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  • Rasmus Hallbäck

Putting the Players in Focus

We’ve previously talked about clubs’ perceived lack of resources to properly focus on marketing and branding. Not to generalise, the lack of resources is a real issue which most Nordic clubs and organisations unfortunately have to deal with on a daily basis, but what makes it all more difficult is that many organisations tend to have a limited plan on exactly how and what to do. Unfortunately, gone are the times when a single Facebook event accompanied with a short pre-game preview was enough to garner interest in a team’s upcoming game (was there really ever such a time?). For many teams the marketing and fan-engagement output is often not aligned with the fans’ expectations and wants.

I’d argue that a lot more can be done with a little bit of planning and perhaps switching one’s approach when it comes to the marketing and branding work of the sports teams. Today we’re going to take a quick look at highlighting players as a tool to improve one’s own branding and marketing work.

It’s said that no person or player is bigger than the club. To be fair, I completely agree with the statement – a club has history and in most cases players are individuals who will move on to other teams or eventually retire while the club lives on. There is truth to that. But let’s think about this for a second. Completely neglecting or limiting the players in a club’s marketing is just plain stupid, as the players are the ones working towards securing points for the club – shouldn’t they be the stars and a club’s main focus then?


A casual football-fan can name the Messis and Ronaldos of the footballing world but might not be able to name the players of their own team’s starting 11. Does that mean that the clubs they follow should try to educate the casual fan and highlight the players of the team they follow? Sure it does. Why? Well, because genuine interest usually equals income. The most challenging aspect in sports marketing is to create content that caters to both the casuals and the die-hards of the organisation’s fan base.


After all, professional sport is entertainment and that consequently means that the athletes are the performers (i.e. entertainers). How many successful entertainers who you would classify as boring people can you name? Probably not many and if you did, I doubt that this is a person you actively follow.


Entertainers portraying personal traits such as loyalty, work ethic and charisma are people who other people tend to gravitate towards. You want to be around (or cheer for) people who you can relate to or whose effort on the court you can appreciate, so why not focus on bringing the characters of your team to the front instead of only generating generic pre-game reports (don’t get me wrong, those are still important).

I personally believe team sports can learn a lot from fight promotion. As most of you probably can assume, fight promotion is all about building hype around two people and the upcoming conflict that is to be settled in the ring.


Let’s take the UFC as an example. The UFC is of course MMA’s most prominent organisation and in many cases a master of fight promotion and a great example of an organisation using its people to build an insanely strong brand known worldwide. As a testimony of the UFC’s brand strength, when you look up UFC on Google you can find links to sites answering questions such as “what is the difference between the UFC and MMA?” and “how does the UFC differ from MMA?”. Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself. This means that for many people not following the sport, UFC basically equals mixed martial arts. The reason for this is probably in the sport’s previous limited media exposure (the UFC is still pretty young if you look at mainstream media attention) which means that for a lot of people the concept of MMA is basically the same as the UFC. That being said, many people argue that the UFC’s meteoric rise to its current state has to at least in part be credited to the marketing push and attention which the UFC has given its fighters.

What the UFC does when hyping up a fight is in many cases masterful. They understand that a fight itself isn’t enough to interest people. What they’ve realised is that to really get the fans, especially the casual fans, invested in a fight, they need to market the fighters in question. They want you to know the backstory of the fight, the fighters and even the story behind why they fight. By doing this, they get you to care. They don’t care if you dislike the one fighter (and want to see him/her get beat up) or if you root for the scrappy underdog with the inspirational story – it doesn’t matter as long as you care enough to buy the pay-per-view.


By hyping up its fighters (and giving them exposure) the UFC simultaneously increases the value of their own brand which in turn increases the chance of getting more casual fans hooked to the product the organisation is selling (upcoming fights, merchandise, tickets etc.).

Now I know that using the UFC and its marketing as an example is a little bit like cheating as the UFC nowadays is a huge company (in 2016 the UFC was acquired by WME-IMG for USD 4bn) and has a marketing department that probably puts most marketing teams to shame with its sheer output and production quality but the overall argument that leaning more heavily on the actual people shouldn’t be overlooked.


Let’s keep in mind that according to a study by Microsoft in 2018, the average human being now has an attention span of eight seconds. This means that your content, whatever it is, has to interesting and captivating. Doing the same things over and over again probably isn’t that good of an idea…


A modern sports team should be engaging, thrilling and fun. Can you say that about your favourite team’s online presence? Remember, people tend to get behind interesting stories and charismatic people. If you are working for a team, ask yourself – is that something that your organisation is currently giving your fans?