Unbeknownst to many of us, the “brand” we support the most is not a popular restaurant chain, nor is it a line of clothing apparel. More often than not, our strongest brand identification is with our favorite sports teams, and that identification runs deeper than knowledge of our favorite players or love for the sports themselves.
Our teams are our teams because of the values for which they stand for and the memories they represent. Just like the places we choose to shop and eat, our favorite sports teams are successful because they forge an emotional connection with their customers that extends beyond the play on the field. Just like in business, sports teams rely on strong brand identification to create value. Their colors, logos, names, and sponsorships are all part of their business strategy to inspire customer loyalty. Just like everything else, sports are a business, and business is about branding.
Through hours and hours of brand exposure, our brains have come to associate certain colors, logos, trademarks, players, and even songs with teams that we have come to know and love. Steelers’ fans will always identify with the “Terrible Towels” and the hard-working, blue-collar workers from which team derives its name. New York Yankees fans see the iconic pinstripes, worn by likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and they remember their brand’s promise of quality baseball that has developed over the last century. Lars-Haue Pederson, director of TSE Consulting Group, argues in an article for Fiba Assist Magazine,
“Even in the world of sports the number of offers grows (e.g., the growing number of new sports). Therefore every kind of sport, every federation and club has to find a way to distinguish itself from its competitors’ offerings. In a crowded marketplace it gets more and more difficult to differentiate the services offered.”
How exactly do sports teams build their brands up to the fanatical levels they reach? Let’s explore.
1. Crafting Likable Logos
Building a business in athletics hinges on a variety of factors, with none more important than activating the emotions and values that are associated with your logo. Sports fans recognize and identify with their teams' trademarks, and it is those images that stir within them memories of excitement over the teams' biggest victories.The World Intellectual Property Organization writes that sports trademarks are essential elements for teams' branding, explaining:
“[Trademarks] help the company to build a reputation in the market and to develop and retain a loyal clientele, by instilling consumer confidence and trust in the goods and services it provides.”
These trademarks, whether on a player’s helmet or on an athlete’s jersey, help to increase brand awareness and emotional association while simultaneously driving sales. Like their favorite athletes, fans want to wear the logo to show their association with the team's brand.
2. Tradition at the Top
Logos and trademarks can carry sports brands to new heights, but the men and women who are tasked with managing our teams can help grow the brand as well. Strong leadership and a commitment to excellence to both a product and a community can accelerate brand awareness as rapidly as any logo or trademark. Have you ever noticed how teams with an extended history of success seem to have the largest fan bases? Even making a commitment to the community can make a big positive impact for a team's brand.
Take Clark Hunt, for example, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. The son of widely respected, sports-pioneer Lamar Hunt, Clark accepted the ownership rights to a team with an established tradition that he would be required to uphold. He immediately went to work, committing $125 million to the renovation of Arrowhead Stadium, one of the most iconic venues in sports. He didn't stop there, however. Outside of the improvements to the facilities and team's talent, Hunt has raised million of dollars for local Kansas City charities and can often be seen interacting with fans in the community. His actions alone have shown that the Chiefs' brand is one built on trust and appreciation.
3. Animated Athletes
Social media is one tool that's allowed branding to become a much more interactive experience. Athletes and organizations can interact and participate with their fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — 24 hours a day. As members of a team, athletes become the ambassadors of their brands. The more the success these athletes have on the floor, field, or pitch, the greater the team's brand becomes.
Michael Jordan’s play on the court elevated not only the Chicago Bulls' brand, but his personal brand as well. Now, almost two decades after his retirement, the Jordan brand continues to be consumed by tens of millions of hoop-dreamers across the globe. With social media becoming a large part of the way consumers experience brands, athletes are becoming brand ambassadors in a more elevated way. Julie Frank, Manager at Navigate Research, explains in an article for Forbes,
“Fans are 164 percent more likely to be influenced to purchase a sponsor brand if recalled through social media. This is a great opportunity for brands to leverage their athletes as opinion leaders in order to create a purchase lift effect through social media recall.”
The images, logos, trademarks and messages that emanate from the most well known sports organizations and franchises across the world are proven, analytical business strategies meant to create emotional connections with fans. It isn't luck that we buy the same pair of shoes or renew the same set of season tickets every single year. It's brand identification! Sports are just another form of business, and these guys certainly know what they're doing.
Which sports team has the most well-defined brand? Share your opinions with us on Twitter by tweeting @EidsonPartners!