This research broadens the understanding of brand management in professional sport by examining the relationship between brand associations (anything in the consumer's mind linked to a specific brand) and brand loyalty. Specifically, this study utilized Keller's (1993) conceptual framework on brand equity to identify dimensions of brand association in sport. Thirteen different factors were identified as potential brand association dimensions in sport. To study the relationship between these brand dimensions and brand loyalty, a survey of US professional sport consumers was completed (N=929). Data were collected from respondents that allowed for the creation of a brand loyalty measure that accounted for both behavioral loyalty (the propensity to repeatedly attend a team's games or follow the team through the media) and attitudinal loyalty (possessing a consistently favorable attitude toward the team). Information was collected such that this study focused on fans that were already highly committed to a particular team.
Multiple regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between brand associations and brand loyalty. Results demonstrated that seven of the 13 brand association dimensions were significant predictors (four positively related and three negatively related) of brand loyalty among the highly-committed fans involved in this study. In identifying these relationships, this study begins to provide a deeper understanding as to what aspects of the team brand can be focal points when creating marketing strategies geared toward highly- loyal fans. Interestingly, team success was not significantly related to brand loyalty among highly-committed fans. This finding is consistent with both other research and with the notion that brand-loyal fans will provide a stable stream of revenue, regardless of the team's performance. However, fan identification (the ability of a team to provide a vehicle for consumer attachment, particularly when the team wins) was strongly predictive of brand loyalty. This highlights the importance of providing an optimal experience and special access to players, coaches, and other team executives as a means of making the highly-identified fan feel like a part of the team. In addition, the ability of a sport team to provide nostalgic memories was also strongly predictive of brand loyalty, underscoring the need to understand the catalysts of nostalgic memories among highly-committed fans. The need for an escape from the daily rigors and routine of life was positively related to brand loyalty. This finding underscores the need to increase the frequency (through such vehicles as fantasy leagues and draft parties) with which the team provides an escape for the highly-committed fan. Finally, efforts geared toward enhancing the entertainment experience are supported by the fact that delivery of the sport product (both the game and peripheral elements) was positively related to brand loyalty. The use of marketing strategies that highlight a tradition of success, a star player, or acceptance by a group of peers by virtue of following a team is not supported by this research, given the negative relationships that occurred between these dimensions and brand loyalty.
Two years removed from their last championship, the Chicago Bulls continue to thrive. Michael Jordan has not donned a uniform since their last championship and the Bulls produced one of the worst win-loss records in the North American National Basketball Association (NBA) for the second consecutive year. Moreover, interest in the NBA as a whole has declined as evidenced by decreases in both overall attendance and television ratings (King and Mullen, 2000). Yet, individually the Chicago Bulls continue to sell out their games and their merchandise remains among the most popular in the NBA both domestically and internationally. Examples of sport teams that reap similar benefits in spite of poor or mediocre core product performance exist in other realms as well (e. …