If football clubs were brands – would fans remain as loyal? - Factor 3

If football clubs were brands – would fans remain as loyal?

  • Football club branding: if football clubs were brands - would fans remain as loyal?

What is it about a football club that inspires a lifetime of loyalty (and for those who choose to have their ashes scattered at their team’s home ground, eternity)?

Maybe it’s because I’m not really a football fan but I just don’t get it. When you break it down, I struggle to see what supporters are buying into when the only constant is that kissable club badge.

For those from Manchester who support Manchester United (it’s a minority, but there are a few apparently), that loyalty to your hometown is easy to grasp. But if you’re not, what is it that you’re supporting?

Is it the ground where the club plays? Well, worshipping the ‘hallowed turf’ may be a reason but stands get demolished and rebuilt and stadiums move to new locations, so it’s unlikely to be the same ground forever.

It can’t be the football kit, that also changes every year and when the new kits (home, away, Champions League, felt like wearing something different for this one) are released, they are critically reviewed by the fans. As, whilst the core colours remain, they often introduce funky hues and dodgy designs – who can forget the Man U green and yellow and shoelace combo. Again, no consistency.

Is it the team? Unlikely – you’ll have your favourite players but they come in and out of the club as the transfer window opens and closes. In most cases (Stevie Gees and Lampards aside), they are as loyal to a club for as long as they’re being paid and being played. But if their missus hates London, they’ll be off to Madrid before you can say, ‘hasta la vista’. When a new player or manager joins a team, they are celebrated as the best thing since sliced bread. However, the moment their form dips, supporters can’t wait to call for a sacking or a transfer, whilst hailing the next best player / manager ever.

So, from what I can see, there’s no loyalty for or from the individual players and those players who make up the team.

If the definition of a brand is a promise consistently delivered, then Apple has this bang on. We know that they represent cool, innovative, easy-going and stylish products. That’s what you’re buying when you buy Apple. What are you buying into when you support a football club? A study into the top four Premier League Clubs and their support in China revealed that Arsenal is perceived as young, dynamic and sexy; Liverpool steady, honest and pugnacious; Chelsea wealthy and superficial and Man United successful, aggressive and dominant. I wonder if you asked their fans, whether any of this would be played back?

I’m loyal to Apple. I have an iPad and iPhone and will shortly have an MacBook too. It’s more than just that kissable Apple logo – it’s the consistency in quality across the whole range of devices. It’s how the products work; how they make my life easier. They play a fundamental role in my life and, alcohol aside, I always know exactly where my devices are when I need them. Buying them makes me excited. Using them makes me happy. Losing them makes me stressed. The products always deliver – the only way they let me down is through my own user error.

Unlike football. With football you can’t control what the outcome of a match will be. If they win, you’re happy. If they lose, you’re gutted. A draw, well, that depends on how the club rivals did… there is no consistency. I often listen to sport radio phone ins and time after time, fans call in complaining about lazy players, poor management, badly run clubs, etc. etc. What is it that stops them switching? If you support Everton, why not switch to Liverpool? Naïve? Maybe, but a good demonstration that humans really make brand choices with the heart, not the mind.

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