Anthony Costa sports branding

Anthony Costa

Sports Identity & Design

Is That Entertainment?

March 15, 2019
Bulldogs Thor Jumper

“Sport is entertainment”. We’ve heard that a lot lately.

Usually the ‘entertainment’ amounts to doing things fans don’t seem to want.

Yes, sport can be fun. It should be reaching out to new audiences.

But the entertainment analogy doesn’t fully explain sport’s prestige and social importance. And it masks some of the commercial risks facing sports intent on upturning their traditional base.

Fashion forward

Maybe sport is more like fashion.

It’s something we wear. It changes how we see ourselves. We don’t just consume it, we live in it.

Research shows that we are attracted to sport because it edifies our sense of self. In the mid 1970s, noted social scientist Robert Cialdini lead a research team that undertook a seminal study into the BIRG (Basking in Reflected Glory) effect amongst American college students. It found that rooting for the school football team was more than a leisurely recreation or entertainment escape. It vicariously satisfied a psychological need to look and feel successful.

Just as people dress like the person they aspire to be, sport unleashes our ambition and lets us live a larger-than-life identity. Just like the idealised world presented by a lifestyle label, sport is a dramitisation in which we are cast as players.

Fashion Faux Pas

In recent years prestige American fashion houses have been faltering. Brands that were cultural institutions have shed their allure.

How did it happen? They splintered into cheaper, trendy diffusion labels to catch new consumers. They scattered their distribution and became over-exposed. They fattened margins by cutting quality. In short, they sold out their mainstay customers by betraying their expectations. As former Coach executive Stephanie Sarka put it, “growth became more important than brand”.

Sound familiar?

Sure, the premium fashion industry’s performance partly reflects new challenges posed by ecommerce and globalisation. But sacrificing the core of your business – your relationship to the customer and your place in their imagination – doesn’t make adapting to these challenges any easier. Labels that stray too far from their established image risk going off the rails

It’s about focus, and being what your core customers want you to be. Inspiring them, not leaving them feeling shrugged off or let down.

Be a good host

Sport is important because it’s real. There’s a reason they don’t give the back page of the paper to musicians, writers, comedians, dancers or actors. Sport is important news to us because it’s about us. Our emotional investment goes deeper than any entertainment medium.

Code custodians can learn from the missteps of premium fashion labels. There are risks in flooding a marketplace with diffuse product lines or trivialising the things that make you iconic.

Sport isn’t about playing dress ups. But it can be a party. It should be something you enjoy being a part of. The excellent Netflix documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball tells the story of the independent Portland Mavericks side of the 70s, and how the team’s playfully irreverent ‘gameday experience’ (as they say nowadays) won over a city and subverted professional baseball's business model.

But the Mavericks' success wasn’t a cheap novelty stunt. As actor, Oscar nominated filmmaker and Mavericks bat boy Todd Field put it, support for the team grew because “[team owner Bing Russell] was loyal to the people he invited to the party.”

Loyalty might not get you far in the entertainment industry. But sport is a bit different. Fans deserve more of it.

Talk to me on Twitter @costasports

Anthony Costa

Anthony Costa is a designer specialising in sports branding. Anthony has appeared on Fox Sports News , 1116 SEN, ABC Radio and is an Australian Sports Commission Media Awards finalist. His work has been featured in The Age, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Sports Business Insider Australia.

Follow @CostaSports


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