It’s A Business
High school, collegiate, and professional level sports all have fandoms. They each have their own brands, their own language, and gear to support it. If you’re in the Triangle, you have the UNC / Duke rivalry. You simply don’t go to Durham wearing UNC gear unless you want some ugly stares and comments made to you about it. While UNC and Duke are both extremely successful in basketball, the success of a team is not a direct link to the brand’s success. The New York Knicks have lost the most NBA games ever, but are still worth $3.3 billion. The Dallas Cowboys, a highly successful team with a die-hard following in Texas, are worth $4.2 billion.
There are rivalries such as Coke vs Pepsi, Apple vs Microsoft, Yanny vs Laurel, but people don’t regularly wear clothes/jerseys to support their side. A debate about Coke or Pepsi may last for 5 minutes and be a joke at cookouts, but a Yankees vs Red Sox argument can create rifts between people. So, what is it about sports, wearing your favorite team’s and player’s jerseys, and planning viewing parties that make fans care so much about a brand?
There’s a Sense of Belonging
We like to find common characteristics with others to bond better with them. The need and desire to belong is so powerful that strongly affects our interactions with others. It’s easy to see it on first dates with the, “Yes, I am the BIGGEST Golden State Warriors fan!” to having a casual interest in football, then heavily following the Panthers for the sense of community. Sports teams provide instant and organic affiliation with easy talking points. Leveraging this already developed community can be difficult from a business branding perspective. It can feel like a connection is being forced when it shouldn’t be. Coke has its own community and “fan base” with associations to tailgates, movies, and other exciting events. They don’t market a community, but rather they market happiness through product placement at events relating to happiness and community.
It’s a Lifestyle… A Culture
Many people don’t decide to be a Hornets fan or a Rockets fan. They’re born into the fandom or become fans after living in a place for a long time. It has turned from just cheering for the actions and direction of a team, but for the location, too. Telling a Mavericks fan that the Mavs are terrible is not just an attack to their team, but to Dallas as well.
The issue with brands is that they don’t just want to be local ones, but global ones. Maintaining your local roots and paying tribute to where your brand came from, often is a better global mindset. Audiences relate to celebrating a location and that feeling of home.
We Create an Identity Around It
Being part of a fandom helps us represent ourselves. Brands don’t want their consumers to have negative feelings associated with them. Sport competitions, championships, games, etc always have a winner and a loser. This means there’s more “losers” than “winners” at the end of the day. Despite this, sports fans endure loss after loss. The Brooklyn Dodgers used to always say, “wait ‘til next year.” This is one of the major aspects driving sports fandom, the unknown possibilities of the future – the time, money, and emotions will pay off with victory. Brands may not be able to tap into all of these emotions and get the same responses. However, brands can utilize hope and feelings of triumph, and curate these feelings to be associated with their brand.
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