Jerry Seinfeld may have said it best in his standup act when he suggested fans of sports teams were really just “rooting for clothes.” His point was that the players change, the owners change, and the managers change. Some years are good, others not. The only constant is the uniform. The humor in this observation is that, of course, he’s right: sports fans form highly irrational attachments to their team’s brands, often regardless of success. (See baseball/fans/Cubs) Like all brands, the fans of a particular team derive a sense of self-esteem from connecting themselves with a favorite team. And it doesn’t have to be just one, many sports fans have several teams in different sports that they relentlessly cheer for.
We’re (All) #1! No Real National Sports Teams Exist
In fact the sports league branding landscape is a remarkably even playing field. No single team brand has come to dominate any of the major sports leagues (Yankees fans will please sit down and zip it), in a way that is typically seen in other industries, where two or three brands will control market share. Of course, regional affinities are a major factor in this. Yet some fans will make lifetime attachments to teams from distant cities and never see a game in person. The lesson here is that sports brands reveal the full extent to which the human mind can form an emotional, irrational brand connection and lock onto it indefinitely, even through negative experiences such as losing seasons, undesirable players, or infuriating management. The next time you are thinking about explaining why your product or brand is superior, imagine explaining to a foreigner why the Green Bay Packers are better than the Tennessee Titans. (Or were. Or will be. Or should be.) Without an emotional bond to either one of the teams, the facts aren’t very compelling for you or your listener. (“Their quarterback’s passer rating is higher than the other team’s.”) Branding is like that. At the end of the day, it isn’t always the features and benefits that add up to a win, it’s the strength of an emotional belief that this brand it what’s right for me.