Brand Associations in the Fitness Segment of the Sports Industry in the United States: Extending Spectator Sports Branding Conceptualisations and Dimensions to Participatory Sports

Article excerpt

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Executive summary

This study advances brand association research into participatory sports (i.e the fitness or health club segment of the sports industry). It does so by extending the application of sports-related brand association conceptualisations to fitness and by expanding fitness brand association research into the US.

There has been a substantial amount of branding research involving traditional product-driven business sectors in the sports industry. Brand equity has also been examined in the context of spectator sports (Gladden & Milne, 1999; Gladden et al, 1998; Ross, 2006, 2007), most frequently drawing on the work of Aaker (1991) and Keller (1993). However, brand association research in the context of fitness needs further development. Such research has only been conducted in European health clubs, which are inherently different to US-based health clubs in terms of scope, size and services (Alexandris et al, 2008; Filo et al, 2008). In addition, brand association research in the US has primarily focused on professional sports and intercollegiate athletics (Gladden & Funk, 2002; Ross et al, 2006).

This study, therefore, aims to advance brand association research by examining the fitness segment of the sports industry in the US. Its extension of research examining brand associations in US facilities, when combined with previous studies of European clubs, offers a more international perspective. In addition, the study adds to the body of knowledge by applying fitness to spectator-sport brand association conceptualisations from previous studies and by including additional brand association dimensions that are unique to US health clubs.

The main hypothesis in this study suggested that the proposed brand association dimensions would have a direct and positive relationship with brand loyalty. In order to test this hypothesis an MLR was conducted to examine the link between brand associations and brand loyalty in a health club setting.

It is recommended that health club managers use the resulting scale to measure the prevalent brand associations in their health clubs. The results may also serve as a promising start in building brand loyalty in an industry that has been plagued by high levels of member attrition.

Introduction

The fitness segment and, in particular, branding has received little attention in the sports marketing literature (Lagrosen & Lagrosen, 2007). Fitness clubs are constantly confronted with membership attrition issues (Bates, 2008), and therefore research in this area is important to point to ways to attract and sustain members. It has been proposed that the main reason members quit is as a result of service quality and brand-related issues; not because they no longer find the actual services useful (Tharrett & Peterson, 2006). Although building loyalty is a difficult task for health club managers (Alexandris et al, 2004), research needs to be conducted in order to fully understand the wants and needs of fitness consumers. In order to best meet these needs, while simultaneously differentiating their brands from those of their competitors, managers must understand the brand associations held in the minds of their consumers. Becoming aware of these positive and negative associations will allow fitness brands to gain leverage in the marketplace and create brand loyalty. Because of this disconnect--and because of the segment's growth and lack of study --the gap in fitness marketing research needs to be bridged. This will both add to the body of knowledge and help to improve business practices.

Research examining internal factors (e.g. brand associations) that predict repeat purchases (e.g. brand loyalty) may provide fitness facilities with the practical information they need. In addition, research providing a conceptual understanding of how brand associations predict brand loyalty will give practitioners the information necessary to identify the positive and negative associations held by their consumers. …