Each year, Forbes ranks the world’s most valuable sports teams. In 2017, the Top 5 included the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Unsurprisingly, the Australian Cricket Team didn’t crack the Top 50 and after the weekend revelations, doubt they could make it into the Top 100,000 sporting teams in the world.
For years, sporting teams have been positioning themselves more as brands as when people see them as a brand, loyalty can emerge which ensures support even when the team is losing – think Essendon in the season following the drug scandal. So what does Cricket Australia do when their team and brand, arguably already in trouble before the weekend, hits rock bottom?
Before attempting to solve the problem, a little about the relationship between brands and sporting teams. In the same way that the brand of milk you buy, the clothes you wear, the car you aspire to own; professional sports teams are wanting to project an image of themselves to demonstrate both their personality and benefits. This brand image helps them stand for something, differentiates them from their competitors and inspires you to support, attend, buy team colours and merchandise. For a sporting team, the benefits are plentiful – the escapism of watching, sharing the experience with friends and family, the chance to see players and talent are just some of the benefits of associating yourself with the team. You want to feel like there’s a connection between you and the team. Think back to the early 2000’s: it was a struggle to choose which one Australian you would most want to have a beer with: Langer, Hayden, Waugh, Ponting, McGrath, Gilchrist or Warne. Flash forward to today and it’s more who you would be less embarrassed to be seen with.
Research conducted by Carlson, Donavan and Cumsikey in 2009 identified 5 dimensions that contributed to a brand personality for sports teams: wholesome, charming, successful, imaginative and tough. The Australian Cricket Team may take the credit for being imaginative in South Africa but that’s all they’ve got.
The connection to the team and the brand is lost. In a country where sport represents our culture, we feel we’ve been misled, lied to and shamed. In the grand scheme of what else is happening in the world, it’s minor but for a country that proves itself on the world stage via our sporting achievements, it’s an embarrassment.
Perhaps the next couple of days / weeks will be the indication whether the brand can be rebuilt. How do you get back to the brand values of the Bradman, Lillie, Border teams and find the connection again? When the 11 players are our visual representation of the brand, what do they need to say and do now to start to win back the trust. Is success suspending players, changing the leadership team, forfeiting the series? Was Smith admitting guilt and fault the start of a wholesome image returning? Or is this a brand that has been in trouble for too long and unable to win back favour? Regardless, this is a team that needs to recognise it’s a brand in trouble and unless they find the connection and image that their predecessors held and owned successfully, it will be a long walk back to the pavilion.
By Paul Dixon