The Branding Summer of our Content and Discontent

The recent whirl of sporting events that have riveted fandom worldwide--the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour de France--have enough drama and diversity for anyone interested in viewing sports competitions. Even if you are not a sports fan, though, bear with me. What follows is not a blog about the results on the sports pitch, but some musings about the impact of these recent sporting events on certain brands.

Lionel Messi--For those of you who don't recognize this name, the 23-year old Messi is the most widely acclaimed Argentinian footballer since Diego Maradona. A superstar for Barcelona (full disclosure: this Kat is a rabid Barca supporter) and a rising brand in the sports celebrity world, Messi was crowned the likely star of the World Cup before he first trotted onto the South African pitch last month. The only problem is that Messi scored no goals and his national squad was unceremoniously ousted by Germany in the quaterfinals.

And so to the question: has Messi's brand value gone up or down? After all, the common wisdon is that the ultimate footballer brand is enjoyed only by those who have starred as World Cup champions, such as Pele, Maradona and Zidane. This will be a critical year for the young footballer. In my opinion, unless Barca wins big this coming year, and Messi stands out from his Spanish teammates who helped Spain capture the World Cup, his brand faces a serious, perhaps terminal decline.

Lebron James--Permit me to cross the Atlantic pond to consider the larger-than-life saga of Lebron James, a superstar player in the National Basketball Association. James may be the world's leading current sports personality brand. The question is whether this will continue. Last Thursday, James arranged with the sports channel ESPN for a one-hour broadcast interview in which he announced that was leaving his current team--Cleveland--to join the NBA team in Miami and two other superstars who will play for Miami next year.The problem for James is the following. He came close, but his Cleveland team never won an NBA championship while James was on the roster.

Brand-wise, however, this failure to win an NBA championship did not affect his brand (James is apparently worth several hundreds of million dollars and has stated his desire to be the first sports billionare.) Part of his brand appeal is the perception that he virtually single-handedly carried the Cleveland team to the brink of a championship. He loses this appeal when he moves to Miami. Unless he completely dominates the other two superstars on the team, the result may well be that James will win a handful of league championships, but will see his brand appeal fail to enjoy a continuing upward trajectory. As a result, he may well garner a lot of championship rings, but at the price of diminished brand value.

Lance Armstrong-- The Armstrong story, and the Armstrong brand, are known to all, whether or not one actually follows cycling competitions. After winning the Tour de France seven times in a row, he retired, only to return last year. He is competing again (by his own announcement, for the final time). And the big question is why? This Kat watched the 8th stage of the race on Sunday, he watched Armstrong crash here, and he watched Armstrong finish well behind the pack, 12 minutes behind the winner of the stage. The camera showed a struggling cyclist, his face marked by an expression of competitive resignation to the fact that he will never win the Tour de France again.

If there is any brand value in what has been transpiring for Armstrong over the course of this Tour de France, I have missed it. Here, as well, recent events have not been kind to brand equity of this legendary athlete.

Paul the Octopus-- Perhaps the most unusual and media-drenched
story of the World Cup was the apparent success of Paul to predict the results in eight World Cup matches here. Located in a German zoo, Paul predicted both the German victories and losses over the course of the World Cup, as well as the victory of Spain over Holland in the final match here.

Whether or not you believe in Paul's clairvoyance in predicting the outcome of football matches, you have to be intrigued by the potential brand value here. It appears that his owners have recognized as much, announcing that Paul is retiring from active sports prognostication, but intimating that they might explore marketing possibilities. If so, at least for the short term, Paul may be the single biggest brand success story of the World Cup.

The Final Score

As in any sports-related commentary, one must end with a summary of the winners and losers, in our case, regarding brand value. As so here it goes--


Paul the Octopus


Lance Armstrong (please tell me I am wrong!)

Too Early to Tell

Lionel Messi and Lebron James.
The Branding Summer of our Content and Discontent The Branding Summer of our Content and Discontent Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Wednesday, July 14, 2010 Rating: 5

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