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Crowdsourced Branding in Professional Sports

November 21, 2011

Back in September we posted about a topic we termed “Crowdsourced Branding“.   Among the observations we shared were,

Brand-building for New Market Entrepreneurs is no longer command and control…   it’s thoughtful, deliberate and an evolutionary process built upon an open, honest and transparent 1-to-1 dialog with users.  Charting out this process is hard work.   Executing it by reading and rapidly reacting to the unexpected is even harder.  But when done well, your users will help you build your brand with all their hearts and energy in ways that no Superbowl Ad can ever achieve.  -read more

The other day I happened upon this piece in Ad Age which quotes an old Reebok pal who now runs EA Sports,

Who powers the marketing message for sports brands? The brands themselves? The corporate partners they do business with? Sports leagues? The ad agencies who deliver their campaigns? None of the above. “We’re no longer in control of the message,” said Peter Moore, chief operating officer for video game giant Electronic Arts. “The consumer is in control of the message.”   And while they’re not quite to the point of ceding control of multi-million-dollar ad budgets to the fans, chief marketing officers for the major sports leagues tend to agree with Mr. Moore.   “The brands that are most comfortable are the brands that allow fans to talk,” said Brian Jennings, exec VP-marketing for the National Hockey League. “The biggest thing we can do is keep our ear to the ground to our fans, because 99 times out of 100, they’ll drive you to a good place.” -read more

This got me thinking how Crowdsource Branding might play a role in professional sports, for the brand loyalty dynamic is somewhat different for sports brands compared to B2B or B2C brands.  How?  Let’s take a look with the help of Wikipedia:

Fan loyalty, particularly with respect to team sports, is different from brand loyalty, in as much as if a consumer bought a product that was of lower quality than expected, he or she will usually abandon allegiance to the brand. However, fan loyalty continues even if the team that the fan supports continues to perform poorly year after year.

As I Googled around I discovered some consistency around the factors that help to both affect and define fan loyalty:

  • Entertainment value – The entertainment value that a fan derives from spectating motivates him/her to remain a loyal fan.
  • Authenticity – The acceptance of the game as real and meaningful.
  • Fan bonding – Fan bonding is where a fan connects with the players, identifying with them as individuals, bonds with the team, and one another.
  • Team history and tradition – A long team history and tradition is a motivator for fans, in particular, due to the intra-generational family ties such experiences engender.
  • Group affiliation – Fans receive personal validation of their support for a team from being surrounded by a group of fans who also support the same team.  Affiliation is a basic need most all people possess– see Maslow.

In fact, like Neilson ratings, team loyalty is measured on a regular basis.  For readers outside the pro sports industry, you might want to check out the Fan Loyalty Index’s 2011 Team Ranking by Category to see the top and bottom 5 teams in each of the the major league sports.  Any surprises?

Getting back to Peter Moore’s quote, “The consumer is in control of the message”,  what can team-organizations and leagues do to both foster and steer the direction of the message?  What can they do to boost fan loyalty, regardless of their team record or the size or strength of their markets?  We believe the answer lies squarely at the intersection of the above-referenced list of motivators and a thoughtful social media strategy.

Pre, post and in-game social media campaigns and strategies can heighten each and every one of the five fan loyalty motivators listed above.  Best of all, by definition, social media platforms facilitate and initiate fan dialog and interaction.  Yes, prospects for fan dialog can be scary at times when team mojo is low.  But even in the lowest of low moments, well orchestrated social media forums can be a place for misery-loves-company authenticity and candor.  On the other hand, when team mojo is neutral or better, social media can be a catalyst for ongoing engagement and dialog as fans stimulate one another’s passions.  In short, social media can be a powerful catalyst to boost fan loyalty metrics and all the positive spillover benefits that follow.

In a series of future blogposts we plan to dive into the opportunities and challenges associated with leveraging social media to build deeper fan engagement.   Stay tuned.

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