A brand is so much more than a logo and name and this applies to all organizations, sports or otherwise. One good definition of brand is by best-selling American author and marketer Seth Godin who states:
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another”.
Putting a dollar value on your brand is not an entirely easy exercise (and probably worthy of a separate post). In 2010, Forbes ranked Manchester United the most valuable team brand, with a brand value of $270 million, ahead of the New York Yankees, Real Madrid, Dallas Cowboys and Bayern Munich.
A brand encompasses all aspects of the sports team, both on and off the field, in season and out of season. Brand can mean many things to many people but will inevitably incorporate some, if not all, of the following factors.
Memories and stories
For a sports organization, brand is your team and the tradition, legends and heritage which made the team what it is today. The New Zealand All Blacks rugby team is one of the most valuable sports brands. The brand of the All Blacks relates as much to the style, success, and performance on the pitch as to the long history of the team which played its first home international in 1895. Sure the All Blacks have the instantly recognizable silver fern logo, the haka, and the all black jersey, but its brand is far more than that.
Brand is your team’s marketing. Giving away free caps at home matches is your brand. This tactic, employed from the 1970s, was just one contributing factor to making the New York Yankees brand what it is today – one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Your ticket prices are your brand. Your TV commercials are your brand.
Relationships and interaction with the general public
For a sports team or club, brand is represented by customer service from the ticketing agents, the hot dog sellers, and the public announcer on match day through to the CEO at the very top of the organization.
All communication constitutes your brand, from voicemail recordings left on your ticketing hotline through to official club communication in the press, on television and via social media channels. We’ve read about the power of digital and mobile communications on this site in the past. The challenge for sporting organizations is to ensure there is consistency and authenticity in communications irrespective of the channel used. The ‘voice’ and ‘tone’ of all communications must represent your brand and reflect your brand values.
Brand is represented by all individuals at the organization. For a sporting club, this means the players on the field and all the off-field staff, from the coaching group through to the HR department. For the playing team itself, brand is represented by the style of play, tactics employed and other factors such as discipline. A good team, in the larger context, is created by good hiring and consistent training and development. The other goal is to ensure that all individuals in the organization adhere to this brand or culture. The Sydney Swans Australian Football team famously had a ‘no dickheads’ recruitment policy under coach Paul Roos, which was one factor in the Swans success (a premiership in 2005 and a grand final appearance in 2006). The policy was part of a culture of honesty and accountability implemented by Roos. The club had a code underwritten by a set of rules signed off by the players and enforced by the leadership group, who are also elected by their peers.
The brand of a sports team is highly dependent on the stadium or ground and the whole game-day experience for the fan. Is the place uncluttered and free of trash, are the toilets clean and is the venue signage consistent with the visual standards? Does the place look alive and welcoming? Would the uncommitted fan return? Does the stadium follow environmentally friendly practices? Your home ground is your brand.
In January 2011, SportsProMedia magazine compiled a global ranking of the world’s most important sports venues. Interestingly the top venue in the list was not Cowboys Stadium or Wembley Stadium but the World Games Stadium, Koashiung, Taiwan – the world’s largest solar stadium which has a roof with 8,844 solar panels.
Logo and visuals
A strong brand does of course deserve a good logo and smart graphic design and visuals. The narrow definition of brand is “name, sign or symbol”. Even in a sports context when results on the field have a huge importance, a good logo is important and not just for commercial reasons. Arguably the most recognizable sports logo of all is the iconic 5 Olympic rings.
ESPN The Magazine’s Ultimate Standings are a good proxy for the value of a brand and relates to the last part of Godin’s broad definition – “a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another”. ESPN’s Ultimate Standings:
“Measure how much MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises give back to the fans in exchange for all the time, money and emotion the fans invest in them.”
In 2011, The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers took top spot, due in part to the performances of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and,
“below-average ticket prices and unmatched customer service were also a key point among fans as evidenced by the Packers finishing first in such categories as ‘fan friendly environment at games’ and ‘provides an avenue for fan feedback’ “.
To summarize, brand is caring about every aspect of your sporting organization, team or club. It includes the big things like vision and mission but also your people, your fans, and every interaction ever made between a stakeholder and your organization.
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