‘Football’s not a matter of life or death...it’s more important than that.
‘It’s not the winning that counts’, we tell our kids, ‘it’s the taking part’. And there’s nothing but strong arguments for encouraging sport and athleticism in all sections of our population. We’ve seen the data on health, social and personal development and it all points to the positive benefits of participating in team and individual sports. But when it comes to the crunch, competitive sport is all about winning.
So how does a sport brand win today?
With scandals and corruption exposed at the highest institutional levels, fuelled by bloated sponsorship and media support at the upper echelons, trust is scarce. On the other hand, there’s aggressive competition between broadcasters, leagues, brands and teams for audiences who are not just consumers, but loyal, dedicated, dyed in the wool fans. Fans who’ll do anything to have a piece of their team or their idols. The challenges and opportunities are infinite.
Competition is fierce, media is fragmented, and the gulf is widening between high end professional sports and grass roots enthusiasts. So the question is, how does a sport brand navigate and balance the relationships between commerce, loyalty, passion, education and society? When sport is often the glue that holds nations, communities and even enemies together, there’s more at stake than just another profit margin.
This category spans the biggest global events like the Olympics and World Cup, Wimbledon and the Superbowl to consumer brands led by Nike, Adidas and Puma, local and national clubs in niche and mainstream sports and all the governing bodies that administer and regulate these sports.
And the stakeholders are just as diverse - from players and their families to national and club members, governing committees, investors, sponsors, fans and their communities. So who do you prioritize and how do you connect meaningfully with them?
Relevance. Inclusion. Loyalty. Authenticity.
Sports brands have a jump on other categories as they connect to amazing experiences and deep, pre-existing loyalties. But beyond a set of interchangeable values, audiences, fans, players and stakeholders need to believe in your brand. They need to know you have the team, the game, the sport and supporters at the heart of your purpose.
Yes, people will tolerate change – but they need to know you mean what you say and you keep creating amazing experiences.
With the relentless repetition of seasonal sporting calendars matched by the furious pace of commercial growth, it can be hard to keep up, never mind stay ahead of the curve and the competition. From media and live event tickets to merchandising, apparel, equipment and academies, there’s room for anyone who wants to take the category seriously. And the rewards if you get it right, are seriously worth it.
There are so many ways to connect with fans – either through team sponsorship, cool innovative gear and access to the players and teams they love – brands are blurring the lines between lifestyle and performance, digital, social and live events. It’s all about tapping into the genuine passion and creating products, initiatives, experiences and brands that actually benefit the sport, the player or the fan.
Of course, the icons and giants are always there but just when you think the market is saturated, brands like Under Armour come along, nudging their way into the arena, as with Uniqlo buying recognition via the international Tennis stage. The smartest brands in sport learn their lessons from gameplay – the main one being, NEVER STAND STILL. You don’t have to mess with format to disrupt the market, but it helps. More importantly, you have to invent something better. Who would have thought Xbox and UFC would become global players 20 years ago?
Berliner Benson works with sports brands large and small. We partnered with Major League Soccer for over 3 years building its reputation through community outreach campaigns, holiday messages and collaborating with Athletics NYC to deliver a new brand and visual identity.
Our ‘Don’t Cross the Line’ campaign reached millions of fans through in-stadium, social and broadcast media, cementing the league’s reputation for zero tolerance against discrimination of any form. Endorsed by the league’s biggest stars, the campaign was also adopted by AS Roma when they played the MLS All Stars in Kansas City.
The visual identity has achieved great recognition and exposure, with weekly broadcast packages playing not only in the USA, but to international audiences in the UK and Ireland, Europe, Asia and Australia and a global interactive audience via EA Sports game franchise FIFA.
The core of all our work comes back to a few simple principles based on placing the consumer at the centre of your thinking, a core purpose at the heart of your brand and ensuring your brand is developed to support your ambition. And never give up – the game’s not over till the final whistle blows!