Branded: Branding in Sport Business

Lee McGinnis (Stonehill College, North Easton, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 1 November 2011




McGinnis, L. (2011), "Branded: Branding in Sport Business", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 20 No. 7, pp. 559-560.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

For those looking for a broad range of great branding examples in sports, look no further. Branded covers everything from minor league baseball to FedEx, with stops along the way at upstart and start‐from‐nothing apparel companies, worn‐out brands from yesteryear, and new leagues on the make. As in a good mystery novel, the authors seem to begin each chapter building characters and captivating the audience, both to show how nothing but an idea and a lot of heart led to enormous branding ideas.

Did you know that Under Armour simply started with a former college football player who wanted undershirts that wicked away sweat better than cotton, or that the Heelys (the skate shoe) was an inspiration of a man who watched kids wheel past him on skateboards, who later, with $2.4 million in venture capital, started one of the greatest phenomena of our time?

Branded is chock full of some of the most amazing success stories, in not only sports, but in branding period, covering the likes of FedEx, Life is good, Coca‐Cola, McDonald's, and Curves. It even gets into person branding with the likes of Prime Time (Deion Sanders), Maria Sharapova, David Beckham, and Tiger Woods (though pre‐Thanksgiving 2009).

The format for each chapter is highly consistent (and maybe a little singsong‐ish), beginning with a series of discussion questions, providing a synopsis, and timeline of events, and then launching into branding specifics.

In many cases, the chapters leave the reader wanting a little more insight and depth backed by theory as to why the good examples are so successful. For example, when reading about the fantastic success of Under Armour, I wanted to know more about why their brand resonates so strongly with the younger audience. Is it truly the product that makes the brand or is the great promotional campaign? Will intense competition from the big players (i.e., Nike, Reebok) be the bane of its existence?

From a teaching standpoint, Branded's introduction starts off strongly and provides a good basis for readers of all levels to know what branding is and what it is for, and the distinction between a brand and a product, all along providing solid sources (e.g.. Aaker) and basic definitions.

Aside from several different product categories represented, the book does a thorough job of capturing the various brand examples as well. With Mountain Dew, the authors illustrate how the brand went from a hillbilly/moonshine positioning in its early years to the drink of choice among the action sports crowd. With World Baseball League, the authors demonstrate how a homegrown sports league can become global.

Branded is divided up into various sections built around particular contexts such as Apparel and Equipment, Sports Properties, Leagues and Events, and Controversies and Failure to name a few. This makes it very easy for the reader/educator to venture into known territory and to skip around, if necessary.

The examples in the book are without a doubt the dream team of sports brands. The younger reader will be fascinated with the likes of Red Bull, Akadema, not to mention Nintendo Wii and Madden NFL, the latter making reference to the recently “retired” Brett Favre (who, at the time of this reading, was still playing, we think).

One prevalent theme that emerges throughout the book is how the brand managers/entrepreneurs succeeded by creating key relationships with their various stakeholders, specifically top athletes – demonstrating the importance of the match‐up hypotheses.

Another theme that emerged was how important it is for top brands to make an emotional connection – one that is often evidenced through the brand's tagline. With Life is good and its tagline, “Do what you like. Like what you do,” the connection is extremely deep, with fanatics of the brand knowing that what is good is how the brand treats the less fortunate. Madden NFL claims, “If it's in the Game, It's in the Game,” giving its users the most authentic virtual experiences possible. With the Montgomery Biscuits (a double A baseball affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays), its quirky and indigenous connection to the South is a prime example of how minor league sports can flourish given the right name and family‐friendly promotions.

From a sponsorship perspective, the reader is treated to interesting examples of how to leverage relationships to gain maximum support from target markets. I found fascinating the length of time Coca Cola has been a sponsor of the Olympics, dating back to Amsterdam in 1928. Mountain Dew's involvement with action sports and the X Games has certainly transformed the brand into what it is today. And McDonald's involvement with youth athletics has made the term “McDonald's All‐American” synonymous with the best players in the country.

This book certainly covers all bases, weaving the reader through apparel companies such as Mitchell & Ness, makers of premier retro jerseys, small sports equipment companies such as Akadema, card companies such as the legendary Topps, the female‐focused Curves, and the once nearly defunct and now rising Professional Bowlers Association.

Branded ends most appropriately with an inside look at ethics and how organizations like Vincent McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) brand controversially exposes youth to its sexist appeals, dramatic and often risqué storylines, rampant drug use, and over‐the‐top violence. Then it reveals how young viewers often go to the extreme (sometimes lethally) by mimicking the moves of their heroes through “backyard wrestling.” One chapter is devoted to the US Smokeless Tobacco Company's support of the Professional Bull Riders circuit, NASCAR, and its highly controversial partnership with collegiate rodeo.

Though there is a glossy middle section with pictures and graphics of some of the different brand examples – highlighted by very intriguing photos of the Mossy Oaks camouflage collection – it would have been more effective to have these pictures and many more accompany the chapters directly.

From an academic standpoint, Branded uses interesting tie‐ins with academic theory on branding (e.g., integrating Douglas Holt's work brand icons with Mountain Dew) and delves into the importance of proper positioning – placing the product in the minds of the consumer relative to other products.

Overall, Branded is a sports marketer's who's who dream. It will not fail to leave its mark.

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