A hot topic right now in sports is the power of branding. “Branding” has been a hot topic in the business world for quite some time; however, it is just recently being introduced as a term in the sports industry with more and more organizations learning how to become better and better at it.
So what is branding? Branding can be defined as a distinctive picture and association positioned in the mind of a consumer to a product or service. When applied to sport, this definition can pertain to a league, an event, a professional team or even an individual athlete. The brand gives an impression on its consumers; it stands for a set of values and reputation in our mindset.
Branding simplifies the ability to distinguish products from amongst a wide range of offerings. Sports is becoming an every growing, over-crowded marketplace, where differentiating yourself in the marketplace is becoming more and more important to outperform your competitors.
A strong brand can create the transfer of a brand to new products. It is why Tom Brady can start selling a line of Uggs for Men. Furthermore, a strong brand helps create customer loyalty and trust. Think of the brand of Manchester United FC. The Manchester United logo has come to signify an unbelievable tradition of the highest quality of football in the world, and so fans buy season tickets years and years in advance despite perhaps wavering results or momentary crises. Manchester United is an example of an international brand, as they can claim not only to their expected 7.5 million fans from the United Kingdom, but also 14 million fans in Thailand. A strong brand presents proof of competence for its buyers and bestows prestige to its consumers.
In 2014, Manchester United ranked as the 5th among most valuable professional sports teams at $399 billion, only surpassed by the Dallas Cowboys, Barcelona FC, Real Madrid, and the New York Yankees (who are estimated at approximately $521 million). In looking at the most valuable event in brands the top five is: the NCAA Men’s Final Four, the Fifa World Cup, the Winter Olympics, the Summer Olympics and then the Super Bowl ($500 million). The top five business brands in sports included Under Armour, Sky Sports, Adidas, ESPN and then Nike ($19 billion). And lastly the top five athlete brands in 2014 consisted of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Phil Mickleson, Rodger Federer, Tiger Woods, and Lebron James (leading the way at $37 million). These above mentioned brands all have a huge following over the world and command a significant monetary premium to their rivals due to a combination of their size and profitability.
In managing a brand, the main objective is to maintain a strong position within the mindset of consumers. In order to do this, you have to do a couple things first. One, what you are good at? Whether you’re a sports league, a club, an agency, or even an athlete yourself, you have to do what your strengths and weaknesses are. Then you need to figure out what it is exactly you want to brand and where you want to market it whether it be regional, national or even international. After this, you want to do an analysis on where your competitors are positioned in this specific market. And lastly you need to figure out where your customers ideally perceive you on this map.
As you can see branding is a process and takes a close self-examination to understand not only your branding image but also your brand awareness (that is, how many people know your brand. If the image (product’s reputation) is clear and the communication (marketing) is effective, the awareness that is consequently created will be of great value for whatever the sports entity we are talking about.
A huge branding tool recently for many leagues, teams, agencies and athletes has been social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LivingSocial, YouTube, and SnapChat). Dan Reed, Head of Global Sports Partnerships at Facebook, says, “We like to refer to Facebook as the world’s largest stadium, because about half of the 1.35 billion people who use our product declare themselves sports fans.” In fact just six months after Facebook produced personalized auto-play sports video content on their News Feed, they were receiving over one billion views per day. Furthermore, I believe video content will be the best path to digital and social media monetization for sports teams.
Today, with a wider variety of social media platforms than ever, Mary Scott (President, Sports and Experimental Marketing, United Entertainment Group) explains, “The media landscape is rapidly evolving to meet the ever-growing demands of the next-generation sports fans who expect their content to be highly relevant, up to the minute and digitally driven.” In the future I think it can be expected that the term “social media” will transform into “digital media” as sports organizations will begin to focus more on content rather than directly communicating with their consumers.
Scott adds, “In order to stay current and break through, leagues, teams, companies and brands must adapt how they tell their story to match the environments in which their consumers consume media.” Today, there are 400 social media platforms worldwide and there are more launching every day; thus, consumer attention span is shrinking, as it is averaged to be a mere 7 seconds. Lia Vakoutis (Senior Digital Marketing Manager, Adidas America) explains Adidas’ strategy in 2015, “As social environments become overloaded with content, Adidas will continue to focus on creating quality stories that are backed by strategic media plans and distribution partners.”
Of the five major sports leagues in the United States, the NFL has gained the most equity in brand value through recent years. The NFL leads in television ratings and gets $3 billion a year in media rights, another $3 billion in licensing, average attendance of nearly 70,000 a game, and leading sponsors like Motorola paying over $20 million a year to simply associate with the League.
Branding is obviously extremely important in terms of creating value in the sports landscape today. Social, or “digital”, media has become one of the most common ways to help shape that branding. Looking at trending topics in sports business, I believe that using social media to shape brand value will be increasingly important through the next year.