Jun 14, 2018

Can Fan Communities Enhance The Brand Value Of Sports Merchandise?

Whenever I go to a football game, or as our friends across the North Atlantic call it soccer game, I get to notice some interesting things that make me reconsider my perception of brand value.

Outside the arena, on the streets, you can always find merchants selling scarfs, t-shirts, and all kinds of merchandise related to sports games. The range of ‘brands’ represented is insane: teams, individual players, cups, or even thematics of a single match. Needless to say, sport merchandise categories are even broader. Prices for these ‘unofficial’ merch products are usually cheaper than inside official stores. Yet, their quality is frequently poor, which rather easily gives away a counterfeit.

So, whenever I am on a game in one of the ‘great football nations’ like Germany, Spain, Italy, I always see people selling and, most interestingly, buying these products. The backstreet sports merchandise is apparently nothing new in these countries. Still, I have never imagined that its omnipresence would be so immense.

Which got me thinking…

Sense of belonging seems to be an important, even integral element of brand value. Why don’t licensors utilize it more outside their stores?

Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t see such a massive amount of counterfeit products outside the stadiums, right? But something about it has drastically changed.

Let’s take a look at the other side of the world, the U.S. I recently attended an ice hockey match in the United States. Must say, it was astonishing to see the community of fans built around the game. On the other hand, it amazed me how sports merchandise actually supports that community. It didn’t only support direct fans of the team; all slogans, chants, and idols were created to bring all ice hockey fans together. The buzz taking place before, during and after the game also sparked the strong spirit of fans. And merchandise acts as a foundation for all that. The beauty of the community trend is not only about the new, exciting merchandise that licensors keep bringing to the market. For fans, showing off their favorite players and slogans is a thrilling opportunity to support their teams.

So is building broader and stronger communities the new remedy to the sports teams struggling to establish touchpoints with fans via sports merchandise?

My honest opinion is - yes, it does. Sports brands that invest in creating more buzz around a single game tend to see continuous growth of merchandise sales. Today brand value seems to come from the value of the entertainment that brands create - we have previously discussed it here. Sports teams can significantly exceed their fans’ expectations by providing that extra entertainment element also outside the main gig. Cultivating communities and fan commitment is especially important in the sports industry, where licensing success tends to be cyclical.

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