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Research = Opportunity! 8 Lessons From the Some of the World’s Biggest Sports Brands…

My favorite mug…do you know the team? I bet you might?!

In the last 18 months working with some of the world’s biggest sports brands, I’ve done research that has taught me the importance of market research to build strong brands and grow sales.  

Research is one of the biggest challenges marketers face. 

I’ve put together 8 key lessons that will help you do a better job researching your market so you can make more sales. 

There’s no order. So, use what you need. Come back later for more.

Go Wide and Deep, if Possible

Your budget dictates the time and money you have for research. No matter, go as wide and deep as you can.

Wide means talking to as many different people in the market as possible. 

You can do individual conversations, focus groups, or qualitative surveys. Don’t sleep on Google, review sites, and negative reviews.

The key: get as many voices giving you feedback as possible. 

Deep is digging into the brand’s history. 

Where did the brand come from? 

What is the founding tale of the team?

Is there something unique about the history that fans still talk about? 

Did you know that Arsenal started out as the Dial Square due to a sundial on top of the Woolrich Arsenal Armament Factory? 

You might not. 

It may not have any current relevance, but it still reflects in the team’s nickname of “The Gunners”. 

Founders. Star Players. Key matches. Championships. It is all fair game and important to give you depth in your understanding of the team’s history. 

Don’t have a lot of time or budget? 

Spend a little time with Google. 

Whatever time you have will pay off exponentially as you move forward. 

Loyalists Matter, to a Point

Superfans are a good place to start, even if you don’t have a lot of time and money.

Their perspective tells you why people are so invested in your team.

These lessons are guideposts that you can build off to enhance your brand and marketing.

Don’t rely on superfans alone. 

Most teams need to focus on expanding their reach. To do that, you must get outside of the superfans to understand what non-buyers are doing if they aren’t supporting your team. 

The non-buyers and non-fans are your biggest segment in the market. Finding out what they are doing can lead you to opportunities to turn them into fans. 

You might be an AFL team in Melbourne, doesn’t it help you if you know a certain percentage of your fans aren’t footie fans? 

It does because now you can understand what they do instead of watching footie to see if there is a way to reach them that you might not traditionally use. 

Assumptions Will Kill You

If I had a billboard to share a message with every marketer in the world it would say: “Assumptions Will Kill You!” 

You must get past the assumption that you know what your customer wants. This idea is dangerous. It destroys marketers’ careers and brands. 

You want to be market-oriented. 

This means pull your head out of your bum and go talk to people to see what they want. 

New Loop CEO, Ali Weiss, said it best “the best CMOs are intrinsically customer-centric.” 

Why stop at CMOs? 

The best businesses are focused on their customers. To get there, you must forget what you love about the team and focus on the people that matter, the fans.

You do this with research.

Learn Your Codes and Make Sure You Use Them

Brand Codes are the images, colors, smells, etc. that people connect with your team. 

The picture at the top of the page is my Tottenham Hotspur tea mug. The mug shows you codes in action because three of Tottenham’s codes are clearly on display: the cockerel, the blue, and the white.

Sports teams have some of the best brand codes around. 

The problem: these codes aren’t always used consistently. 

As I learned, you can’t use your brand codes enough. You codify everything. Then, when you think you’ve gone far enough, you codify some more. 

What are your brand codes?

4-6 images, sounds, taglines, colors, or other identifiers that you use until your fans can’t help but think of you when they see them. 

Think about the scripted NY on a Yankees’ hat. 

The AFL’s logo. 

The red of Manchester United.

You get the point.

You can’t overuse these things. Beat them to death.

Think “Alternatives”, Not “Competitors”

The first time I heard someone refer to “alternatives”, it was eye-opening for me. 

Fans aren’t thinking about “competitors”. They are thinking about alternatives. 

I was visiting family in Atlanta a few weeks ago and I counted over 50 alternatives to going to the Hawks game that evening just in the 10 blocks around the arena.

This isn’t unusual because I do something similar in every city I visit now. 

You are fighting for attention and that isn’t about competition, but alternatives. 

This is important to know because it will allow you to understand why fans love you or are indifferent to you. Or, why your potential buyers are staying away and doing something else.

A Good Diagnosis Helps You Create a Common Language

Anytime you are using a concept that people might misinterpret: define it. 

You need to make sure everyone is on the same page.

It isn’t unusual for internal teams to have a different understanding of what “premium”, “customer service”, or “quality” means. These varying definitions impact the customer experience. 

A shared language helps fix that. 

A shared language allows everyone to operate from a similar POV so that “service”, “success”, and “experience” mean the same thing. 

If you don’t have that, your fans may not be getting a consistent experience. This can impact sales and fan affection. 

Focused Research Consistently:  

“Data” is the buzzword. 

Teams receive data from their TV partners, ticketing platforms, stadium vendors, and more. 

This can be overwhelming. 

This point raises the need to define data and research. 

Data is passive. Data can lack context. Data can point teams in directions that might not fit their best interests or their strategies. 

Research is active. Research can create context for data. Research helps teams develop a strategy so that the data they gain can be used to create opportunities. 

The buzz about data has become so great that it has led teams to the false belief that data is a savior. Something that will provide all the answers necessary to make any decision. 

This belief has undermined market research’s role in many organizations.

This shows up in poor pricing models, non-existent market segmentations, and too much emphasis on sales activation at the expense of brand investment. 

Why do you do research?

Because your market is in a state of constant change. 

If you aren’t talking with them, how will you ever know what they want or need from your games?

Get into the market regularly. 

But don’t do research blindly. Have a hypothesis to guide your research…every time.  

Investigate the Market and Find New Opportunities

We all have blind spots. 

Our blind spots are dangerous because they can make our thinking lazy. 

Lazy thinking can stop us from seeing big opportunities. 

This makes research important. 

Research gets you out of your head. Research gets you into the customer’s head. Being inside your customer’s minds gives you perspective on what they want, need, and value. 

Getting into your market allows you to discover how the market has changed. 

COVID changed our lives. 

Today we see many of the changes impacting our daily lives. In cities around the world, commuter traffic is down 40% or more. Hybrid or completely remote work has freed workers’ time but changed cities’ traffic patterns. Inflation is a reality for everyone. 

These examples highlight that your market has changed. 

This doesn’t mean that change is bad. It does mean that you need to be in the market doing research to understand how these changes will impact you. 

Here’s an example, inflation globally is over 6%. 

In America, we are still dealing with inflation rates that are higher than that, but 63% of Americans plan on taking a vacation in the next 6 months. 

To make up for inflation, they are budgeting more. On average, about $1000 more per family. 

That’s an opportunity. 

Another example, a survey of customer intent showed that customers are stable in the desire to go to a live event in 2023, but they are 25% more likely to go to a movie in 2023.  

These same consumers said they were 2x more likely to travel internationally and 15% less likely to visit a museum. 

These data points can point to opportunities. 

What about these data points? 

The average B2B brand spends $20,000 on attending a trade show. But these same brands feel that trade shows and conferences are less useful to their brand than ever before. 

The average American small business spends $62,000 a year on business development and employee rewards programs. 

On it goes.

Opportunities, hiding in plain sight if you talk to your market.

These 8 lessons are a starting point. 

Every time you talk to your customers and do some research you open the door for more knowledge and opportunities. 

Hopefully, when you learn something cool, you’ll let me know. 


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