Cities, Sports Leagues and their Brand Experiences

It was match day and not an ordinary one at that. Bayern Munich was scheduled to play in the final of the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League. This information was part of the briefing by the pilot of a Lufthansa flight that I was in. What stuck me was the use of ‘my team’ in the way he announced this. He promised to update us about match result later as well. That day his team won and I guess the team of many in the plane too because there was a loud cheer.

Match days on twitter tend to be interesting. Many people in the stream refer to a particular team as ‘us’ or ‘we’. Now if this was someone in europe referring to their favourite club teams it would almost be normal. It may be unusual for some to see people in India referring to European club teams as ‘us’. Perhaps it is not surprising either. These clubs have become global brands with merchandising and activities that extend well beyond their region and the league’s season.

The Riera Blanca area in Barcelona is home to FC Barcelona. The Mobile World Congress is a big part of the Barcelona experience but equally there is quite a bit of FC Barcelona in there as well. You check in at a hotel and they will tell you about tickets that can be purchased on your behalf. They will talk about their team but equally talk about the history and team musuem too.

This contrasts to how some of the new teams are referred here in the social stream. More people still talk about a city’s team in third person. First the cricket and soon after hockey, football, badminton, kabaddi and basketball leagues have started. Perhaps there will be more as well. Do you remember any of the players that represent these teams? Some cricketers maybe but others? If you live in Mumbai, are you an Indian, Master or Magician team supporter. The likely hypothesis is that it’s all a blur. The player, the team and sport are not quite connected with the city they represent.

Engagement with the league, it’s teams and players is linked to the actual days of the tournament. Yes one will see matches, remember an episode for a day or two and then there is the next match to consider. Maybe take part in some contests online or enjoy the game in the company of friends at an eating establishment. Players change every year and are signed on for astronomical accounts. Sporting expertise aside, they have little resonance with the brand name. The same world famous cricketer could have navigated 4 or 5 teams in as many years. So, do the citizens of Delhi, Mumbai or Calcutta think of them as ‘my team’ ? Not really. Its great viewing but not necessarily great brand resonance. Maybe most of the Indian leagues are young and there is much more work to be done.

So what’s the connection with the city?

Naming is emotive and the brand would have several ingredients that can be considered when one thinks about the future. These could be location and community, spirit, governance and more. Let’s say there are 3 teams that represent a city. Is there a common characteristic that connects the 3 teams to each other?

1. Does a city know the teams that represent it in various sports leagues?
2. How does the city connect with the teams? Do the know their players?
3. What’s the experience for a fan of the city?
4. What’s the engagement during the season?
5. What’s the experience after the season. Have these teams embraced the culture and the ongoing conversation of the city.
6. Whether it is CSR or cause marketing, most teams have linked to some cause. Maybe there is an opportunity to make it more credible and part of the engagement with the city.

What’s in it for the brands?

While I am not an expert on brand valuations, but I do believe that the customer experience is what really matters in building a long lasting brand. How does one value a team of a young league? By the value of its players or by the business they generate? or something else? I read an article on team valuations, and I quote it here.

The Forbes Fab 40 consists of the 10 most valuable sports brands in each of four categories–businesses, events, teams and athletes. How do you place a value on a brand? For sports business brands, this means quantifying the amount the business would fetch in an arms length transaction in excess of what a comparable rival would be worth.

The team needs to win and that ensures full stadiums. There is also the business aspect. It needs to be a viable venture. It needs to increase it’s fan base, build a community and identify sources of engagement and revenue. Conventional wisdom says that there are four ways a sports team can make money: tickets, sponsorships, merchandising, and licensing. Sometimes people might add player trading and prize money.

Perhaps one could also start to imagine new sources of revenue from the majority who do not go to watch games and love their sport. The elements of a sports team and its ecosystem have four main components and connecting these elements in fresh ways can create opportunity for sustainable business growth.

ports leagues table

In Summary, the experience framework would need to touch upon :

Clarity – Other than being the licensee of a city name, what does the team stand for? How are they linked to the city buzz? What do they offer a fan?

Conversations – The leagues need to get people talking about their sport in an active sort of way. Participating not just in entertainment centres and social media alone but in sports grounds, active lifestyles and more.

Connected – Thinking about the experience of a fan- On ground, Other venues, digital platforms and more.

Causes – Can the team do more for the cause they represent?

Capability – This is more a part of the team’s ability to win! But the fan should feel that they are part of a worthy team of their city.