The Need for Branding Your Sports Program

Quick, name your favorite sports team. What are the first three things you think of related to that team?

What came to mind? A team logo? A memory of celebrating a comeback win? A legendary coach? An All-American player? A pre-game tradition? A historic venue?

Now, name your school’s sports team.

Does anything memorable come to mind? More importantly, if that question were asked to your team’s fans, would anything come to their minds?

What’s Branding?

Fundamentally, a brand is what people think of when they hear your brand name (i.e., your school’s name). In order to influence what people think, we as marketers (Yes, you are a marketer for your school’s sports team!) must be positively and effectively branding our schools.

So then, what is branding? Branding is simply telling your story.

Understand this: someone is telling your story – your student-athletes, other students, parents, the local media. We all know people love to tell sports stories. We also know people love to put their own spin on those stories. Who would you rather have telling your program’s stories – teenagers and people not associated with your program? Or someone who is actually a part of the program’s day-to-day workings? Know of anyone like that? (Hint: YOU!)

Understanding a Brand: The Four Factors

Typically, four factors are used to define a brand – an identity, an image, a promise, and a relationship.

Identity

An identity is important because it aids in creating awareness. In sports, identity elements such as a name, logo, and mascot are valuable for creating association with a team. While it’s unlikely that a school will change its name, it’s possible that a name, logo, color or mascot change may be needed for your athletic department. Consider these four questions (Fetchko, Roy, & Clow, 2013):

Is it distinctive? It should differentiate your brand from other similar brands.

Is it relevant? It should fit your identity, possibly even communicating your mission.

Is it versatile? It should be used over social media platforms and web services.

Is it enduring? It should be simple and lasting (No fad colors or designs!)

Image

Brand image is made up of the associations or thoughts individuals have of a sports team. These thoughts are often shaped by the experiences we have at a sporting event. They can also be shaped by word-of-mouth and marketer-controlled information.

What kind of experiences are your fans having at your school’s sporting events? Are they memorable experiences? Are you spreading your message through other channels (e.g., email advertising and social media)

Promise

Some institutional promises are explicitly stated (e.g., ”We offer a well-rounded, quality education.”). But brands also make implied promises that customers come to understand and value (e.g., hiring quality coaches, maintaining clean facilities, outfitting your teams in brand-name apparel).

Are you explicitly and implicitly demonstrating to your students, parents, and alumni that athletics is a valuable part of the school’s mission?

Relationship

Brands are more than names or products. They become trusted resources that add value to people’s lives. This should be our goal: to create a relationship with students, parents, alumni, and the community that adds value to individuals.

Do the activities associated with your athletic program add value to those you’re trying to reach?

Do you see, now, the need for branding your athletic program? Asking all these questions is a great place to start!