Implications For Sports Marketing And Advertising

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The concept of BIRG has interesting implications for marketers and advertisers; knowing in what ways fans like to demonstrate their association with a winning team can be helpful in designing product offerings and marketing campaigns. Our discussion about the implications of fans' tendency to BIRG looks at licensed merchandise, advertising campaigns, fundraising campaigns, and sponsorship. We also suggest ways that losing teams may encourage BIRGing behaviors among their fans (and, thus, capitalize on all of the BIRGing implications), and we highlight the need to strengthen fan identification with the teams, independent of winning or losing records.

An area with wide potential for commercially benefiting from people's tendency to BIRG is sales of licensed merchandise bearing a team's name or logo. After all, fans' wearing of clothing with the team name or logo was the first illustration of how people BIRGed in the very first study about this topic (Cialdini et al., 1976). Along the lines of licensed merchandise, teams can reap the benefits of people's desire to BIRG by offering merchandise that not only bears a team's name or logo but also communicates a team's victory and success. Shortly after a team wins a championship, it is quite common for a wide range of product offerings celebrating the championship to become readily available for purchase. For example, right after the Maryland Terrapins won the NCAA basketball championship in 2002, a wide range of different items bearing the team's logo and mention of the championship were available to purchase. Items included clothing, pins, watches, videos, mugs, blankets, and so on. Immediate availability of such items right after an important victory is critical in order to capitalize on fans' (die-hard and fair-weather alike) desire to BIRG in the team's success.

Capitalizing on immediate wins is not limited to those selling licensed merchandise. A recent study (Platow, et al., 1999) revealed increases in pro-social behavior after a victorious game among highly identified and BIRGing fans. Researchers collecting donations for the Salvation Army found that fans of the winning team (as apparent from clothing) gave significantly larger donations after the game than other spectators. Similarly, collectors who wore apparel associated with the winning team received much larger donations from the like-minded fans. Such behavioral tendencies offer meaningful implications for fundraisers in general, but especially in colleges and universities. Running fundraising campaigns shortly after a victorious season by one of the school's sport teams may generate more funds because it offers an opportunity to alumni and friends to form an association with a winning team and BIRG through that association.

Corporate sponsorship may also be an effective way to capitalize on BIRG. Establishing a direct association between a team enables a company to elicit positive responses from the team's fans (Dalakas, Kropp, Shoham, & Florenthal, 1997; Dalakas, Rose, & Aiken, 2001; Madrigal, 2000, 2001). Therefore, sponsors can capitalize by having their name or logo appear on licensed merchandise commemorating team victories. They may also run promotions tied to the team's victories or use advertising themes that highlight the team's success. Highly identified fans are more likely to notice the sponsor's ads (Dalakas et al., 2001) and more likely to BIRG (Wann & Branscombe, 1990). An interesting twist regarding sponsorship and BIRG pertains to many sporting events and championships that have title sponsors. This is especially relevant (but not limited) to collegiate football with Bowl games having title sponsors (e.g., FedEx Orange Bowl, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Nokia Sugar Bowl). Future research could examine fans' tendency to BIRG (or CORF) right after winning (or losing) one of these events through temporary increase (or decrease) of consumption of products offered by the title sponsor of the sporting event.

Given that a team's performance can have an impact on how likely people are to BIRG, what can a losing team do to make fans BIRG and, consequently, to still attend games and buy licensed merchandise? During losing seasons or extensive slumps, sports marketers may emphasize previous successes of the team, if any, as a source of BIRG, increasing motivation to stay with the team (taking pride in a successful past and anticipating a successful future). Also, sports marketers may look for additional reasons, besides the team's performance, that may make fans BIRG and capitalize on such factors. Highlighting individual successful performances by members of a team can provide such additional sources of BIRG, likely to retain fan interest and maintain sales of licensed merchandise. For example, although the Seattle Mariners struggled during the 1998 baseball season, the performance by Ken Griffey, Jr. in his pursuit to be the youngest player to hit 300 home runs and Alex Rodriguez's pursuit of a 40-40 season (40 home runs and 40 stolen bases) were reasons for the fans to BIRG and remain interested. Highlighting such individual accomplishments may be a wise move for struggling teams because it can keep fans motivated to attend games and buy licensed merchandise (pertinent to the successful individual players). It is noteworthy that when Mark McGwire was chasing Roger Maris's home run record, the Saint Louis Cardinals fans BIRGed because of McGwire's performance rather than the team's overall performance (which was relatively mediocre that season). The impressive individual performance of one player provided an excellent opportunity to fans for BIRGing when the team's performance was offering few reasons for celebrating.

Another way to increase BIRG and reduce CORF is to focus on fans who identify with attributes other than or in addition to team statistics. Although winning games or having star players excel may provide the ultimate BIRGing experience, teams can win in other aspects as well. Marketers should play up the other aspects that attract fans to the team or sport. Shared values, a reputation for determination or toughness, and existence as a local tradition are some of the many aspects with which fans may identify. Perhaps the team is the league's most community-involved. Or maybe the team faces handicaps suffered by no others; the Green Bay Packers, for example, face a number of challenging hardships due to the extremely cold weather in the region and their being in a small market. Many fans BIRG on the toughness of the Green Bay team as a result of this. It is not a coincidence that the Packers fans are considered among the most loyal in the league; from 1989 to 1998, the Packers filled 97.4% of the seats at their 80 home games, despite playing in the league's smallest market and coldest weather (Thomas, 1999). It is worthwhile to note that during that period, the team went to the Super Bowl only twice and won it only once. Whatever significant element that makes the team unique can be positioned as a win that is likely to make fans BIRG.

From the standpoint of a sports team, strong fan identification may be beneficial in multiple ways. Marketers for sports teams should make conscious efforts to increase team identification, which, in turn, will increase tendencies to BIRG and reduce tendencies to CORF Because of their deep commitment to their team, highly identified fans are considered to be of utmost economical value to a team, providing fan equity (Gorman & Calhoun, 1994). Naturally, highly committed fans will spend more money on the team by purchasing tickets, licensed merchandise, and similar activities. The benefits, however, do not end there. Teams with highly identified fans can leverage this commitment in their sponsorship proposals and their pursuit of sponsors. A team with highly identified fans is extremely attractive to potential sponsors; a loyal and identified fan base can provide a sponsor with a successful sponsorship investment (Dalakas et al., 1997, 2001; Madrigal 2000, 2001). Marketers of sports teams should consciously encourage development of strong identification.

This issue is particularly relevant for U.S. professional sports, where relocation of sports teams and increasing ticket prices alienate many fans (Burton & Howard, 1999).

In conclusion, BIRG and CORF are interesting and fascinating phenomena that are common throughout the world of sports. Understanding these phenomena provides interesting insight into consumer behavior, especially within the context of sports, and thus can be useful and relevant to sports marketers.

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