Sport is able to generate one of the rarest collective emotions: passion. Moreover, sport lovers are informed and prepared, something quite unique nowadays. If we put together enthusiasm, will, and time to get informed, and thus to form an opinion, we are in an area of the human brain which is used to build up mental associations. A careful audience notices everything that happens to its team and its players, including the sponsor’s name. Moreover, the competition between human beings, who are unable to renounce to an enemy (though in a sporty perspective), keeps hundreds of thousands of people in front of the TV for the matches they want to win. These and others are some of the evidence that makes sport a fertile ground for the construction of a brand.
Let’s skip some details, for example, that football teams (just to name one of the most popular sports) often lead to shady businesses, supporters are just mad, the owners look like movie actors and show off themselves on Sundays absurd shows where some people, normally calm, get animated. Despite all of this, even when the human brain and consciousness are deviated, sponsors invest.
Sport is a power center that brands have never undervalued, as it has always been by politicians since the ancient Roman games played in the Coliseum. So, which are the ingredients of branding in sport?
A player who mixes up with other players as a metaphor for the product range of a company. Say for instance that Messi is the fusilli box and Iniesta the spaghetti box. The unifying element is the team that has a name, a color, a signature song, a graphic form, as all brands do. If you see a fast and red car hurtling on the street, it is probably a Ferrari or an Alfa Romeo. If you see a yellow-red flag,
he is surely a Roma supporter going to the stadium.
Brands have their own opinion leaders: think about Mr. Amadori or Mr. Rana who tell about their products in TV commercials. Teams have journalists, 99% of the times obliging because supporters themselves, who tell the achievements of their team in a sort of fake discussion, as Mr. Bistefani with the pastry man Carlo.
Consumers tend to make comparisons among themselves. Think about those ladies in TV commercials talking about the effect of cleanser for intimate use or glue for the dental plate. The same thing happens in every bar or coffee shop, everyone has his own opinion about the effectiveness of his beloved team.
There is something magical in it though. Which other human activity is able to generate attention in so many people, about in every one of us? Sport is entertainment but it is not a film, a theatre play, a concert. Sport requires hard work by the players and an intellectual effort by the audience who must participate, comment, and express his own mind.
Sport vocabulary has been made epic by dozens of years of aphorisms. We will name two examples just to clarify how broad the cultural spectrum is. Churchill: “Italians lose wars as if they were football matches and football matches as if they were wars”. Oronzo Canà, the main character of the mythic Italian film L’allenatore nel pallone: “Referee, you are a cuckold!”. It is impossible not to mention one of the most famous sayings by legendary coach Trapattoni: “Don’t say cat if it’s not in your bag”, which means to keep cool and quite before having reached a goal.
The other side of the medal in sport has a commercial character: tickets, merchandising, employment of stadiums, television rights and thus the power to generate visibility.
According to Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance 2012, the market of European football is worth about 17 billion Euros.
The virtuous cycle that sees big teams at the center allows a great amount of money to be generated, and this sustains the wages of always better players, always more competitive teams that give better results (victories), which makes revenues grow. In theory, it is a quite simple process.
Revenues of big football teams are generated by TV rights for about 60%, 25% by commercial activities (sponsorships and merchandising), and 15% by entry tickets. Percentages change from championship to another, but these are more or less the estimates.
Costs are occupied by approximately 60% of the salaries of players and trainers. The economic results are not exciting in all countries, as are not the amount of taxes paid by teams. It is also true that in many championships the managing of teams has not yet gone beyond the concept of the club and entered into “normal” corporate dynamics. Speaking about Italian football in the book “Fenomeno Chievo” (Libri Scheiwiller), Marco Vitale defined the management of the teams of that championship as “a clamorous case of mismanagement”, where the basic idea of the respect of rules (even economic) is not common.
For those engaged with branding, the most fascinating aspect is the “engagement skill” of sport. It far exceeds any other form of human invitation. Stadiums are always super full, people are stuck in front of TV for cycling or for tennis, Federer playing. The brand which is able to conquer the supporters’ hearts and minds has really nailed it. Nothing is stronger for a brand than being associated to the supported team of its customers. This is one of those cases when co-branding is virtuous for everyone, such as the case of Volkswagen which invented a series of very funny commercials involving the players of the sponsored team as actors. Football can generate enormous visibility and visibility is the key in order to sell products.
Sponsoring sports and in general, big events is a business where the achieved result is a positive opinion by the audience about the products and the reputation of the sponsoring company. There is a macro indicator in the evaluation of brands defined as Global Opinion. How much does an excellent Global Opinion value? Recent studies have demonstrated that campaigns on big events are more effective than traditional advertising campaigns. A leading European bank sponsored the Champions League and then evaluated the results through some interviews. 34% of the bank clients appreciated the combination with Champions League, among those 23% remembered the sponsor and 41% valued the combination as positive. The result for the brand was amazing: investing in sport, it could reach a huge audience share.
Then there is another power, it is called consent. Politicians, even local ones, know it very well.
Especially local ones. This kind of power does not generally interest statesmen. In fact, I don’t remember Aznar, Chirac, Clinton, Blair, or Merkel being presidents of a sport event. But which minor politician hasn’t been president or any way involved in somewhat team of bowling, gym, swimming, five-a-side football, or even clay target or ping-pong, still noble Olympian sports?
Consent is generated where the audience has developed a positive opinion of the person, besides the political program. Some people even think that the political proposal is not a central element in the generation of success. Considered how politics is evolving, I might even say that a good program is a redundant element and so sport helps to fill in a gap left by a missing content. If the audience perceives that the politician is one of them, the goal has been achieved.
Let’s finish with the beautiful quotation taken from Fever Pitch, an autobiographical essay by British author Nick Hornby: “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically”.