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Insights into the ‘hybrid’ nature of sports branding – extracts from a research process

Sports branding presents the essence of commercial meaning and passion that surround the business of sports. It is a complex and dynamic concept. However, it is an interesting phenomenon that can show sports entities a new profitable breeding ground. If these entities delve into the deeper elements of sports branding’s multifaceted texture, they will find that this is a fruitful opportunity to improve their brand interactions.

The wisdom lies in finding and developing relevant interactional relationships between the sports brand and its brand influencers and revenue streams. The strategic management of this process requires a holistic perceptual attitude that takes the role of the brand’s commercial stakeholders into account. The market place sets the agenda in a postmodern sports business world, in which meaning exists in the experiences of these stakeholders and thus will influence the sports brand in finding and designing relevant platforms to provide marketable sports branding offerings (products, services, events, experiences and so on).

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Photo: Russell Wilson and some of his brand values are presented on his personal web site.

Whether attention is placed on the brands of Neymar, LeBron James, Russell Wilson or Novak Djokovic (personal sports branding level), the ‘total experience’ of attending the Super Bowl, the Adidas f50 Messi football boot or Gatorade (product sports branding level), FC Bayern Munich, the NHL or UEFA (organizational sports branding level), the dynamic, interactive, and ‘hybrid’ nature is reflected in the powerful strength of these brands due to their association with winning or optimal performances. Winning is a brand influencer that in the end helps to produce stronger brand equity and adds to the revenue streams of any of these brands. This confirms that any sports brand is dependent on appropriate strategic interactions and continuing maintenance to sustain and more importantly to add to its brand equity. Additionally, this nature communicates the liveliness that the interactions between a sports brand at any level and other brands at various levels incorporate interactions between different brand values, which can create passionate responses that may be moved between brands. For instance, this interaction is seen in the recent campaigns by Adidas and Nike that are associated with winning and/or success and that display sports stars like Luis Suarez and Tiger Woods under the labels ‘There will be haters’ (Adidas’ Luis Suarez campaign) and ‘Winning takes care of everything’ (Nike’s Tiger Woods campaign). Winning matters and that statement is unquestionable in sports. The meaning of winning and success (and the massive emotional appeal and public awareness generated by winning sports brands) in sports is one of the elements that separates sports management and sports branding from generic management and generic branding, e.g. branding of a food product like coffee or a product like a table.

Video: The Luis Suarez ‘There will be haters’ campaign from Adidas.

Video: Portraying the competition between Adidas and Nike for the football boot market and how they express brand meaning.

The strategic working process in sports branding establishes itself on the personal, product and organizational levels because of the dynamic, interactive and ‘hybrid’ characteristic of sports brands and the process of sports branding. Especially, when emphasis is on premium sports brands like the Super Bowl or the UEFA Champions League Final, there is such a robust level of connectivity tied to these brands. The same goes for the participating and thus interacting sports brands or sports-related brands. The Super Bowl is a competition between the two best American football (NFL) teams in the world and the event’s inclusion of two strong teams (the best American football teams worldwide at that given period of time) along with the commercial and experiential extravaganza of the event add to ‘the total experience’ of attending (live) or watching (television) the Super Bowl, i.e. leading to a strong sports product. It also illustrates the importance of the context (e.g. time and place) when producing the relevant meaning that appeals to huge masses of people worldwide. The presence of star players reveals how ‘fans wear their fandom’ by being related to the event while wearing their favorite player’s, e.g. Tom Brady’s (New England Patriots of the NFL) team jersey. The same can be exemplified when Real Madrid won the UEFA Champions League Final last season. The ‘total experience’ of attending (live) or watching (television) the event has been boosted due to the commercial growth of football in general and of Real Madrid in particular and the fact that huge amounts of money have been invested to make this ‘the football party of the year at the club level’ while staging and articulating the most popular players of the year like Cristiano Ronaldo. The combination of this is an example of how working strategically with sports branding expresses itself on the personal, product and organizational levels. The importance of searching for meaning in this process is reinforced by the mass and emotional appeal of sports and the strategic process of managing all brand assets at various levels to influence the brand in an optimal way for monetization reasons. Sports brands at any level can always benefit from learning how to improve their interactions. The latter shines through in the rights holders’ (NFL and UEFA) management of assets like New England Patriots, Tom Brady, Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo and the articulation of these assets via numerous channels to connect with stakeholders, e.g. fans, sponsor and the media. These premium brands tell good benchmarking stories. From a critical angle, these are examples of premium sports brands but even weaker sports brands are reliant on on the vibrant, interactive and ‘hybrid’ process of sports branding to improve their brand equity. In explaining this, a new and relative unknown sports brand like ‘Eir Soccer’ (a new football for women) or women’s football (soccer) as a sport in contrast to the more exposed and followed sport of men’s football (soccer) depend on media attention to raise the awareness and to spark its brand development. This may also be explained by the contrast to Real Madrid when comparing the popularity and media coverage of men’s and women’s football; the point is that some sports are more popular than others. Another explanation is portrayed when specific sports take advantage of cultural trends, e.g. that of Mixed Martial Arts and its growing popularity across various markets and channels and the same goes for professional ice hockey in specific markets (e.g. Denmark).

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