Consider for a moment Manchester United is estimated to have 75 million fans world-wide while other estimates put this figure closer to 333 million; Advertisers pay $3.5 million for a 30 second television commercial to advertise during the Super Bowl with average audience figures of 111.3 million viewers; and whilst losing value in 2009 due to scandal Tiger Woods remains the leading “athlete sports brand” with an income inclusive of sponsorship of $55 million in 2011 and an intangible value worth more!
The possibilities of sports marketing are tremendous. Whether it be a team or an individual sport transcends borders, it rallies fans and observers alike, associates performance and endorses sponsors to new audiences.
For sponsors, associating their brand with sport offers a range of commercial benefits. Of course this is offset with risks including results and behaviour, market size and Return On Investment from a commercial standpoint. For a sporting team or sportsperson, they must equally see themselves as a commercial entity, a ‘sports brand’, and brand themselves appropriately for developing fan bases, attracting sponsors or selling merchandise.
To build long term value a ‘brand’ must captivate and motivate; engage and entertain; build trust and develop relationships; utilise sponsorships; and capture the hearts, minds and imagination of its audience.
It’s no different developing a cycling team brand.
Australia’s first professional cycling team GreenEDGE has now been launched. After a successful debut on the local cycling scene at the Bay Crits, the Australian Nationals and the Tour Down Under, GreenEDGE is off to compete internationally starting with the Tour Of Qatar this week.
As Australia’s preeminent cycling team embarks on the world stage, let’s take a moment to review the GreenEDGE brand and hopefully offer some suggestions for the future.
The first thing that comes to mind when recalling a brand is the name. Australian without being overly colloquial, GreenEDGE is a strong and memorable name. GreenEDGE is a logical approach to naming the team. However, if a naming rights sponsor is found I wonder how the team will be named in the future (GreenEDGE – BRAND?). Likewise if two main sponsors were found would the GreenEDGE name be dropped as UCI rules only allow two names within a team name (BRAND – BRAND?). Who knows what the future holds, however I wonder how possible name changes will affect overall brand equity and recall with non-cycling fans.
The GreenEDGE identity is very ‘safe’ in my opinion. The logotype is a standard typeface which has not been ‘tweaked’ and has been used across all branding. This is ok for uniformity, however from a design perspective it does not differentiate the GreenEDGE logotype amongst its branding while the sweeping movement of the ‘G’ insignia suits cycling and a name like GreenEDGE. Of course the GreenEDGE colours including the ‘green and gold’ suit an Australian national cycling brand and translate well across vehicle livery, apparel and signage without being overly nationalistic. Rabobank’s branding for instance is quite sophisticated in the use of the colours from both a corporate and nationalistic point of view. I wonder how the ‘Green & Gold’ theme will translate if a brand such as QANTAS for instance with red/white livery were to come on board? Whilst Gerry Ryan is prepared to contribute to funding the team, equally I wonder if the ‘Australian’ branding inhibits an international company considering naming rights sponsorship?
One element cycling fans are passionate about is the GreenEDGE kit. From the release of the promo jersey to the interim kit to the actual kit released at the Tour Down Under we have been passionate about its design. One of the biggest reservations some cycling fans have had is for the kit not to be overly ‘Australian’ or ‘cliche’. After first seeing the kit I was excited, it was bright, the black / white worked well and it stood out in the peloton, however it did reminded me of the 2010 Saxo Bank kit. Whilst structurally the design seems ok with the shoulders and black knicks, whether it be the green to yellow colour blend or something else, the design seems to lack something in its design.
We first saw the release of the GreenEDGE Scott Foil at EuroBike in September 2011. White in colour the colour and halftone decals looked impressive and matched the 2010-11 white frame trend. Whilst the graphics have changed slightly, we see a different design for the 2012 race bikes. White is no longer and we see a mixture of dominant colours juxtaposing each other. The GreenEDGE bike set ups with black bar tape / white saddles bucks the same colour trend of recent years, however Lampre bikes seem to have a light saddle, black bar tape combination so I won’t rule out a possible trend for 2012. Vehicle livery including team vehicles seem to suit the identity, however I can’t help but think there is also some opportunity to improve.
Since GreenEDGE was first announced, cycling fans have been kept up-to-date with developments through GreenEDGE communications. Media releases, emails and social media have been the tools in delivering information to the media and public with select news published across cycling, sport and mainstream print and online media. Communications from GreenEDGE have been presented in a timely manner however some have waxed and wained. Acquiring editorial space in non-cycling media is a difficult task unless there has been an event of significance or advertising dollars, therefore unfortunately some announcements were difficult to find in mainstream media. Lack of support, timing and advertising dollars are all issues for media exposure, however the GreenEDGE message is beginning to cut through. Cycling fans have embraced the team and the non-cycling audience is aware of Australia’s first professional cycling team.
The media launch of the GreenEDGE team at Melbourne Town Hall seemed to be a success[CT: I actually heard from various sources that the team launch as a dismal failure]. Without being a media source I’m unsure how the event was actually released to the media, however the release did carry through with some great support and exposure across all areas including mainstream print to cycling media with a ‘hype’ that carried for quite a while. A whirlwind media & promotional tour helped secure national radio and press coverage and whilst the team needs singing lessons, it was actually a good strategy to gain radio attention with a team song. Whether it be the venue, team attire or something else, as an observer the Town Hall launch seemed to be lacking a ‘wow’ factor.
Whilst many media releases are conducted without fans, it would have been great to give opportunity to introduce the team to fans, to meet the members, to yell, to cheer on GreenEDGE. Gerry Ryan declared Melbourne as GreenEDGE’s ‘home town’, a public event at Federation Square would have helped cement support for GreenEDGE and cycling to a wider audience, Cadel’s homecoming or the start of the Worlds road race both received huge crowds. It wasn’t until the Tour Down Under we saw the ‘official’ release of the team including new website, membership packages and the release of the team kit – this was a well timed execution of a release of an Australian team, at the Australian Tour Down Under, and the first UCI World Tour event of the year!
Team merchandise has the possibility becoming a strong revenue stream. Merchandise gives a sense of ownership and belonging however if not crafted correctly it can equally be a failure. Scrolling through the current merchandise range it fits with what other professional cycling teams offerings. Line extensions such as GreenEDGE branded winter merchandise including hoodies, rain jackets and umbrellas and promoting sponsor merchandise/equipment through the online store such as 2XU under-garments and compression wear are other suggestions GreenEDGE could consider.
The GreenEDGE membership packages are an interesting approach to building revenue. Predominantly built around the sale of merchandise, the tiered membership packages offer a range of merchandise options for potential members. From here, the membership program also offers members an exclusive email newsletter. By separating communication content and offering ‘value add’ for members GreenEDGE will need to develop additional content for this audience, whilst this may possibly build memberships and revenue by categorising content the risk is ignoring a large segment of the market. The difficulty with the GreenEDGE membership packages is there is seemingly no tangible benefits aside from a possible saving on merchandise.
Since its inception, GreenEDGE has had two versions of its website. The first was a temporary site, its design was straightforward and easy to navigate. One difficulty was the content was quite basic and heavily text orientated, geared towards news and media releases with no points of interest or ‘hype’ for cycling fans. To track rider signings we visited CyclingTips for the latest news and updates rather than the source site itself. The second and latest version of the GreenEDGE website features a rejuvenated ‘look and feel’ and new content, however it fails on many fronts. The website is very difficult to navigate, the front page is overloaded with information, design styles conflict, branding is poor and content has little interest to capture the imagination of cycling fans.
The online presence is also split with the online store and membership domains operating separately. Today, a website is one of the first touch points of any brand and I cannot help but think how much the website could be improved. Design, navigation and site structure are three elements the current website could be improved upon. Furthermore the addition of other content could also serve to build the GreenEDGE brand. One area which has been prevalent in building brands over the past few years is emotive branding through video. Cervelo Test Teams ‘Beyond the Peloton’ videos really did break through for cycling fans and now we see a host of sponsors and teams producing similar videos. Other content to add to the website could include race/power data, rider blogs and a twitter feed.
Performance is intrinsically linked with sports and one area where sports brands differ to commercial brands. The performance of GreenEDGE to date has been incredible. With wins for both men and women on the local scene including the Bay Crits, the national championships and the Tour Down Under the future is bright for GreenEDGE. As Simon Gerrans says ‘winners are grinners’ and hopefully with this success GreenEDGE is able to attract and retain sponsors.
The management team have always declared ‘GreenEDGE‘ as the brand. In fact team management have accepted the fact there is possible the team may have no major sponsor. A sponsor can come from any number of sources or non-related cycling industries and whilst its nice to be winning races, sponsorship is about association and does not necessarily have to be tied with performance. The flow on effects of sponsorship has the potential to be enormous. The trouble for many potential sponsors is GreenEDGE has no long term proven track record and cycling is relatively a small market compared with national sports such a AFL or NRL. Sponsoring GreenEDGE requires a brand looking for recognition on the world stage, this could either be an Australian company looking to leverage or an international brand like Subaru whom as part of their national marketing strategy have included sponsoring GreenEDGE.
Brand Ambassadors are an asset to any team. Some notable examples include Michael Barry’s blog, Ted Kings ‘IamTedKing’ merchandise, Armstrong’s Livestrong campaign and there are many more! Whilst there is some inherent risk with behaviour, a good brand ambassador inspires, activates, entertains and informs its audience – going a long way in marketing themselves and the team. GreenEDGE has many opportunities, who could forget Cameron Meyer’s blog and video last year. Whether it be an entertaining team blog or social media feed, being active in both cycling and non-cycling communities or at a corporate / charity level, there is opportunity to develop a clear and relevant strategy for the team to build its relationship with its fan base with added flow-on effects such as attracting and retaining sponsors.
Unlike other professional cycling teams, GreenEDGE is a brand in its own right. For most Australians, to have an Australian cycling team competing on the world stage is something we have aspired for a very long time. In 2012 the timing is right for an Australian team. Gerry Ryan and the GreenEDGE management team must be congratulated in developing a world class team. Whilst there is some room for improvement all-in-all GreenEDGE is a healthy brand with tremendous opportunity and I look forward to its successes and advancements in the future.