Your Agency Background Hammered Home That a Brand Is More Than Logo and Colors on a Jersey. How Did You Roll It out Internally to Get Buy-in From All Corners of the Organization?
My goal was to establish a blueprint for the Sporting Kansas City brand based on the vision our ownership group had for the club. This was going to represent a sea of change for the organization, both in terms of rebranding the team and evolving our culture. The biggest challenge was establishing the confidence that we could position ourselves as the third professional sports team in Kansas City. While the club had existed since 1996, most sports fans in the market considered the Wizards to be in the second tier, below the Royals and Chiefs. We believed we could shift this mentality by designing a brand specifically appealing to Millennials, featuring a more personal relationship with our club, as well as an unparalleled fan experience we were planning to create at Sporting Park. With support from ownership, we developed a brand architecture that defined our personality, identity, essence and brand promise. We invested the time to share this information with every department in our organization, from sales to corporate partnerships to operations, even the team side. It was critical that everyone buy in to the new approach and live and breathe the brand every day.
How Has Sporting Kc Brought Its Key Brand Tenets to Life?
There are four elements of the Sporting KC brand DNA — high-performance, connection, innovation, and local. First and foremost, we stated from the beginning that we aspired to excel both on and off the field. We are extremely proud of our accomplishments on the business side, including 58 straight sellouts, a cap of 14,000 season tickets and massive growth in corporate partnerships. However, our greatest achievement has clearly been bringing championships to Kansas City, most notably winning MLS Cup in 2013.
The name Sporting Kansas City was strategically chosen in large part to represent connection and innovation. Those that follow the club are “members,” not fans. They have more involvement in our brand than just cheering for the team or buying merchandise. We consider them to be part owners in many ways. We want them to feel empowered to share their thoughts and ideas about the club and help us to continue enhancing our game experience. They are also actively connecting with each other and have developed a sense of community around the brand. Innovation is inherent within all aspects of our club, from the connected environment at Sporting Park, to the data we collect to improve your experiences, even to the way our team trains and develops their game plans.
We believe the most significant element of our brand is local. Our Sporting Club ownership group consists of five families that live in Kansas City and are dedicated to improving the quality of life here. Our organization reflects this same philosophy. The unique culture and vibe of Kansas City is ingrained within everything we do, including how we market ourselves and how we interact with the community. It’s even represented in our logo. This year’s marketing campaign, “Made in Kansas City,” not only promotes guys on our team who have become stars in soccer while playing for us, but also a great up-and-coming band from the area in Radkey.
Was the Fan Reception a Surprise or Did You Know There Was a Latent Demand Waiting to Be Met?
Well, the reaction to the new name was not really a surprise. We knew some would get it, while others would wonder what in the world we were doing. We were even named to Time Magazine’s Top 10 Dubious Name Changes (Puff Daddy to P. Diddy was number one!). However, we were confident that eventually the name would resonate based on our plans for the brand and the momentum we were going to create through the opening of Sporting Park. We believed there was a huge opportunity to quickly grow our fanbase as more kids were growing up playing soccer now than any other sport. We had to convert them from being fans of Manchester United or Barcelona to becoming fans of Sporting KC. Our resolve was strengthened by the initial reaction from Millennials, which was overwhelmingly positive. They embraced the brand almost immediately, especially at retail. Fun stat: in 2010, our last year as the Wizards, we ranked 19th in MLS team merchandise sales. We ranked below two expansion teams that were not starting until 2011, and generic MLS-branded gear like league polos and soccer balls. Today, we rank #2 in the league for merchandise sales.
How Does the Technology Being Developed at Sporting Innovations Continue to Deliver on Your Brand Promise?
The FAN360 platform we are building at Sporting Innovations is designed specifically to help sports teams and organizations learn more about their fans, with the goal of using this data to create more customized, personal experiences. Every team in every league is currently facing the battle of the seat vs. the couch to some degree. As a fan, it’s become more tempting for you to stay at home and watch the game on high-definition TV with your second screen tracking scores, fantasy stats and commentary on social media. We don’t believe fans should have to sacrifice attending their favorite sporting events in order to maintain contact with the outside world and share content. The more we can learn from their habits and behaviors, the better we can help our clients understand what their fans want from their experiences and create more meaningful relationships.
At Sporting Park, we want members to connect – with each other, our club, our partners, even with our stadium. We don’t want them to just buy a ticket and come to the games. We want them to engage and help create the best experience in professional sports. That is something we can always control, win or lose.
What Is Your Latest Epiphany?
The little victories in building a brand can be just as rewarding as major milestones. I remember being at a Wilco show shortly after we announced the name change. I looked behind me and there were a couple twenty-something kids wearing Sporting KC shirts. I thought that was so cool. I still get excited when I see cars driving by with our logo magnet. Seeing that stuff is almost as fun as winning a championship. Almost.