Welcome to the Sports Marketing Universe! (videos follow this intro)
It is my pleasure to introduce you to my website, dedicated to my involvement in and contribution to the growing area of sports marketing. I invite you to browse at your leisure through the different sections and become part of the discussion / reflection on sports marketing.
Sports marketing has overcome a long way in the academic world. I can remember the look on the face of my dean when I told him, about ten years ago, that I intended to build my research agenda around what was then an emerging area which was not yet legitimised in academia. It sounded like a risky business to engage oneself on the critical path of tenure-track with such a hedonist topic!
In that ten year span, sports marketing has grown and matured. Our discipline can count on an increasing number of established scholars who feed sports marketing journals, conferences and university programs that attract a captivated audience. Slowly but surely, sports marketing scholars are demonstrating that not only can we study an attractive research topic and still make a valuable scientific contribution, but also that we can bring some added value to an area that touches the everyday life of a vast majority of people around the world.
Truly, aside from entertainment (cinema, music, etc.), religion and politics, there is no other domain that generates such a strong emotional response from consumers as sports. Sports is a unique experience where fans connect with their favorite team and players, and develop a long lasting bond that will make them identify to the latter and swear unwavering allegiance to their heroes. Just think about Liverpool FC fans who, on a game day, at Anfield Road stadium or in a pub in Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Shanghai or Toronto, sing the anthem of the club, “You’ll never walk alone”, until they shed tears.
However, fans cannot and should not be taken for granted by sports managers. This strong emotional bond between fans and the sports organization is a privilege for the latter and managers are now turning towards branding as a strategic tool. A strong brand can and should help a sports organization capitalize on fans’ emotional attachment in order to build trust and foster loyalty. In return, this trust and loyalty can help a sports team capitalize on its brand and generate additional revenue, both inside and outside the sports arena, as well as beyond the club’s local market. This includes merchandising, in particular. For example, according to Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC, 2007), merchandise sales in Canada and the United States alone were expected to exceed US$20 billion in 2011.
Furthermore, sports organizations are competing with different entertainment options for the discretionary income of households. Why should the consumer spend time and money, on top of being emotionally involved with a sports team? Mullin, Hardy and Sutton (2007) suggest that marketing executives of sports organizations should create a relationship based on reciprocity between fans and the team, by underscoring the fact that fans are appreciated and valued. As a result, this may help increase fans’ sense of belonging to the team. This in turn seems to give fans heightened satisfaction when interacting with the sports club. In fact, fans have the opportunity to become co-creators and ambassadors of the sports brand (“consumactors”), such as supporters of the Saskatchewan Roughriders who carve watermelon helmets prior to a game.
We should add that the world of sports is going through a period of great upheaval. Truly, the sports industry is moving towards “sportainment”, the merger of sports and entertainment. The sports product in its different shapes and forms (games, pre-game shows, special events, press conferences, rumours, trades, commercial and charitable activities, etc.) becomes the content that feeds the different platforms of media and entertainment properties which now acquire sports teams; this sports product is then wrapped-up into an entertainment coating that keeps fans interested and asking for more. And there seems to be no limits on creativity, such as this monkey riding a dog at the halftime of an NFL game in Denver or this wedding taking place on centre ice during an NHL game in Atlanta!
In the context of globalization, this transformation of the sports industry challenges managers to find the right strategies and actions in order to combine sports, commercial and financial dimensions. A few months ago, FC Barcelona was mired in a controversy following the partnership agreement it signed with Qatar Foundation for a record 33 million Euros per season through 2016. This deal was all the more shocking to diehard fans that it replaced the partnership that FC Barcelona had with Unicef for the previous five years and for which the club was paying 1.5 million Euros a year to Unicef; a partnership that fostered the identity of the Catalan club as a humanitarian sports brand and positioned the organization as a difference maker in the society. After all, FC Barcelona is “mes que un club” (more than a club).
But commercial opportunities are now aplenty for teams that have established themselves as strong brands that transcend their local market and the world of sports. These teams are now positioning their clubs as lifestyle brands that engage a wider audience: Real Madrid launched its lingerie collection for both men and women; the New York Yankees introduced a cap that had a logo smelling pink bubble gum when scratched! The risk of diluting one’s brand is real when brand extensions go overboard. That is why going back to its roots is a popular strategy nowadays for sports managers: reintroducing an original logo, with a little bit of twist in order to modernize it (Toronto Blue Jays), or a vintage jersey worn during the good old days of the club (AS Saint-Étienne) are common in both North America and Europe. This is retro marketing.
This being said, I strongly believe that the best marketing starts with your product on the field, with the promise that you need to deliver every time consumers are in contact with it. And unfortunately, commercial success can make managers rest on their laurels, forget what they stand for in the hearts of their fans. Organizations lose their identity and authenticity, which well-managed teams nurture through shrewd storytelling, sometimes even encapsulated in popular culture, such as the Boston Red Sox in the movie “Good Will Hunting”.
To respond to these challenges, as well as needs in theoretical conceptualization and managerial strategy, my research focuses on these issues, their relevance and their application to sports, and how this can nurture, in return, the reflection on marketing in general. My website on sports marketing is an information as well as a pedagogical tool. An information platform which highlights my research and some hot topics in sports marketing that I discussed in this paper; but also a learning companion for my sports marketing students. This website offers my students diverse learning tools, such as references and concrete examples that help crystallize their learnings.
In the last few years, sports marketing has overcome a long way, indeed. And despite inevitable growing pains along the way, the discipline offers engaging opportunities to discover a fascinating world, uniting sports and academia. Enjoy!
André Richelieu, Full Professor, Sports Marketing & Strategic Brand Management, Laval University, Quebec City, Canada... also known by his students as the "Tom Jones of Edutainment"!
- Interview with the international education website AngloHigher.com on the rise of sports marketing in the academic world, March 22, 2012.
- Mullin, B. J., S. Hardy and W. A. Sutton (2007). Sport Marketing, Third Edition. Champaign, Illinois, USA: Human Kinetics.
- Price Waterhouse Coopers (2007). “Global outlook for the sports market”. Global entertainment and media outlook: 2007-2011. New York, NY, USA.
Prof. Richelieu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +1-418-656-2131 ext. 7710.
His mailing address is: Laval University, 2325 de la Terrasse, Palasis-Prince 2429, Quebec City (Qc), G1V 0A6, Canada.