Guest blog, written by Jeanne De Calbiac, Simona Gardoviča, Guillermo Barcos, Kristaps Efeja, Balázs Perkó (international sport management students, Kenneth Cortsen (ed.)).
Fans all around the world attend events of their favorite sports teams for a reason. A specific reason may be to see the team WIN. To dig deeper, every supporter places his/her club in an imaginative map, i.e. the brand of the team has a specific position in the supporter’s perceptional world. To position itself positively in this ‘map’, the sports organization MUST work on brand awareness, image, equity and loyalty, which is displayed in an investigation of how Miami Heat from the NBA incorporates these phenomena in its brand management, cf. the exemplification below.
Photo: Miami Heat getting ready for the season (source: Miami Heat’s official web site).
Miami Heat is doing a good job when working with brand recognition and awareness. The following facts and numbers support this:
- Miami Heat has the ‘#1 average road attendance’ in the NBA with 19,393 spectators per game.
- The team is the ‘highest-rated NBA team on all ESPN, TNT and ABC national broadcasts’ this season (2012-13).
- The team is the ‘3rd most recognized brand in sports’ behind the NY Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys in the US market.
The team’s global presence leaves a significant influence on the awareness:
- Miami Heat had a total global television audience of 134.4 million viewers in 2011-12.
- All 2012-13 regular season Heat games (82) were broadcasted in over 34 different countries, for over 1,000 international broadcasts.
Miami Heat is working seriously with social media. The team has 8,653,721 likes on its official Facebook page and has 1,841,033 followers on Twitter.
HEAT.com is the #1 website in the NBA measured on aggregate
’NYU business professor Michael Cramer has the following opinion on the relationship of club image and star player(s) in the NBA: “The league is very driven by winning teams and more so by visible personalities. You take away LeBron from Cleveland, it’s not taking away one player, it’s taking away the image of the franchise…One player has a tremendous impact, especially in the NBA, and especially when you’re talking about one of the top two or three visible, recognizable players not only in the league, but in all of professional sports.”
The Association’s standards strictly rule marketing activities in the NBA for what reason the star players’ images are a key asset applied to build the team’s image.
As Miami Heat is a relatively new member of the league (the franchise was brought to Miami in 1988), it does not bear with a traditionally built up image. The first years were unsuccessful, which created a kind of ‘loser’ image to the team.
The team is strongly associated with its three star players, i.e. the ‘Big Three’ (Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh). Their personal images have a huge effect on the team’s image but it was not different in the previous era when Alonso Mourning and Tim Hardaway led the Heat in the mid ‘90s.
Nowadays, the team is acknowledged as one of the best and most entertaining teams in the NBA’s modern era and the team has won the championship in 2005-06, 2011-12 and 2012-13. With James’ arrival in 2010, Miami Heat’s value rose by 17%. The Miami Heat’s ticket sales, which had been on the decline for four years, ‘peaked’ (sold-out) once LeBron made his decision to join the Florida-based team.
Another factor in the club’s ‘image building strategy’ is that Miami Heat combines the fact that it ‘signs interesting, exciting players’ with ‘on-court abilities’, which are needed in to increase its performance. Good examples include Ray Allen (the Good), Michael Beasley (the Bad) and Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen (the Ugly).
Due to Florida’s strong connections with the Latin and Hispanic cultures, Miami Heat’s image is also impacted by these cultures. This element associates the team with rhythm, party, dance, and other cultural elements of these cultures. As another example, one of the team’s mascots is a ‘Banana man’.
The club’s ‘image building capability’ has given the team several awards such as ranked #1 in the NBA in ‘Most Innovative Business Practices’ based on a Sports Business Journal poll of industry leaders nationwide. The NBA voted the organization #1 among all NBA teams as having the ‘best in-game promotions’. Miami Heat was the only professional sports team to be named one of ‘America’s Hottest Brands’ by Advertising Age.
Another part of Miami Heat’s brand management, which helps the team to position itself in a positive way, is the team’s financial and on-court status.
The team gained a ‘competitive edge’ compared to other teams by signing the ‘Big Three’ (James, Wade and Bosh). It gave the team a vital increase in value and an important selling proposition point. Therefore, many indecisive basketball fans were emotionally driven to follow the trio of Miami Heat in the start of 2010/2011 season. Being successful on the field (three finals and two titles in the last three years) corresponds well with improving the team’s financial ability. Micky Arison bought Miami Heat for $65 Million in 1995. During the 2012/2013 season, the payroll obligation alone was $96 Million conquering the fourth place in the league – that puts the team’s development in perspective.
Establishing a ‘winning Heat dynasty’ is a challenge, which the team is facing, although Arison’s status as a multi-billionaire still backs the team financially. Due to the team’s success, stakeholders such as the city of Miami (global recognition) and sponsors (Coca Cola, Bacardi, T-Mobile etc.) have received ‘positive brand transfers’ related to ‘success and winning’.
Photo: Getting ready to spend some time with the Miami Heat (source: same as photo above).
Miami Heat has the ‘most loyal’ fans in the NBA according to the Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index. This fact is founded on several metrics:
The first metric relates to pure entertainment. Miami Heat has absolutely provided that, especially in the season where the team has won the league championships.
Additionally, Miami Heat is an authentic team and it provides large degrees of ‘emotional equity’ for its supporters (fan identification), e.g. in connection with the ‘Big Three’. Miami Heat has history and traditions dating back to 1988, and its current status has improved a good process, which the team hopes to continue for a long time supported by South Florida fans.
Regarding social media, the team has 1,841,007 followers on Twitter and many followers via other social media platforms as well.
In order to increase loyalty and the total fan experience of its fans, Miami Heat offers a lot of community activities and has different social agreements like the ‘Learn to swim’ with Florida Blue’s ‘Thanksgiving celebration’, ‘Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration’ by Pepsi, partnership with Levy Restaurants to distribute un-served food to homeless shelters in the South Florida area, events like HEAT Beach Sweep (beach clean-up effort) for the NBA Green Week.
The Heat is trying to reach its audience by using the following marketing tools:
- Banners, Ads, Promotions (On Court/ In-Arena Promotions, Retail Promotions, Kiosk Displays, Premium Items, Entertainment Team Appearances, Logo Rights), Features, Page Sponsorship, Pre- Roll Advertising
- E-Mail Marketing
- Social Media Opportunities
- Print Opportunities (Pocket Schedules, Gameday Magazine, HEAT Yearbook, Cup Holder Insets)
- Community activities (HEAT Academy, HEAT Family Festival , HEAT Golf Tournament)
- Hospitality services: Party Suites, Loges Suites, Flagship Seats, Dewar’s 12 Clubhouse, Season Tickets, Individual Suite Nights
- Radio broadcast on English and Spanish Radio.
The Miami Heat has developed one of the best sport performances or sport experiences. The team has realized that fans are very ‘selective’ in terms of how they spend their money. Bearing in mind that it may be more comfortable to watch a game at home, Miami Heat decided to turn the fan experience into something ‘unforgettable’. It is not a simple basketball game anymore; it has reached the level of an entertainment performance for all types of people (beyond basketball fans). This experience encompasses many elements from the music to the mascot. Everything has been staged to make sure that during the elite basketball game there is an experience that will convince the public that they attended more than a basketball game.
The idea is that when you get to the game you find yourself in an atmosphere where everything that you see or hear is specifically done to make the YOU (the fan) feel that you can make the difference between winning and losing. The game has reached a point where the fans are the most important part in the game. Many coaches and players have said that playing in front of a home crowd creates a huge effect. Although it is hard to measure, it definitely may influence the final score of the game. So by creating a unique game experience for fans, Miami Heat has found a good method to reach its main objective, which is to win (while performing on other parameters). The team started to realize that it needed to import a model of ‘creating an experience for the fans’, which was unique and irreplaceable in order to meet future growth aspirations. The team had to start signing the most shining stars in the basketball universe and to mix that with entertainment aspects to construct a ‘second-to-none’ event experience. Such a strategy is not new; soccer teams have done it before with great improvements in terms of their financial figures, e.g. Real Madrid is a very good example.
Before Lebron James went to Miami Heat, the rate of spectators in the games was very poor; the fans did not see it worthy to go to the game. Then the age of ‘King James’ came and people started to realize the experience of seeing one of the best players in basketball history in action. Buying his t-shirt, shouting to support him in the games was very satisfying and was part of the game. He was one of a kind. During the 2009 season, the team was ranked number 15 in the NBA concerning the attendance of home games. As a result of all the improvements, which the team made in terms of providing fans with a unique feeling when attending Miami Heat games, Miami Heat moved up the hierarchy and is now ranked number 3 in the same list during the 2013 season. That way, the team has taken all the stakeholders to a completely new level.
Conclusion – brand positioning
Miami Heat is a strong brand with a loyal and large fan-base but it’s not a traditional club. The brand’s reputation has been built up in the last 3-5 years and has been closely connected to the team’s on-court performances. By doing so, the brand’s value is very dependent on the key players and their on-court performances.
Key players act as a basic element, which secures the brand’s current leading spot in the industry. However, the the team needs to work on maintaining its market position and image in case the ‘Big Three’ leave or retire.
All in all, Miami Heat has a well-developed marketing mechanism, which empowers the organization’s performance and its relationship with fans.
Considering the fact that Miami Heat has been the team to beat in recent years, the club is much liked among the young generations, who have recently started watching and visiting basketball games. Some fans often support the strongest team and Miami Heat is in the position to appeal thousands of new fans. These fans may choose to spend their money on merchandising, tickets, and other brand-related assets for many years. Further steps to establish loyalty with this new generation of supporters might be exploited on the long-term.
Smith, A. (2008). Introduction to sport marketing. Routledge.