Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

The Loyalty of German Soccer Fans: Does a Team's Brand Image Matter?

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

The Loyalty of German Soccer Fans: Does a Team's Brand Image Matter?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Factors that influence the game attendance and attitudinal loyalty of sports fans have been researched quite extensively in Anglo-American countries, but rather less in Germany. Brand image is held to be an important antecedent of fan loyalty. This study therefore investigates the relationship between these constructs, using a sample of 1,300 fans of German Bundesliga soccer teams. In addition to the verification of this link, causal modelling reveals a relationship between the major facets of a club's brand image, namely attributes and benefits. Non-product-related attributes of the brand are more important to the fans' loyalty than product-related attributes.

Keywords

brand image

causal modelling

fan loyalty

German soccer

Executive summary

The top divisions of the 'Big Five' soccer leagues (England, Italy, Germany, Spain and France) generated a total income of around [euro]5.8 billion in the 2003-04 season. With revenues of about [euro]259 million, Manchester United remains the 'gold standard, of European soccer clubs, and with about 166 million in revenues, Bayern Munchen is the most important German Bundesliga club. It is beyond question that the most significant asset of a team sports club is a stable following. Factors that influence game attendance and loyalty of sports fans have been researched quite extensively in Anglo-American countries, but rather less in Germany. Apart from success on the field, the loyalty of fans in team sports can increasingly be traced back to the strength of the club brands. Therefore, it is important to make sports marketers aware of the factors that constitute a strong brand and its influence on fan loyalty and, consequently, on the economic success of the club.

From a sample of 1,298 German soccer fans, we made the following findings. A soccer club's brand image can be measured through three factors, product-related attributes, non-product-related attributes and the benefits customers perceive through the club brand. Variables that belong to the product-related attributes are team (members) and general team performance (team play), head coach and success. Those that belong to the non-product-related attributes are fans, logo and club colours, club history and tradition, and stadium.

The following benefits were identified to be relevant for a club's brand image: identification, peer group acceptance, escape (to 'get away from it all'), socialising/companionship, emotions, nostalgia (to evoke fond memories) and entertainment.

By relating these variables to fan loyalty--which was measured through psychological commitment and behavioural loyalty--we were able to show the importance of brand image for fan retention. Interestingly, the non-product-related attributes have a much higher impact on fan benefits than the product-related attributes. The majority of fans have repeatedly experienced both player and coach changes as well as the ups and downs of their teams. It could thus be argued that contextual factors concerning their team, such as the stadium (atmosphere), other fans, the club history and tradition and the logo and club colours are of higher relevance to fans.

When targeting a club's fans, sport marketers should put an emphasis on these attributes. Furthermore, brand benefits have a strong impact on fan loyalty. To sum up, to retain their customers (fans) successfully, Bundesliga sport marketers are advised to focus their endeavours on building strong brands of non-product-related brand attributes and benefits.

Introduction

In the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006, an increasing interest in soccer fans can be observed among marketers and researchers. Put simply, a sports fan can be defined as someone who considers him/herself to be a sports fan (Dietz-Uhler et al, 2000). According to the business magazine Euro, 70% of Germans are interested in soccer and 35% perceive themselves as fans of a particular soccer club (Halasz, 2004). …

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