- Constant Change to Team IP Threatens to Affect Long-Term Brand Value
Constant Change to Team IP Threatens to Affect Long-Term Brand Value
Constant Change to Team IP Threatens to Affect Long-Term Brand Value
Altering a sports team’s uniform can create excitement and spur conversation amongst young fans, and having a multitude of looks can help to drive merchandising related revenues. That explains why every NBA club has at least four different uniform editions for the ’23-’24 season (icon, association, statement, and city). Those honoring milestone anniversaries may have a fifth (classic).
The problem is those same fans “often have no idea who is playing in an NBA game [he or she] comes across on television unless [they] look at the scoreboard,” Chris Creamer (founder, SportsLogos.net) said. “The uniforms are unrecognizable in certain instances.”
And for in-season tournament games, the floors may be too. The league chose to alter court designs for tournament competition to ensure fans –and players– would understand the matchup is not just another regular season contest.
It’s logical to wonder how all the change may be affecting the teams’ long-term brand value.
“Think about Apple, McDonalds, Coca-Cola. A lot of time, money, and smart people get around the table and figure out what the brand [should] look like, what color scheme to apply, and how the brand is [to be] utilized,” Michael Neuman (co-head, Playfly Sports Consulting) said.
And once they settle on it, they stick with it; the goal is to be widely recognizable.
So, why do sports properties act differently?
“If [leagues] are manipulating the [teams’] core brand equity, what that looks like and how it is presented to the marketplace, and it happens with great frequency, then [it is] absolutely devaluing the iconic sports brands that everybody recognizes and loves,” Neuman said. “Protecting the integrity of the [team] brand is critically important [for long-term value accretion].”
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The NBA is not the only league to have embraced the alternate jersey trend.
“Baseball is getting up there now too [in terms of uniform variations],” Creamer said.
Though select MLB clubs, like the Yankees and Tigers, still maintain just the traditional home and away look.
But rights owners across sports may want to consider how this attempt to drive revenue and enhance fan engagement may be impacting long-term brand equity.
“When you’re offering too many alternatives of something, it takes away from the primary brand,” Neuman said.
It’s worth noting that most alternative uniform looks have a connection back to the team’s core identity, whether it’s through details like color, logos, or wordmarks.
Organizations focused on their brand’s long-term health may also want to take a more critical approach to patch partner selection in the years ahead.
“There has been so much brand [partner] turnover since the first three seasons of [the NBA’s program],” Neuman said.
The instability, correctly or not, suggests the high-profile asset –and more broadly the club association– lacks relative value.
Some organizations have also chosen to align with companies unbefitting of a marquee sports sponsorship opportunity.
“If the team brand is held with tremendous esteem, especially those in major markets that are globally recognized, it has a responsibility to align with a premium corporate brand,” Neuman said. “When fans look at the association between the two, they [should] immediately check the box that [the alignment] makes sense.”
The problem is many teams are struggling to monetize the high-profile assets.
“There’s just too much inventory [on the market],” Neuman said. “And at the same time, the convergence of the political situation in our country, [and] the threat of a recession –marketplace economics– has created a real big [headwind in terms of getting brands to spend]. There’s only so much discretionary investment available for things like [a jersey patch deal, despite it being] a great platform for brands.”
And the pressure inside sports organizations remains high to sell the asset. So, some have settled on brand alignment.
Those deals “help [the club] financially [in the short-term], but [they] don’t drive sustainable brand excellence because it is abundantly clear that the integrity of the team/brand alignment has come off the tracks a bit,” Neuman said.
Settling on a sponsorship partner may make it more difficult to sell the asset in the future.
The Yankees were criticized when the organization announced a ‘relatively unknown’ commercial insurance company would become its first patch partner. It’s worth noting Starr Insurance has been a partner of the franchise for the last half decade.
Aligning with a ‘like-minded’ and well-respected brand partner, on the other hand, has the potential to enhance a club’s image.
“The cross-town [Mets] put the number one hospital on their [uniform],” Neuman said.
New York’s National League club did a deal with New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
The need to grow revenues, combined with the glut of existing patch inventory that exists, means a price reset is likely on the horizon for ‘non-top-tier rights owners’.
“It’s [also] going to put a tremendous amount of pressure on all the stakeholders to make sure these investments work,” Neuman said.
The presumption is clubs will want the revenue stream to continue flowing for years to come.
Assuming the partnerships generate the anticipated returns, it will be on the rights owner to get the message out so that tomorrow’s brand marketers understand these assets are in fact effective and why that is the case.
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