Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What Does It Mean to Have an Affinity Advantage?

Editorial Note: Beginning this week, the editorial content for Sports Biz U shifts back into classroom mode. The first post each week will relate to the study of sports marketing from topics in the Fetchko, Roy, and Clow Sports Marketing textbook. Other posts during the week will deal with current events in sports business and career issues.

 Brand loyalty is not an unusual behavior to exhibit- you probably have brands of beverages, clothing, and electronics that you like, prefer, and tend to buy that brand only when given a choice. But often brand loyalty is just a behavior, a repeated pattern of action based on past experience. What might be missing? An emotional connection to the brand. Yes, I am loyal to Crest toothpaste but I have no feelings of excitement or passion for Crest. My "loyalty" could be vulnerable if another toothpaste brand came along and persuaded me that its value is superior to Crest and was worthy of me switching brands.

Immunity from Brand Switching
In contrast to the toothpaste example given above, sports brands attract people to connect in emotion-based relationships. Sports brands enjoy an affinity advantage, which refers to the nature and intensity of the relationship many people have with their favorite sport, team, or athletes.You have probably heard stories about people planning their wedding day around their favorite team's schedule in order to not miss a game. Just last month, a groom-to-be in San Diego postponed his wedding so that he could catch the return of Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers lineup (no word if the wedding has occurred). How many other products would you consider scheduling such a special event around to accommodate your interests?

Identifying with a team or player often occurs at a young age, and the affinity strengthens over time and can last for the rest of one's life. When a bond between a person and brand is this strong, the chance of the relationship being broken in order to switch to another brand is slight. This characteristic of sports brands makes them the envy of marketers in other categories. If only they could get customers emotionally connected like sports brands can, they dream!

Leverage the Affinity Advantage
While sports brands enjoy an affinity advantage, they may not always use it effectively to strengthen relationships and create more revenue. Do event attendees have a memorable experience that leaves them longing for more? Do sponsors receive support that helps them activate their association to achieve marketing objectives? Are there new products or experiences that could be introduced to give loyal fans additional outlets for expressing identification with the brand? Answers to these questions are ways that a sports brand's affinity advantage can be leveraged. Marketers who can come up with creative responses to these questions add value to their organizations and position themselves for career advancement.

Your Take
Can you think of a sports brand (could be a company, website, TV network, league, team, event, or athlete) that leverages the affinity advantage that sports possesses over other types of products? What does the brand do to attract customers (and even dollars) from fans who are passionate about that brand?

On the flip side, can you think of a brand that is missing out on tapping the affinity advantage of sports brands? Where is the brand falling short of realizing an affinity advantage? What could be done differently in terms of marketing to customers that would reverse the situation?