The Changing Nature of Sports Club Brand Identity

As the world is continuously becoming more complex, globalised and entwined, so is the sports world.

Sports, and more specifically sports clubs have a lot more to think about than merely winning, if anything, ‘winning’ is arguably not number one priority anymore for the club as a whole.

There is an increasing demand for clubs to cater specifically for their stakeholders — the fans, the media, government, and the general publics.

With this in mind and the increasingly interconnected web of the stakeholders- sports teams must therefore rejuvenate their club ‘brand’.

Sports as a brand

The brand and image is arguably the most vital asset of a sports club. With football being globally the most popular, commercialized and competitive sports the need for a solid brand image and strong equity is a must if the club wants to succeed at a national and international level. Brands are an organizations way of creating and managing customer expectations; customer expectations in turn are a representation of an emotional and personal relationship with the brand. If the organizations brand correspond with customer expectations, a strong relationship of trust and loyalty is established, leveraging its brand equity. This is even more apparent in a sporting context, due to the emotional nature of competitive sports.

Competition in sports

Arsenal, who have not won any trophies in over 9 years are in the self-named process of ‘Arsenlisation’- which is their own process of redeveloping their identity and soul. How else should they keep alive the passion of fans, when a club is going through a ‘drought’?

Despite laws that protect their brands identity, the Washington Redskins changed their name, due to the racist connotation associated with The Redskins trademark. The clubs identity, atmosphere and soul therefore underwent major changes.

Most interesting are the new leagues and clubs, such as the MLS (Major League Soccer) or the CSL (Chinese Super League). We are going through a trend of new leagues and clubs being founded. Without ever playing a game, having a full team of players and a history of losses and winnings. This new trend demonstrate that clubs are not about winning.

Sport Club vs. Start-Up

An efficient, structured and strategic brand design and communication roadmap is unavoidable now and winning cannot be the only factor that matters. In the end sports clubs must be seen as a product. They must transform and follow the footsteps of the most innovative and forward-thinking companies. The likes of Uber and Airbnb.

How can someone be a fan of a club, when the club has not played a single game?

It will be interesting to see how Austin FC and St. Louis who will play their first games in 2021 and 2023, create a supportive, committed fan base without ever playing a single football game. Can this purely be done through effective brand design and communication?

Brand Affinity

Individuals choose specific brands not only for their functional benefits but also for their symbolic properties. Consumers choose brands that help them in creating, fostering and developing their identity. In this case, the symbolic meaning of the brand is used as an expression of a consumer’s self-concept in relation to her/his status in society. It is also argue that consumption of a specific brand is used by consumers to communicate with their friends and significant others. The same authors also argue that products which are consumed in social situations are those that have the highest symbolic meaning, since these situations allow consumers to express their identity via consumption. Furthermore, individuals can use the symbolic content of the chosen brand of their chose to reflect their affiliation or connection to a particular social group.

Sports is so much more than just the game. It is a holistic body, in which identity, history, players, fans, media, location and the changing nature of society are all entwined and need to be taken into account.