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Football clubs and brands in the digital age

Class of ’92 and Salford City FC agree unique partnership with University of SalfordI’ve been reading a number of papers about football brands, digital and social capital recently. A great study I hadn’t previously seen is called Football Supporters and Football Team Brands: A study in consumer brand loyalty (Richardson and O’Dwyer, 2003). This focuses on Irish football fan support for English football clubs. It’s a topic that I’m particularly interested in and in particular the role that digital media plays in maintaining relationships with fans who may be local, or in this case, further afield.

Back in 2003, the social media element perhaps wasn’t as relevant as it is today. Richardson and co. analyse personality types broken into self monitors (high or low). High self monitors are more concerned what their peers think of them and low are the opposite, they are also known as “The lads”. Their conclusion is that this may not be the best way to break down and analyse fans, but nonetheless, it’s a fascinating study that does cross over with my own research, particularly in the role of interpersonal influence and brand loyalty to a football club. They note the importance of the superstar player and the fact that fans of all types are fiercely loyal. High self monitors may be more likely to purchase club merchandise, but all types were generally loyal and outside of childhood do not engage in brand switching between clubs.

Previous to this one, I read Brand strategy in professional sports: The case of French soccer teams (Couvelaere and Richelieu, 2005). Again, there are cross overs with my own study. Interviews with communications managers of football clubs allowed the role of brand and brand characteristics of each club to be described. There’s lots of rich discussion in this article. They conclude that the development and implementation of a brand strategy could help teams grow, expand and provide them with long term commercial viability” (ibid.). They note that this is just part of the equation – other legal and environmental constraints and reinforcing “the emotional and personal relationships with their fans” is also cited.

Hans Bauer has written some good papers around football and brand – one regarding German football teams (Bauer et al., 2005) and a more recent one called Brand Image and Fan Loyalty
in Professional Team Sport: A Refined Model and Empirical Assessment (Bauer, 2008). The paper starts off by noting the importance of customer relationships and retention and the importance of brand. Their study revealed that “non-product-related brand attributes (i.e., logo or tradition) have a particularly large impact on attitudes and behavior. They represent promising starting points for a successful and differentiating team brand strategy.” (ibid.).

What is apparent is that for football clubs around the world, a strong brand and retention and growth of the fan base is key to the ongoing development and indeed survival of clubs. There are of course other factors both on and off the field. In the digital era, it is possible for clubs to use social media and digital platforms to enhance brand and customer relationships and allow brand communities to flourish. My intention is to come back and add and edit parts to this post, but in the meantime, if you have any thoughts, do drop me a line.

References

Bauer, H. (2008) ‘Brand image and fan loyalty in professional team sport: A refined model and empirical assessment.’ Journal of sport  ….

Bauer, H., Sauer, N. and Exler, S. (2005) ‘The loyalty of German soccer fans: does a team’s brand image matter?’ …  Journal of Sports Marketing & ….

Couvelaere, V. and Richelieu, A. (2005) ‘Brand strategy in professional sports: The case of French soccer teams.’ European Sport Management Quartely.

Richardson, B. and O’Dwyer, E. (2003) ‘Football supporters and football team brands: A study in consumer brand loyalty.’ Irish Marketing Review, 16 pp. 43–53.

Alex Fenton

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