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A Few Notes from Football Brands by Sue Bridgewater

This article is made of quotes from the book Football Brands by Sue Bridgewater.

Within the United Kingdom, Sport England estimated the sport market at around £21.2 billion in 2008 and growing, even in a time of recession.

The current market environment can be described as one in which the following apply:

  • Rising customer expectations: Increasing competition and global over-supply in many sectors has resulted in consumers expecting more. Customers expect greater value from their suppliers in terms of lower prices and higher quality, and often solutions that are tailored to their individual needs.

  • Speed of change: More and more markets are becoming like the fashion industry, with customers expecting a continual series of new models. > New models : CUSTOM designed products

  • Blurred boundaries: Boundaries that used to create barriers to new entrants and limit competition in particular markets are eroding

First, globalization means that buyers and competitors no longer recognize geographic limits, but search for the best around the globe. Advances in technology make it easier to offer access to products and services worldwide.

Second, the boundaries between industries are disappearing. Retail banking services might be offered by banks and financial service institutions but also by supermarkets and players from quite different sectors.

Fans as customers

The identification of fans with their cherished club is more emotional than rational.

Not only do fans expect value, their expectations may be unrealistic. Exceed expectations and remain in the Premier League one year, and the club’s fans will be envisaging European qualification in the following season.

Speed of change

  • More and more players play for clubs briefly before moving on. In addition, the tenure of football managers is declining, as pressure to deliver against fan expectations mounts.

  • The speed of change in football is accelerating

Global or local?

  • While fans press clubs to move on, gain promotion, buy better players, a marketing perspective has enabled some clubs to appreciate that their priority should be to develop as local brands.

  • For these brands, the greatest appeal, the best relationships, and in turn the greatest potential revenue sources, lie in their local communities

What is a football brand

The American Marketing Academy (AMA) in 1960 defined a brand as

“A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods of services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors.”

The internal identity of a brand comprises the core values of the organization. These are the foundation of a brand. Successful brands can clearly identify, and communicate to others, what these values are.

The core values should be simple, credible, and justifiable.

What are football brands?

Any of the following might be considered to be a football brand:

  • a football club
  • a football player
  • a national football team
  • a football body
  • a football competition or tournament.

Logos

Many football clubs have as their logo a badge traditionally associated with the football club

In how many cases, though, do fans, even of that club, know the symbolism that lies behind the logos?

Club logos are based largely on historical club crests. Some of these have been redrawn – and often simplified – in relatively recent times. A number of clubs explicitly identify this as being in recognition of the fact that these crests have become logos.

Many club logos incorporate the club’s initials.

Colors are significant, with logos often heavily featuring the color of the club’s shirt colors, often in conjunction with colors that have regional or other significance.

Local buildings and landmarks also feature frequently on football club logos, suggesting the importance of local and regional values.

The club’s lucky mascot often features on the logo.

Some clubs have a long history of including the badge or logo on the club’s football shirts. Again, this is sometimes a relatively recent development.

Name

A number of different conventions apply to football club names. Most typically, the name is that of the town or city, followed by a word to signify the unity of the club, and FC for football club. Typical examples are Newcastle United, Bradford City, and West Bromwich Albion.

Albion is the oldest known name of the island of Great Britain, and seems to refer to the British roots of the clubs.

The precise meaning of Rovers is not clear, but this is assumed to relate to clubs traveling around, and have similar roots to Wanderers.

The Crewe Alexandra name is attributed by the club to Princess Alexandra, although it has also been suggested that the name might refer to a pub in which the original committee held their meetings.

Sheffield Wednesday was, until 1929, known as the Wednesday Football Club. It took its name from the Wednesday cricket club, which played its matches on this day. The football team was formed to keep the cricket players fit during winter.

The name Tottenham Hotspur is based on a 14th-century knight, Sir Henry Percy, who was known as Harry Hotspur and owned land around the Tottenham area.

Brand values

It should be noted that in football, brands are corporate brands. No organization is allowed by league rules to own more than one football club, so in football terms the organization owns only one club or brand with which it is inherently linked.

Even the most globally successful football clubs, such as Manchester United, are nearer to the revenue and number of employees of a small or medium-sized enterprise than a multinational corporation.

The most interesting values that fans perceived as important in football brands concerned the team’s style of play.

In 2002, a study by Bridgewater and Stray into what mattered to over 3,500 fans during the 2000–01 season identified five “factors” or dimensions. These were:

Organizational values

Fans were concerned that the clubs that they supported were financially stable. They wanted their clubs to have funds either to build upon or to achieve greater success, and to plan for future growth. Stable and “good” management of clubs was also considered important.

Fans wanted to see a strong youth academy, an effective manager and coaches, and a go-ahead board of directors. Ethics and community relations were also considered important. Fans value honesty and integrity in the club they support, and it matters to them that the club has a good relationship with the community.

Team support

If a club was perceived to be successful, the fan engaged in a set of activities connected with the club. These went beyond attending matches to talking about the team, attending club events, buying merchandise, going into club-related web boards, and becoming more interested in football as a whole.

The perception that a team was doing well was not always about actual performance. For example, in 2000–01, the team perceived by their fans to be doing best was newly promoted Ipswich Town, which had far exceeded the expectations of its fans with a fifth-place finish.

History, symbols, and perceived knowledge

Fans often placed a value on the tradition, the team logo, motto, sponsors, the mascot, and the nickname. They had extensive knowledge of classic victories, goal scorers and opponents in cup runs, and other past successes.

Social activities

Involvement in supporting a club may mean going to matches with friends, meeting a social group before and after matches, using official transport, and knowing the people who sit next to you in a stadium.

Strong social support links are forged such that fans have been known to group together to pay for a fellow fan to come to a match, or have supported fellow fans through personal problems, and even supported terminally ill fans in their last days.

Self-esteem

Fans feel personally affected by success and failure. Respondents described an effect on their overall mood, how they would not want to go out socially, or even talk to family and friends if the team lost.

Stories

Support patterns in football are often parent to child, older member of the community to the rising generation of supporters. This is particularly the case for locally based football brands, where fans of a club may work and live together as well as supporting their local team.

Rituals and routines

Many aspects of football are surrounded by ritual and routine. Talk to players and they will tell stories of which boot they put on first, lucky socks, jumping in the air a certain number of times in the warm-up, or other ways in which they behave before every match because this has been lucky for them in the past.

While particular rituals and routines may seen strange when explained to others, each club will have its own way of behaving with staff and fans, and its own unwritten rules and behavior. These not only affect staff working for the club, but may influence the fans’ experience of a game.

Symbols

There is an increasing awareness in football about the importance of the club’s badge or logo, and a number of clubs have streamlined these so that they are clear, are used consistently in marketing communication, and may even have changed them to be appropriate to the modern-day values of the club.

Organizational structure, control systems, and power structures

Many English clubs have now delisted from the London stock market (LSE), after finding that their shares did not retain their value and that the club might open itself up to hostile takeover bids.

From the other side, investors have commented that, while there is money to be made particularly from the top end of football, this went more into player wages than to investors.

The dominant ownership structure in football in the United Kingdom is that of the private company, either a public limited company (PLC) or a limited company (Ltd).

Some clubs are now opting for fan involvement in the running of football clubs. The cooperative model may involve a fan representative on the board, or a club that is run entirely by its supporters.

Brand equity in football

In football the outcome is unknown, and that is what makes the game so compelling. Underdogs can and do win. Teams may under- and over-perform.

In academic literature, fans are found by economic studies to be more loyal to teams that are successful.

Loyalty is measured by both high average attendances and less variability in attendance.

Profits from loyal customers increase over time-

Sending thousands of letters, or even building databases to e-mail takes time and effort to generate a small proportion of responses. If a fan comes to a match as a result then there is a small return. If the fan returns to subsequent matches, buys a season ticket, or becomes an advocate and brings along others to matches, the value of that customer improves profits significantly.

Marketing tends now to focus on the lifetime value of customers. It is then possible to work out how much the organization should invest in bringing in new customers, and in attempts to increase the loyalty of existing customers.

Customer-based brand equity happens when a customer is “familiar with the brand and holds some favorable, strong and unique brand associations in memory.”

The process through which consumers develop loyalty:

  1. The first stage is cognitive, in which consumers collect and consider information about brands. Cognitive is defined by psychologists as being to do with the process of knowing (being aware and thinking) about a brand.
  2. The second stage is affective, in which consumers begin to attach feelings and emotions to a particular brand. Psychologists define affective as being influenced by or resulting from emotions.
  3. Finally, consumers reach a conative stage, in which they show the behavior of loyalty towards a brand. Psychologists define conative (from the Latin verb conari, attempting or striving) as having a motivation, drive, or will to do something.

Once consumers reach the final stage of loyalty, the conative stage, they are likely to buy and continue to buy a particular brand and are less likely to search for alternatives, as they have already been through the process of evaluation and deciding (cognitive), and becoming emotionally attached (affective) to this particular brand.

Motives for support

  • Family connections with a particular club; if the person’s father, mother, grandparent, or other family member was a supporter of a particular club, they might have played a positive influence in the decision on which team to support.

  • Other reasons why fans decide to support a particular team include the influence of friends.

  • Interest in a particular club can be triggered by a particularly memorable match.

  • Additional motivations include a star player or coach being involved in a particular team-

Only two factors have appeared consistently throughout research studies – eustress/suspense and self-esteem/vicarious achievement.

The seven factors included for football were:

  • Drama. Spectators who are more interested in the game of football than in a particular team want to see interesting and closely contested matches. Most fans can imagine this type of motivation best if they think of themselves when they are watching a match as a neutral without particularly wanting one team to win.

  • Vicarious achievement. Fans often unthinkingly refer to themselves as playing a role in successful performances: “We outclassed them,” “We were the twelfth man,” while distancing themselves from poor performance “They were useless last night,” “The manager got the team selection wrong,” “The board ought to put their hands in their pockets"

  • Aesthetics. This refers to that overhead bicycle kick, the way in which the leading striker chipped the goalkeeper, or a heroic penalty save. Such moments are replayed and etch themselves on the consciousness of football fans.

  • Team attachment. This is closest to the brand loyalty we might have to other types of organizations. The fan will develop an attachment to the club as an organization, to the squad of players, and to the coaching and management staff.

  • Player attachment. Some fans are attracted to support a team because of a particular player who is playing for that team.

  • Community pride. Many fans support a local team or a team associated with their family roots or a place where they have lived at some stage of their life.

Motives for support and fan behavior

The second stage of consumer behavior in sports fan studies is to consider whether fans who support sport for different reasons then behave differently towards their chosen sport.

Fans who had been involved with the sport for longer were more strongly attached to the team than fans who were early in their pattern of support.

Both aesthetics and the drama of the game (how close the game is) were more important to recent fans than to those who had been fans for longer.

The assumption in this book is that there is a distinction between:

  • A spectator, who is someone who watches and may enjoy a particular sporting event without any change to their cognitive (thought), affective (feeling), or conative (wish to do something) behavior: that is, without having or developing a particular loyalty to the brand. They enjoy the sporting spectacle itself.

  • A fan, who is someone with a strong loyalty to the particular club or individuals within the club. The attachment is often emotional, as well as possibly social.

Fans who have strong psychological (attitudinal) loyalty and strong behavioral loyalty are considered to be “true loyalists.”

Fans who have low psychological and behavioral loyalties are not loyal.

Between these two extremes, fans who show strong behavioral loyalty (frequent attendees) but who are low in attitudinal loyalty or psychological commitment are described as “spurious loyalists.”

Fans with strong attitudinal or psychological commitment but low behavioral commitment are “latent loyalists.”

Football fans are often preoccupied with showing that they are more loyal than someone else because it adds to their sense of self-worth and belonging to the group.

Good conditions for loyal support included a long tradition of previous support, and older and more settled fans with fewer commitments to work or young families.

The idea of “die-hard” versus “fair-weather” fans implies that “true” fans are loyal irrespective of how well that team is doing.

Fans switching their support to more successful teams are negatively referred to as “glory hunters,” and tend to be despised by other fans.

Appealing to spuriously loyal fans

Cialdini describes the emotional response to good performance as BIRGing (basking in reflected glory) and to bad as CORFing (cutting off rejected failure).

When fans BIRG they wish to associate themselves with the brand, claim credit, and internalize success: “We were the twelfth man!”

When fans CORF, the manager, players, board, and referee were all responsible for this failure – “We were robbed, the manager should be sacked” – but the fans are not responsible, even if they heckled a player so much that his performance became worse.

Fans report that they might actively avoid TV highlights, match write-ups, and web boards that they frequent after a good performance. The emotional tie to the brand makes the pain of association too great.

Understanding the football “brandscape”

For many individuals, football is not just an entertainment and leisure activity but provides a sense of community and family.

Prowess heroes and moral heroes as being closest to sporting heroes.

The prowess hero is defined by Coffin and Cohen (1978) as being a “doing hero” whose feats were talked about by people of a particular time by whatever means of communication was common at the time of their actions.

Moral heroes are those who show particular bravery, heroism, or moral character, and stand above the levels achieved by the majority of people. If the sporting hero does not just “do” well but shows a particular style or character is doing so, he may be elevated to this type of heroic status in the eyes of fans.

The community to which a fan belongs is no longer always defined by where they live, but by which club they support.

Football historically provided escapism for people, usually men, who worked hard in industrial communities.

Sport embodied teamwork, effort, and the idea of improving by practice, and its heroes were historically everyman figures drawn from the ranks of the communities in which they played.

Football “tribes” or communities are not traditional groupings, but they do provide a set of beliefs and behavior that helps group members to define who they are and how they should conduct themselves. So football communities help to fill a void in society.

The nature of what the fans do to earn a living may have changed, but the value offered by football to communities has not.

The link between people is what matters. The common purpose, the values, rules, even the outward display of belonging such as team colors, learning communal songs, sharing travel or experiences with others who also belong to the group, replace the traditional communities and guidelines which society has lost.

“Thus to satisfy their desire for communion, consumers seek products and services less for their use value than for what is called their ‘linking value’”

Rugby is considered to be a significant tool for “(re)imaging and (re)imagining” the Welsh national identity.


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