More than a club. It’s the slogan for world soccer superpower FC Barcelona and a greater truth presiding over sport itself. Sporting organizations, specifically teams, aren’t just magical entities of players and coaches that have dropped in overnight into a community, they are living, breathing representatives of that community. Sport organizations are unique entities, each with their own unique identities, often forged through decades and sometimes, over a century of history.
In the Heere and James piece I asked you to read this week, the authors mention that sport organizations often work avidly to develop strong connections with the communities that they play in. The benefits are obvious. By forming these connections with fans in the community, these organizations are hoping to boost attributes such as identification and passion that are antecedents to desirable consumption behaviors.
Heere and James also argue that sports teams don’t just provide a source for group identity but are also representative of certain aspects of social or community life. The authors call these aspects external group identities and note that those sport organizations that take advantage of these external group identities in their marketing activity may be able to foster a greater sense of identification in fans as well as the desirable consumption behaviors that go along with highly identified fans.
Therefore for this assignment, I want you to, utilizing what you’ve learned from reading and discussing Heere and James’ article this week, critically analyze the marketing of a sport organization, be it a professional organization, collegiate organization, or other organization, through the lens of external group identities. You don’t have to analyze every group identity they listed, as some obviously don’t apply, but looking through multiple frames certainly will be more enlightening.
Geographic Identity – This one’s generally self-explanatory. Clubs may come to represent certain traits of a city with one common example being how the New Orleans Saints represented the city and its recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Clubs may also represent entire states or regions. This may not always be overt, such as in the eighties and nineties as when the Atlanta Braves positioned themselves as a team representative of the American southeast. Finally, teams may be representative of an entire nation. An example of a national team representing its national community may be the German men’s national soccer team, which counts among its ranks these days many immigrants who have also helped to remake German culture in recent years.
Ethnic/Racial Identity – While some franchises like the NBA’s Boston Celtics (Irish- American) had deep seeded roots in their ethnic identity through much of the twentieth
century, this remains mostly an international phenomena. A key example is Spanish soccer’s Athletic Bilbao, for generations a representative of the Basque people. Bilbao have helped position themselves as such a fierce advocate for Basques by having a policy of only signing and playing with Basque players.
Gender Identity – While the world of sport is usually thought of as a hypermasculine entity, since the publication of this article from Heere and James, there have been dramatic events that have pushed women’s sport into the public eye. The dominance of Serena Williams in tennis and Ronda Rousey in MMA, as well as the U.S. Women’s National Team’s win in the Women’s World Cup have seen the profile of women’s sport rise dramatically. Additionally though, note the authors’ assertions that successful women’s teams have also share other external group identities such as geographic identity with the USWNT.
Sexual Identity – Obviously, there have been major developments on this front since the 2007 publication of the article as well. Whereas homosexuality is still largely suppressed throughout men’s sport, there have been major advances in women’s sport. The WNBA and NWSL both have embraced marketing towards the LGBT community and have counted on said community as major parts of their target market.
Social Class Identity – Sport organizations have often represented the social strata of the community they purportedly represent. This can be commonly seen in European soccer, where the likes of the cosmopolitan Chelsea FC from moneyed London may square off on a weekly basis with workmanlike Aston Villa FC and Birmingham FC representing the more industrial city of Birmingham. This is not an international phenomena however. The New York Yankees are often seen as the rich blue bloods of Major League Baseball in tune with the wealth of New York City, while the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers’ mythos has largely been built around a blue collar work ethic.
Vocational Identity – This one’s a bit harder and almost exclusively focused on international soccer. Firms such as Phillips (PSV Eindhoven) and Bayer (Bayern Leverkusen) as well as some Asian clubs formed sporting clubs to build solidarity with employees as well as diversify their own interests.
Religious Identity – Internationally, many soccer clubs have been affiliated with religion. A prime example is in Scotland, where the battles between Catholic Glasgow Celtic and Protestant Glasgow Rangers have resulted in bitter sectarianism. Domestically, religious influence is most prevalent at American universities such as Notre Dame (Roman Catholicism) and BYU (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
Political Identity – Another external group identity reserved almost solely for international sport. FC Barcelona has been seen as a symbol for Catalonian independence in Spain. Eastern Europe Soviet Bloc teams were also often units for political dissent in the latter part of the twentieth century. While political activism is much less common in American sport, there have still been pockets of dissent, such as
when the Los Angeles Clippers protested their erstwhile owner Donald Sterling’s racism as they tried to move towards racial equality.
Obviously, there’s a degree of difficulty attached to this one. You could easily just analyze a club’s geographic identity, which would certainly be a safe option. On the other hand, you could take a chance and delve into some of the more difficult external group identities. As Spoelstra emphasizes in Marketing Outrageously, bravery is often rewarded.
Please remember to use in-line citations and APA style citations for your reference page at the end if you’re gathering research to back up your points (as you should). Also remember that I’ll be picking a handful of you to explain your QA in class the first class after the due date, so be prepared to speak about your QA for a few minutes. As always, I’m available to answer any questions by e-mail or through office hours.