Article • 19 10 2018

Sport, this hybrid brand…

The sport universe is transforming. Clubs, federations, tournaments, or major sporting events all question their singularity. But how is it reflected?

This singularity may be expressed in structuring values, as well as in a strong image which must concentrate brand history, vision and promise. In short, sport entities build themselves more and more as brands. But not like any brands. They are “self-communicating brands”. Branding no longer predates communication. Branding and communication become one; one hybrid “thing” in which graphic and verbal expressions form an identity. Let’s take the example of the Fédération Française d’Athlétisme (French Athletics Federation). It recently changed its FFA acronym and turned it into a name deriving from spoken language ATHLE. This semantic contraction of the primary sport, namely athletics, aims at popularizing practices in a more “pop” environment which leaves the stadium to feature a street approach of the sport. The brand lets the practitioner express himself in a modular territory which adjusts to every discipline.

The impact of sport brands’ hybrid character is all the more strategic as they have become lifestyle, entertainment, and media brands at the same time. This hybridization is consistent with their business model which is becoming more and more complex. Living on licenses or advertising revenues is no longer sufficient for the clubs and federations to create the necessary value for the pursuit of their ambitions.

The development of sport entities must be based on a strong idea. Supported by the brand, this idea allows them to create, activate, and modify the sources of profit and the cost items. For instance, the NCAA Basketball Championship in the US or ASPIRE in Qatar (equivalent to the INSEP in France) have built a value proposition which goes far beyond the sport universe to develop new services. In fact, these entities all have a wide diversity of know-hows which are only waiting for monetization.
– What about an accelerated training of business leaders by a sports coach?
– What about extra-sporting events organized in high quality premises?
– What about a food re-education assisted by experienced nutritionists? Etc.
There are plenty of ideas and opportunities. They just need to materialize in new business cases « to be rolled out ».

For sport clubs, particularly soccer clubs since they face huge financial issues, openness and diversity are critical. The diversification of the business model needs to pay off more and more significant investments on tangible assets (more technological and more experiential stadiums), as well as on human assets (player brands co-living with the club brand).

There lies the second specificity of the brand in the sport universe. It has to be especially flexible and malleable. This is the reason why it is so essential to establish a stretch territory (disconnected from the brand’s core business) and an extension territory (related to the brand) to examine how far the brand can go. The PSG (Paris Saint Germain soccer club) has progressively moved forward to bold territories negotiating partnerships with Levi’s, Maison Labiche or even the Rolling Stones. A few days ago, the club proved once again its strategic innovation capacities when it announced the launch of its cryptocurrency in partnership with the startup Chiliz.

Beyond this strategic dimension, the graphic embodiment of the brand is critical. Could things have turned out differently without the rebranding of PSG? Since sport brands operate in verbal and graphic environments which are very overloaded and complex, the creative impact plays a predominant part. Whether it is a tournament or a club, the brand identity will evolve among sponsors and will be consumed on numerous medias. The brand will live mainly through screens. Its graphic impact must not conflict with the surrounding brands. Emerging while blending with stadiums, shirts and posters, sponsors is a real challenge. There are so many stakeholders which revolve around sport brands that implementing a traditional graphic charter becomes a pipe dream. It must be rethought to become a new living and personalized guidelines system.
The equation is complex but exciting. It relies on a beautiful articulation between brand history, values, and territory and design trends.

In the end, in all cases, sport brands must be designed for sharing; a nearly primitive sharing with simple but powerful gestures and sounds. This is how we need to design all the signs of sport brands since they give and remind us of emotions that no other universe manages to convey.

Mathieu Sakkas – Head of Strategy

Photo credit: Nike