Which sport has the strongest brand?

In the wake of recent British sporting victories, we want to know which sport has the best brand positioning.

Paul Bailey

‘The strength of a brand comes not from what it’s “owners” say about it, but what we all say about it. So in this instance it isn’t what governing bodies, clubs or professionals say about a particular sport, but what the public say that gives it strength. It may be obvious but in Britain the strongest brand has to be football. Us Brits create songs, poems and art about it, we revel in both its team ethic and individual artistry. It is embedded in our nation’s culture, history, art, music and economy. It’s an ever-evolving brand that has been through bad times (‘80s hooliganism for one) and good times. It is a brand that has characteristics we can all agree on, while also meaning so many different things to so many different people. Football as a brand co-created by those who work in it and watch it has its evangelists and detractors, but that’s part of what makes it such a strong brand. It’s far from perfect, but as a nation we love it anyway.’

Paul Bailey, partner, 1977 Design

Dom Raban

‘The obvious choice is cycling – it’s authentic, built from the ground up and instantly understood. But the big events are as much about brands finding ad space as they are about the sport itself – when we think of the Tour what comes to mind first – Team Sky or the yellow jersey? So I’m going to go niche to a branch of cycling relatively untarnished by external brand pressures and plump for my own passion – mountain biking. The proposition is simple and communicated in the name – ride a bike down a mountain as fast as you can. Clear as daylight.’

Dom Raban, managing director, Corporation Pop

Jamie Ellul

‘On characteristics alone I’d have to say rugby (probably also influenced by the fact I’ve just moved to Bath; a famous rugby city). It’s a sport of extremes – aggression and control, power and passion, speed and strategy, ferocity and intelligence. There aren’t many brands where you get such a powerful mix of characteristics to kick off your thinking. And of course, you get that weird shaped ball to use in your designs – a gift for a designer as it’s so instantly recognisable as a visual shortcut to rugby.’

Jamie Ellul, creative director, Supple Studio

Rob Howsam

‘Darts. What other sport has such a clearly defined, consistent and enduring brand? What other sport is so single mindedly clear and confident about what it is and how it goes about its business? What other sport held its first World Championship at the “Heart of the Midlands” nightclub? The passing of Mel Smith last week reminded me of the Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch that parodied the darts “brand” so brilliantly. A match between Di “Fatbelly” Gutbucket and the English Champion, Tommy “Evenfatterbelly” Belcher. Fatbelly takes to the oche first and heroically downs a double vodka, followed by a single pint, finishing with another double vodka. “Wun hundred milligrams!”. And so it goes…’

Rob Howsam, creative director, Purpose

Tim Fox

‘Four nations, one team, one jersey and one philosophy. The British and Irish Lions conjures up magical rugby moments. The Lions is a captivating brand. Its brand values transcend fans and players alike. The best players selected from four teams to create one united team, teams which for the best part are fiercest of rivals is a great sporting story. Watching behind the scenes footage of what it means to wear the iconic red jersey gets the blood pumping for any rugby fan, the sea of red from the touring fans jerseys taking over Australian rugby stadiums is a sight to behold. The Lions brand will roar on for many years to come.’ 

Tim Fox, creative director, Designroom Sport

David Freer

‘I would choose a sport that developed organically, that grew from the ground up. A sport that inspired players and audiences alike on many levels if their life. One that had cultural significance across fashion, music and art. One that continued to defy conventions, had an edge, an uncertainty that embraced failure and success. I’d like to say something witty now, like chess, or garden bowls, but instead, the sport I would say had the strongest brand characteristics would be skateboarding.’

David Freer, founder, O Street

Jon Lee

‘You would have to look at the bigger sporting events to get through-the-line true brand characteristics, like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics, that reflect an idea that drives great thinking. The heritage of these events alone gives them strong characteristics. The problem though can be the control of the thinking through the years. I think you have to look at rugby and the All Blacks as a team that reflects the strongest brand characteristics. The motivation to play for the jersey drives the consistency and power behind the team. From an event held by them recently we heard them say “Brilliant people make Great All Blacks; it’s about self-reliance and taking responsibility Sunday to Sunday, a good team can make you dependent. A great team, makes you independent.” One team that has a true global presence and a very strong brand ethos.’

Jon Lee, creative director, 20.20

Hide Comments (1)Show Comments (1)
  • Scott Garrett November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As the country’s premier design consultancy specialising in sport, you’d expect Pangaea Creative to have a point of view on this. And we have. We disagree with every one of the opinions presented here, none of which appear to have been written by sportspeople. The sport with the strongest brand is the sport that combines clarity of positioning, a critical mass of participation and viewership, and sustainable commercial advantage. Football fails on the positioning issue: nobody knows what football stands for any more. F1 fails on mass participation: there are only 22 participants. Cycling comes close, but we would say it has yet to prove sustainable commercial viability and may yet be a bubble or a craze. Tennis is a strong candidate, with brand values we understand (though we may not like them) and a solid product. But let’s hear it for golf: on the basis that it’s clearly positioned (a sport for rich loafers), has loads of people that do it, is always on the bloody telly and generates loads of cash, golf is the best answer. Our issue with it, is that we don’t see golf as a sport at all, any more than darts, snooker, chess or extreme knitting. As Phil Tufnell said when asked for his definition of sport: ‘if you can smoke while doing it, it isn’t a sport’.

  • Post a comment

Latest articles