We explore how sports brands can deliver optimal experiences in order to gain momentum in today’s complex competitive environment.
Paris Saint Germain is today a global icon. It’s the only soccer team brand to have a tie up with the Jordan brand, and the only sports team brand I’ve seen Justin Timberlake wear in concert. But ten years ago, PSG was just a regional football team with a dream, wanting to establish itself on the world stage, at the same level as the New York Yankees, LA Lakers and Manchester United.
Marketers cannot control results on the pitch/ court / track / course etc. Certainly not directly. So their focus is on the off-the-pitch world.
When it comes to managing the off-pitch performance of a sports team, there are two fundamental objectives all teams face; how to maintain and deepen the bond with core fans, and how to find ways to grow that fan base in order to secure and build future growth.
Given this reality, despite every sports team credibly considering themselves to be unique, the solutions to the challenges being faced are often anything but.
Sport is a community, a neighbourhood, where nothing stays private for long, and where it’s impossible to resist looking over the garden fence to see how your competitors are responding to the questions you too are challenged with answering.
Brands that have become true icons in the sports world have demonstrated attitudinal iconicity, rather than simply visual iconicity.
There are occasions when what you see gives you confidence that you’re on the right path, maybe even ahead of the pack. There are also those moments when you see how a rival has approached a launch, campaign or digital conundrum that adds real value, enjoyment and kudos to their fan base and you simply ask yourself; ‘why didn’t we think of that’?
When finding ways to communicate, engage or motivate audiences it remains essential for all brands – in or out of sport – to remain true to themselves, to resist the urge to jump on a bandwagon, to showcase the traits that are authentic to the heritage of their club or sport, to execute in a way that only their brand could, and to appreciate that driving positive sentiment and providing a positive experience is enhanced by looking for opportunities to surprise and exceed fans’ expectations.
Brand used to mean visual identity. But in 2023, it means experience. In today’s world, sports brands can deliver optimal experiences through a mix of purpose, diversification, technology, sustainability and partnerships. Purpose is the North Star that everyone in the organisation can get behind and refer back to when planning new initiatives or analysing whether current activity is on-brand. Diversification is about brand stretch and finding relevance – do you have a women’s team, could you operate in other sports, are you making the right associations outside of your core competition(s)? Are you using technology to engage, delight and retain fans and customers in new ways? Are you playing your own role in acting and conducting business sustainably, leveraging your influence on your immediate and wider networks? Are you collaborating with other brands who either share the same values and equities or you do, or add to your armoury?
The brands that have become true icons in the sports world have demonstrated attitudinal iconicity, rather than simply visual iconicity. It’s what you do and say that matters, over time, to remain in the hearts and minds of people, not simply how you look.
FC Barcelona’s partnership with Unicef made the club stand out against rivals as standing for something for the greater good, far detached from the world of commercial rights agreements for profit. Its subsequent partnership with Qatar Airways has had an equally converse reaction.
Having made the decision to want to pro-actively help tackle the root causes of youth violence amongst young people within their community, Arsenal football club took the bold decision to raise awareness of their No More Red campaign by producing and wearing an all-white kit (the colour of their fiercest rivals, no less) with partner Adidas. The kits will never be commercially available but will instead be awarded to individuals who are "making a positive difference in the community".
Becoming a global sports entertainment brand means capturing, communicating the joy and passion of sport. It means finding growth with new audiences and in new territories. It means thinking always about entertainment to drive emotional connection in order to ensure continued relevance. And it means having a clear, unique identity brought to life through identity and experience.
Today’s younger sports fans follow players, not teams, especially when it comes to long-distance fans. They want to know more about the individual personalities, lifestyles and habits of their favourite stars. But team brands have the access to these players and can offer their fans content that engages them through their favourite players, thus building affinity with the team brands through the players.
Optimal experiences can be delivered through the right blend of these ingredients, seeing themselves as entertainment brands rather than sports teams whose success is defined on the pitch/court/course/track etc.
Paris Saint Germain has created a brand world and experience on a par with many leading entertainment brands, through its purpose, diversification, partnerships, sustainability and technology. It has indeed reached its goal of becoming a global lifestyle icon.
The role of branding in sports will be discussed in greater detail at SPORTBIZ EUROPE, with Dragon Rouge joining the lineup.
The 2023 edition of this event will take place in Barcelona from October 17 to 20.
James Byrne is Global Marketing & Reputation, Executive Director @ Dragon Rouge.
Dragon Rouge is an independently-owned global branding agency whose clients include PSG, Bayern Munich, Aston Villa, Uefa, Fanatics, LFP, LOSC/Lille, Universal Music, Unilever and Carlsberg.Find more great articles to learn about the sports industry on our Learn: Knowledge Hub
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