bottom of the new, red logo.

Why did he do this?

His plan was to expand the team’s fan base into Asia. In theory, the dragon would be welcomed by both local Welsh supporters and the larger Asian audience Tan sought to cultivate. The red dragon happened to be popular across many Asian cultures.

The change was supposed to be a fusion between eastern and western cultures. Tan’s vision made sense, but good luck selling that to bluebird die-hards.

While new fans in Malaysia may have liked the modifications, local Cardiff supporters were furious.

The situation was so unprecedented that even followers of the arch-rival Swansea City thought the change was intolerable. The chant “we’ll always be blue” began reverberating across Cardiff City Stadium at the 19 minutes and 27 second mark of each match – a reference not only to Tan’s changes but also to the last time the team won the FA Cup in 1927.

New wealth across the globe, evolving views on globalization and increased local competition are changing the way organizations have to think about winning over local audiences.

Western companies have been doing things ‘their way’ into emerging markets for decades often with mixed results. But now cash-flush investors from Asia and elsewhere are buying up assets in what’s called “dormant developed markets,” such as the US and western Europe, giving Westerners a taste of their own globalizing medicine.

Vincent Tan’s attempt to rebrand Cardiff, as well as his controversial management style, is an example of what so many companies continue to get wrong as they bring their way of doing business into markets with their own rules and norms.

As Asian money continues to find markets in the west, expect these challenges to grow. Over the past few years, across Europe, Chinese investment has skyrocketed – several multiples higher than in the US.

Germany is a case in point.

Midea, a Chinese company, recently bought a German robotics firm, Kuka, and there have been a number of high-profile acquisitions since. New ownership often brings new management styles and strategies.

Just ask Cardiff fans.

So what happened to the bluebird? After three years of conflict, the traditional blue logo made its triumphant return to Cardiff, albeit with an out-of-place little red dragon snarling at the base. Recently, there have been rumours Tan is looking to sell the team.

As organizations continue to expand into new markets, the importance of understanding local preferences is more important than ever.

Regulation is one way to protect local institutions, but history has rarely, if ever, favoured protectionism. Instead, organizations involved in overseas ventures need to look at their growth strategy with a renewed focus on understanding local markets.

The world may have globalized, but in many ways, it’s more localized than ever. It takes time and adaptability to succeed in new markets where cultures and traditions run deep.

About the author:

Kyle Hegarty is managing director, Asia Pacific, for TSL Marketing, a global integrated marketing firm.

Kyle helps companies develop and expand their footprints in Asia Pacific markets specifically by focusing on cross-cultural leadership strategies and sales and marketing solutions to drive growth.

He provides teams with the Sandler Sales training methodology.

Clients include: Akamai, Oracle, IBM, Fuji Xerox, Trade Gecko, Hay Group, Bazaar Voice, Google, Amazon Web Services, Avaya, Genpact & Sungard.

You can see Kyle’s full LinkedIn bio here.

You can see more The Globalists international management posts here:

• How learning insults from around the world improves your cultural IQ – Kyle Hegarty

• Here are my 5 tips for successfully managing a global team – Kyle Hegarty

• Where is your country on the process-outcome continuum? – Darin Williams

• Asoh Defense – ‘Companies must empower leaders to hold themselves accountable’ – Albrecht Stahmer

• ‘The Culture Map’: Don’t fight the differences, global managers … leverage them – Albrecht Stahmer

• ‘I can’t make your employees more entrepreneurial … only you can’ – Albrecht Stahmer

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