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What brand is your football team?

by Steve Braden

What brand is your football team?

As we approach what commentators like to refer to as ‘the business end’ of the football season (famously described by Sir Alex Ferguson as ‘squeaky bum time’), I thought it was a good opportunity to consider the value and meaning of football teams’ individual brands and a question which has intrigued me for some time: does the team you support influence your personality?

Certainly, there’s plenty of money around in the game – especially at the top end – and there are plenty of articles regarding the huge brand value of the very biggest clubs, and no shortage of international sponsors who are happy to spend big to be associated with successful teams. Likewise, there are clear benefits to sponsoring even lesser teams to achieve brand exposure…right the way down to local businesses wanting to embed themselves in the community by associating themselves with small, lower league clubs.

But what of the individual ‘brands’ of the clubs themselves, and how much do they affect their supporters? Does supporting a big, successful club such as Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool engender a corresponding sense of optimism and self-confidence – or (on the flip side) perhaps arrogance and self-entitlement? Likewise, it might follow that supporters of clubs which regularly underperform (like my own team, West Ham) might be more cynical, pessimistic or realistic in their outlook, or that supporters of smaller clubs which reside in lower divisions might be characterised as more down-to-earth, less ambitious and with lower expectations.

So does the brand of the team mould the character of the supporter, or do particular characters naturally gravitate towards teams with a similar brand identity?

Breaking it down further, supporters can be divided into two categories: those who choose their team, and those who ‘inherit’ their team – whether through family tradition or where they happen to live. Plenty of fans chose to support big, successful clubs even if they don’t live nearby (because, like the sponsors, they want to be associated with success), but there are also many who make a conscious decision to follow the underdog. What does that suggest about their character? And for those who have the luck to ‘inherit’ a successful team, how much does that winning mentality rub off on them?

Not convinced that it makes a difference? Consider our national psyche, and how that is influenced by our national sporting prowess. We’ve been told many times how Team GB’s success at the 2012 Olympics helped to engender positivity throughout the nation, with apparently measurable economic benefits. On the flipside, there’s the cliché of the ‘gallant loser / heroic failure’ mentality that reflects our national personality in a way which simply doesn’t exist in more self-confident nations such as the USA.

Lots of questions…and I don’t pretend to have the answers. I do, however, think that they might be worth bearing in mind if your business is, like so many, looking at associating its brand with a team or a sport – at whatever level. As with any form of marketing, you need to be aware of exactly what message you are trying to communicate and what the profile of your target audience is.

Are you Chelsea? Or are you Leyton Orient?

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