All over the world, soccer is no longer only a game in which two teams fight each other. Today, this sport is associated with serious businesses where large companies invest multimillion-dollar assets. Moreover, as in any commercial industry, the positions of soccer clubs are largely determined by their financial condition. In a market economy, the importance of marketing in soccer is increasing dramatically. Intensifying competition indicates the need for clubs to adopt a professional approach when organizing activities in the modern business environment. In this regard, advertising plays an essential role in this industry and not only attracts new fans’ attention but also popularizes the respective brands effectively. This paper aims to assess how strongly advertising affects the field of soccer and its stakeholders and what methods of persuasion and propaganda are utilized to build soccer brands. The use of modern marketing media technologies is an effective incentive to meet fans’ needs, which, in turn, directly influences ticket sales and clubs’ commercial success.
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Soccer Clubs as Commercial Projects
Given that soccer is one of the most popular games worldwide, this makes sense to attract marketing attention to this sport. According to Borges (2019), with the emergence of global media resources, many soccer clubs have begun to promote intellectual property by using individual brands as advertisements. Nevertheless, in addition to its own assets, this industry is also driven by third-party funds invested by various companies and individuals. The marketing goal of any soccer club is to create conditions and an atmosphere favorable for investment, attracting spectators to the stadium, sponsors, and the media to cooperate. To achieve this goal, soccer clubs need to define the main directions of advertising activities, or marketing strategies.
When discussing sports marketing, the concept of the marketing mix is inevitably included. This is a framework in which a sports product has to exist to be profitable. As Matic et al. (2019) note, the marketing mix is defined as a combination of elements, or advertising tools, and includes such variables as “product, place, price and promotion” (p. 3). Each element reflects soccer clubs’ individual policies from a marketing perspective, and the sustainability of these criteria drives productive advertising to increase the assets of both clubs and advertisers. Given the topic under consideration, the promotion criterion plays a critical role since, according to Soules (2015), this activity is often culturally oriented, which, in turn, increases the impact effect. This policy ensures that information is communicated to existing and potential fans, sponsors, and the media to promote a sporting event or create a positive image for the soccer club. The complex of marketing communications includes advertising in media, direct marketing through personalized messages, PR events, for instance, conferences and briefings, as well as sales promotion through gift offers and bonuses. Thus, building soccer brands through the media is a multi-vector process.
Building Soccer Brands by the Media
Financial sustainability that depends on stable investments and profits is largely due to the productive activities of media resources that popularize specific brands among the target audience. In the case of soccer clubs, the methods of influence differ insignificantly and involve modern practices of creating excitement around teams and their history. One of the tools that Soules (2015) considers is the use of “common social metaphors and analogies as anchors to build understanding and empathy with audiences” (p. 98). In other words, media resources promote specific brands through linguistic, cultural, and other aspects familiar to the public. As an example, one can recall the world-famous Spanish Real Madrid FC that fans know as the “creamy” or the English team of Manchester United known as the “red devils.” This practice is a simple yet convenient method of creating a brand identity and promoting it in a sports environment.
Social media has become a powerful tool utilized by soccer club managers worldwide. Parganas et al. (2017) argue that one of the key goals that these resources allow realizing is creating positive associations among the target audience and getting closer to communities to build a sense of a single system. Today, any soccer fan is aware of all changes in their favorite clubs’ internal policies, success and failures, players’ achievements, purchases and sales, and other facts, which is largely due to publications on social media. Soules (2015) emphasizes a high role of integrity as a phenomenon that is applied as a persuasive and attention-grabbing mechanism. On social media, this approach is relevant to create a favorable image of clubs and establish communication with the target audience, which, in turn, allows marketers to popularize specific brands successfully. Therefore, the convergence that modern media platforms offer is an effective instrument for building a positive image and enhancing brand value, including such brands as soccer clubs or related sports paraphernalia.
Combining the theme of soccer with other spheres of life heightens interest in this sport and, at the same time, serves as an additional incentive to draw the public’s attention to specific products. In the advertising community, there are many examples of soccer matches or individual athletes becoming tools for the successful promotion of different brands. For instance, during the massive advertising campaign ahead of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, marketers from Iceland resorted to a simple way to attract the audience’s attention (“7 awesome FIFA World Cup advertising campaigns,” 2021). As one of the main sponsors of the national team, a supermarket network called “Iceland” acted. This tautology did not go unnoticed and quickly spread on social media, thereby ensuring interest in both soccer players and supermarkets. This method can be described as the halo effect that Soules (2015) describes as a promotion practice based on prior trust in the brand and its appeal. As a result, by combining traditional and modern tools, advertising can be a powerful incentive to build and enhance soccer brands.
Propaganda elements employed by marketers are powerful approaches that, nonetheless, are not unique to the sports environment. According to Soules (2015), targeting audiences through spectacles is a common technique for influencing people’s emotions. Media content on the Internet offers the public a vivid experience and creates the illusion of being immersed in their favorite soccer environment. Such propaganda, as Soules (2015) states, does not violate political freedoms, does not harm the environment, and does not take away human rights. However, its effects can be no less powerful due to the tendency of people to succumb to feelings and emotions more than to reason. As a result, by appealing to these human peculiarities, marketers develop appropriate advertising content designed to bring soccer fans closer to their idols. This, in turn, increases sales of both tickets and related products, such as club merchandise, and helps support brands successfully.
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Fan Persuasion as a Propaganda Element to Enhance Soccer Brands
The impacts on soccer fans by convincing them of the value of individual brands have a direct effect on the sports industry. Soules (2015) remarks that propaganda, as a form of hidden persuasion, depends on the personality of the one who persuades. Today, the main platform for promotion is the Internet where the target audience of sports marketers spends much time. Creating relevant content is a form of attracting interest in soccer and its brands. Maintaining feedback from fans allows communicating the ideas of brand value effectively, which is largely due to the prevailing historical background and traditions of individual clubs. Sports paraphernalia with the symbols of favorite teams is always in demand, and the methods of expanding the merchandise are not limited. For instance, Figure 1 shows recent statistics demonstrating the approximate number of Serie A soccer fans in Italy who are willing to purchase shirts of their respective brands (“Estimated social media exposure,” 2021). These statistics prove how effective modern marketing solutions are to persuade and popularize products that evoke an emotional response from the target audience.
The soccer industry, like some other popular sports, is characterized by the fact that athletes themselves become brands. As Hofmann et al. (2019) argue, “human brand images should correlate with players’ market value,” which, in turn, shows the relationship between the marketing industry and athletes’ real earnings. Moreover, great players become objects of mass culture and gain a wide fan base. For marketers, this situation is beneficial because, through interaction with individual athletes, they can achieve impacts on the target audience. In an attempt to emulate their idols, fans buy sports paraphernalia, participate in lotteries, place bets, and maintain high purchasing activity. The media environment is best suited for these purposes since everyone has access to dozens of online sports-related platforms, including soccer. Soules (2015) confirms the potential for reaching out to the masses through Twitter, Facebook, and other major media platforms and notes that targeted advertisements often dictate social interests. The sports environment is convenient for this because it creates communities with distinct preferences, making it easier to sell products. Thus, marketers promote various soccer brands to influence fans and convince them of the correctness of their purchasing decisions.
Brand strength is one of the key parameters that create public excitement and convinces fans of the relevance of products related to the soccer industry. According to Wetzel et al. (2018), the example of the German championship confirms the importance of marketing campaigns that, along with the traditions of local clubs, generate strong consumer interest among the target audience. The authors analyze the history of ticket sales and argue that the results are outstanding: the attendance of the most popular club in the championship exceeds that of the least visited club by 1,711% (Wetzel et al., 2018, p. 591). This result suggests that teams’ revenues are directly proportional to the advertising used to attract fans. If a player advertises boots, there is a high probability that a large number of soccer fans will want to purchase the same merchandise. Soules (2015) calls this practice “an authoritative opinion on issues” when experts express personal views on specific goods or services (p. 68). Therefore, athletes’ images shape human brand value and allow marketers to convince fans of the relevance of specific brands promoted on the media as a promising and worldwide sites.
Effects of Advertising on the Soccer Industry and Players
While the main challenge for soccer players is to perform well and effectively, this is a common approach to involve athletes in the advertising industry. Signing contracts with teams or individual players creates a unique entrepreneurial system within the industry, which, however, can be negatively reflected in games’ outcomes. For instance, as Gómez et al. (2019) note, according to their research, the current salary of players is not an unambiguous criterion that influences their performance. Public interest generated by advertising campaigns can lead to a decrease in athletes’ KPIs, which, in turn, is fraught with the loss of leadership positions. At the same time, one of the main advantages of advertising is a steady inflow of investments, which allows the development of this sports industry and the creation of spectacular shows. Regarding media resources, Bogaert et al. (2017) cite the results of their study on soccer players’ social media behavior and note that for marketers, such an assessment provides valuable data on athletes’ interests and stimulates sports brands to pay attention to specific preferences. Thus, advertising in soccer can have both positive and negative implications.
Despite distinctive manifestations and effects, engaging media resources as the sources of advertising in the soccer industry is a common practice that allows maintaining fans’ interest and brings commercial benefits to both teams and advertisers. The methods of persuasion and propaganda used in this industry are not unique and fit into the existing marketing concepts. Sports brands benefit from interacting with the football community through the most convenient form of online communication. Advertising contracts and campaigns can affect players’ performance negatively by reducing their motivation, but for the industry as a whole, they are a source of investment and publicity for sports brands.
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Soules, M. (2015). Media, persuasion and propaganda. Edinburgh University Press.
Wetzel, H. A., Hattula, S., Hammerschmidt, M., & van Heerde, H. J. (2018). Building and leveraging sports brands: Evidence from 50 years of German professional soccer. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 46(4), 591-611. Web.
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