Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Reconciling Managers' Strategic Vision with Fans' Expectations

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Reconciling Managers' Strategic Vision with Fans' Expectations

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study presents a multi-method based approach to matching fan expectations and needs with a franchise's strategic vision. This approach is demonstrated by looking at a Canadian team in the National Hockey League (NHL). The needs of the customers are assessed through a questionnaire survey and an in-depth interview with the franchise's marketing vice president. Results are discussed and discrepancies between the two positions are analysed. For instance, it appears that the team management does not understand the profile of the fans and their expectations. Consequently, the identity and positioning of the team, as well as the marketing activities initiated by the franchise, do little to help the team connect emotionally with its fans and leverage the brand equity of the team within its community. Recommendations are made.

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Executive summary

Recent findings tend to show high levels of fan dissatisfaction among many professional sport franchises. Why are customers dissatisfied? What are they looking for? Are sport franchises listening? Why do we see differences between franchises in terms of market satisfaction? This study aims to answer these questions using a multi-method research approach which studies both the voice of the consumers and the strategic orientation of a franchise. Focusing on a team in the Canadian National Hockey League (NHL), the needs of customers were assessed first, through a questionnaire survey, then an in-depth interview was carried out with the franchise marketing vice-president. The results show that certain attributes chosen to develop the team's brand image seemed to be incompatible, or even contradictory: on the one hand, the managers were keen to emphasise the history and tradition of the team, dear to their hard core fans; on the other, they were trying to seduce the young with bells and whistles that had nothing to do with history and tradition. The franchise's greatest problem, however, appeared to be tied to the fact that it had not been listening to its clientele while developing its brand image. Recent marketing activities had been in response to the disintegration of the emotional tie between fans and the franchise instead of being part of a proactive strategy. Were the managers making the right choice to gamble on youth and the consumer experience?

The results of this study reinforce the importance of managers listening to their consumers, particularly in a field as competitive as the sports and entertainment industries. Moreover, fan segmentation should not be based solely on socio-demographic variables, but must also take into account analysis of consumers' specific needs. Franchises can then decide upon marketing tactics that target a particular type of consumer or aim at the overall fan base. The intangible nature of brand attributes in the sports domain, as suggested in other experiential fields such as public markets or mega stores (NikeTown or ESPN), forces managers to be creative and to combine tangible benefits with the intangible attributes of the sporting event. This proactive approach represents the key to success and is too often neglected in favour of a more reactive approach to marketing.

Introduction

Since sport now plays such a significant role economically, culturally and socially, it is important to increase our understanding of which aspects justify the passions stirred up among fans. To a large extent this issue has been ignored in the mainstream marketing literature dealing with the behaviour of consumers towards hedonistic products (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). Most of the research done in this field has been devoted to elitist cultural subjects, such as ballet or classical music, to the detriment of more popular pastimes like mass sporting events (football, hockey and others). Nevertheless, sport plays a very important role in the consumer's life because of the high level of involvement it requires, as well as the entertainment and sensations with which it rewards consumers. …

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