Brand Associations in Professional Team Sports
To secure their competitive marketplace positions and sustain revenue and growth independent from mere sportive success, professional sport clubs are increasingly attempting to capitalize on their emotional relationship with audiences through marketing and brand management principles. Establishing strong brands with positive, differentiating, and emotionally laden attributes likely increases loyalty of the fan base at a national and international level and consequently, sales through ticketing and merchandising. Despite these opportunities, however, only few sports clubs have been successful in leveraging their brand through adopting a truly professional approach towards brand management, and apart from exceptions many football clubs struggle in finding positive, unique and differentiating cues that can foster successful brand development. On this background, this paper develops a novel conceptualization of brand associations in professional team sports and relates these associations to brand-relevant outcomes. A free association task administered through an online survey elicited top-of-mind brand associations from a representative sample of 4,450 consumers for a total of 36 different sport team brands of the German Football Bundesliga (1st and 2nd League). Based on this data, the study derives a model of sport team association categories and examines their ability to predict broader consumer-related brand outcomes. Finally, the paper discusses implications for theory as well as practice of brand management in a professional sports context.