Most of us have an understanding of what a brand is and why brand names are important to businesses. We think of well-known brands like Coca-Cola, Hallmark, or Apple. Companies invest in advertising and product quality over many years to create brand awareness, establish brand identity, and build brand equity. This got us thinking, what about sports? Is brand development in sports the same as or different from brand development in other businesses? Can the strength of a brand name in sports be measurable or quantified? We decided to tackle this quandary by looking at a successful brand, and recently successful sports team, the Chicago Cubs.
Brand development in sports is similar to brand development in businesses, at least in terms of developing an identity. In both instances, the company/organization is trying to create a culture where people identify with their core values. For example, all brands must have an essence at their center, a certain reason on why people interact with that brand. Surrounding that essence is the core identity. These are the timeless and most important elements of the brand.
Here, the guts of the brand are understood, and the question of developing the most Ozymandias type of elements is taken on. Finally, the extended identity of the brand must be developed. These are the more abstract elements that provide texture and all around completeness. Some examples are people, symbols, products, or the parts and faces of an organization. Whether a business is Disney or the Chicago Cubs, all businesses should develop their brands in this way.
Another similarity in brand development between sports and businesses are how the name of the brands are reinforced in the minds of the consumers. This is done by a fix of the four Ps of marketing, product, price, promotion, and place. Here, product refers to the products or services provided, price is simply the cost to the consumers, promotion refers to advertisements and give-aways, and place refers to the channels of distribution like face to face selling, wholesale, retail, brick and mortar, mail order, online, or mobile.
Interestingly, advertising and promotion can be separated into different entities. Advertising refers to the message communicated while promotion simple enhances this communication. Obviously sports teams have a product, price and place, like most businesses. However, bobble-heads, fireworks, concerts and other enticements to games can be seen as comparable to rewards from places like Starbucks or Dominoes.
An example of a sports team who has built a strong brand are the current World Champion Chicago Cubs. For years, they were known as the “lovable losers.” This was not a moniker the franchise set out to create, but it kind of became a term of endearment for those many years without a championship. When the Ricketts took over in 2009, they created a culture where there was a brand transition to the “lovable winners.” The Cubs core identity contains a plethora of unique aspects, but a few iconic ones are Wrigley Field, Old Style beer, Harry Caray, and the ivy covering the outfield walls. The core identity is really the essence of the team because Cubs fan or not, many people can associate those things with the Cubs.
The strength of a brand name in sports can be measured by identifying how much money they make, especially in regards to fans, media and sponsorships. A sign of a strong brand is a higher willingness to pay, or the maximum price a customer will pay to experience a product provided by a business. When customers pay more, ticket revenues go up and seats are filled, or products moved. Complementing the rise in ticket revenues will be merchandise sold. A stronger brand will cause more people to buy related products.
While the Cowboys already have a strong brand, the impressing showing by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot led to them becoming the face, or individuals, of the brand, which consequently led to high jersey sales and merchandising revenue. Additionally, with more people interested in a brand, the TV or advertiser contracts will increase. If advertisers or TV CEOs believe that more people will watch or see their own product, they will pay more to a sports team for broadcast rights or commercial advertising space.
The strength of the Cubs brand can be measured, for example, by the fact that when Harry Caray was announcing, the Cubs received more money from networks because people liked listening to him call the games. Another sign of strength is the ability for a team to convert a marginal, or indifferent, fan into someone who now buys into the culture, and will support the team by going to games and purchasing merchandise. Winning is something that cannot be guaranteed. Consequently, while remaining a piece of the puzzle, there have to be other attributes of the team that are appealing to the public.
The fact that the Cubs consistently would sell out Wrigley Field, even when their record was miserable, is consequently then another sign of brand strength. In contrast, the San Francisco Giants recently had their sellout streak of 530 games snapped last week, in part due to their atrocious record and hemorrhaging fan loyalty. Finally, another integral part of creating a strong brand is to have internal buy-in. The players and rest of the organization all have to feel good about the direction of the organization and the narrative they represent.
Interestingly, there is one prominent example of where there is too strong of an identity with a sport or team, Lance Armstrong. For many Americans, Armstrong represented cycling. He represented dominance, charisma, and outright athleticism. When he was busted for doping, the identity of the sport was degraded, at least in many people’s minds. Sports organizations, unlike businesses, have to be careful not to attach their whole identity to just one or two things, for fear of those backfiring.
What do you think? Should sports brands be measured or run differently than other businesses? Let us know in the comments below!
The SaberSmart Team
Miller, T. W. (2016). Sports Analytics and Data Science: Winning the Game with Methods and Models. Old Tappan, N.J.: Pearson/FT Press. [ISBN-13 978-0-13-388643-6] Chapter 7: Promoting Brands and Products (pages 101–118).