Thilo Kunkel, Ph.D.

The effect of the league brand on the relationship between the team brand and behavioral intentions – A formative approach examining brand associations and brand relationships

Understanding the role of the league brand on consumers’ support for individual teams is important for the successful management and marketing of both leagues and teams.  In the current research, brand architecture and brand association literature are integrated to examine the role of the league brand on the relationship between the team brand and team-related behavior. Data from an online survey of professional soccer league consumers (N = 414) were analyzed using structural equation modelling with bootstrapping procedures. The relationship between the team brand and team-related behavior was partially mediated by the league brand. Findings of this research contribute new knowledge by empirically demonstrating that characteristics of the league brand have an influence on team-related behavioral intentions. Furthermore, we contribute a different analytical approach for brand association research using formative indicators to measure team and league brand associations. In the managerial implications we outline how league managers can support individual teams, and how team managers can leverage off the league brand to attract consumers. Keywords: Brand Architecture; Brand Associations; Brand Relationship; Sport League; Formative Models; PLS Get your copy here: https://thilokunkel.com/files-by-email/?file=451

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Sport Team Brands

In its simplest form, a brand can be considered a name, symbol, design, trademark or a combination of all of the above that serves the purpose of distinguishing one product or service from another. Ultimately brand awareness and brand image influence brand success. The brand awareness component is related to the ability of consumers to identify the brand from their memory under different conditions. Brand image refers to the perceptions about a brand as reflected by the brand associations held in consumer memory. Brand associations represent any attribute or benefit linked to a brand as perceived by a consumer. These associative links refer to tangible (Bayern Munich has a modern stadium) and intangible (watching Bayern Munich play helps me get away from my daily routine) descriptors the consumer links to the brand. Brand associations provide indicators to consumer knowledge of the brand (what I know about Bayern Munich) and the perceived favorability associated with a brand (I like Bayern Munich), and therefore influence brand selection and consumption (I own Bayern Munich merchandise and watch games). Below is an overview of my projects related to sport teams:   My research has investigated brand associations of sport teams. In this research project, published in the Journal of Sport Management, my co-authors and I explored the development and stability of team brand associations and their influence on consumer loyalty. Analysis of longitudinal data indicates that brand associations can be developed through marketing communications without experiencing the team play competitive games. Furthermore, brand associations change based on changes of the environment (e.g., a new stadium), and they influence consumer loyalty in the future. Overall, this research project provides sport managers with insights on the development and change of brand associations new consumers link with sport teams. Kunkel, T., Doyle, J.P., Funk, D.C., Du, J., & McDonald, H. (In Press). The development and change of brand associations and their influence on team loyalty over time. Journal of Sport Management. (ABDC List: A*)      My research has investigated consumer perceptions of sport teams. In this research project, published in Sport Management Review, my co-authors and I explored the differing perceptions and identity responses that potentially exist in relation to one non-profit community sport organization (identification, apathy and disidentification). Results indicate that consumers’ existing values and beliefs, shared community values, local players, organizational practices and sport interest varied based on perception of organizational image and consumer identity. Findings show that understanding specifically what a sport organization’s audience expect is fundamental, if it is to be perceived as legitimate in relation to its purpose. Therefore, sport organizations should spend time understanding the values and beliefs that make them relevant to their audience. The organization examined in this research utilized the findings of this study to adjust their management approach and marketing messages. Lock, D., Filo, K., Kunkel, T., & Skinner, J. (2013). Examining dimensions of legitimacy in community sport organisation, Sport Management Review, 16, 438-450 (ABDC List: A)      My research has investigated sport team legitimacy. In this research project, published in the Journal of Sport Management, my co-authors and I developed the Capture Perceptions of Organizational Legitimacy (CPOL) framework, which is a three-stage process to measure the perceived dimensions on which constituents scrutinize a sport organization’s legitimacy. In stage one, the organizational context is defined to establish the classification, purpose, and relationship of the focal entity to its constituents. In stage two, qualitative data is collected to identify the perceived dimensions on which constituents scrutinized organizational actions. In stage three, a quantitative questionnaire is distributed to test perceived dimensions, which emerged during stage two of the CPOL framework. The framework provides researchers and practitioners with a context-driven process to measure consumers’ judgement of sport organizations. Lock, D., Filo, K., Kunkel, T., & Skinner, J. (2015):  The development of a framework to Capture Perceptions of Sport Organizations Legitimacy, Journal of Sport Management. 29 (4), 362-379 (ABDC List: A*) 

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Sport League Branding

In its simplest form, a brand can be considered a name, symbol, design, trademark or a combination of all of the above that serves the purpose of distinguishing one product or service from another. Ultimately brand awareness and brand image influence brand success. The brand awareness component is related to the ability of consumers to identify the brand from their memory under different conditions. Brand image refers to the perceptions about a brand as reflected by the brand associations held in consumer memory. Brand associations represent any attribute or benefit linked to a brand as perceived by a consumer. These associative links refer to tangible (The German soccer Bundesliga has a 50-year history) and intangible (Watching the Bundesliga helps me get away from my daily routine) descriptors the consumer links to the brand. Brand associations provide indicators to consumer knowledge of the brand (What I know about the Bundesliga) and the perceived favorability associated with a brand (I like following the Bundesliga), and therefore influence brand selection and consumption (I purchase the Bundesliga app to watch games). Below is an overview of my projects related to sport league branding:   My research has investigated the factors that contribute to the attractiveness of professional sport leagues.  In this research project, published in the European Sport Management Quarterly, my co-authors and I identified and tested factors that affect the attractiveness of both national football leagues and the Champions League from the perspective of fans, and how these factors are perceived by fans of clubs at the top and bottom of the league standing. Based on a review of sport consumer behaviour literature, we proposed that four determinants are relevant to a league’s attractiveness: stadium atmosphere, international success of the clubs, uniqueness of dominating clubs and perceived competitive balance. Quantitative data analysis revealed that the four determinants significantly predicted perceived attractiveness, and that even fans of financially privileged and successful clubs concede that perceived competitive balance is necessary for leagues to be perceived as attractive. Koenigstorfer, J., Groeppel-Klein, A., & Kunkel, T. (2010). The attractiveness of national and international football leagues – Perspectives of fans of “star clubs” and “underdogs”. European Sport Management Quarterly, 10(2), 101-137.    My research has investigated brand associations linked to sport leagues. In this research project, published in the Journal of Sport Management, my co-authors and I identified and tested consumer-based league brand associations. Qualitative results revealed brand association consumers linked with sport leagues. Quantitative results supported the existence of the identified league brand associations and demonstrated that these rand associations were related with attitudinal and behavioral outcomes towards the sport league. The identified league brand associations could assist sport league managers to develop and manage their brand and differentiate their league to competitors. Kunkel, T., Funk, D.C., & King, C. (2014). Developing a conceptual understanding of consumer-based league brand associations. Journal of Sport Management, 28(1), 49-67.    My research has investigated strategies organizations can use to grow their brand.  In this research project, published in the Sport Management Review, my co-authors and I explored the strategies sport leagues can implement to develop their brand and consequently better satisfy their consumers.  Based on mixed method research, seven themes were uncovered through qualitative content analysis: 1) Media accessibility and marketing, 2) Fan engagement, 3) League expansion, 4) Competition structure, 5) Product quality, 6) Match day experience and 7) Unique club identity. These themes represent three brand development strategies – market penetration, market development and product development. These findings provide sport managers with guidelines of how to grow their organization, influence consumers’ brand associations, and strategically position their brand to appeal to consumers. Kunkel, T., Doyle, J.P., & Funk, D.C. (2014). Exploring sport brand development strategies to strengthen consumer involvement with the product – The case of the Australian A-League. Sport Management Review, 17, 470-483. 

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Sport brand architecture

Brand architecture describes the structure of an organization’s portfolio of brands and the relationship between these brands as perceived by the consumer. Specifically, brand architecture is determined by consumers’ perceptions of management, design, and structure of brands that are in a relationship with one another that can be found in a portfolio of brands. Brands can be structured on a continuum between a house of brands and a branded house. In a branded house, the master brand name is closely linked to all subbrands (e.g., the subbrands Virgin Mobile and Virgin Media are linked to the master brand Virgin). In contrast, a house of brands has limited or no linkage between the master brand name and its major brands (e.g., the subbrands Ariel and Charmin are not visibly linked to the master brand Procter & Gamble). Between these approaches, mixed-branding strategies are common and spill-over effects of consumers’ perceptions occur between brands in the portfolio. Most sport entities (e.g., leagues, teams, athletes) are positioned in a mixed-branding portfolio. For example, what consumers think of the league influences their perception of the teams within the league, and vice versa. This relationship is presented in the figure below. My research has investigated sport brand architecture. In this research project, published in the Journal of Sport Management, my co-authors and I examined drivers of consumer involvement and brand loyalty with professional sport leagues and teams. Results revealed that leagues and teams were in a co-dominant relationship with one another. Three different sport consumer relationships were identified and confirmed within sport brand architecture.  The relationships were league dominant, team dominant, and co-dominant. The co-dominant relationship was identified as the most common brand relationship with consumers being equally involved with their favorite league and their favorite team. Findings of this research can be utilized to improve the management and marketing of leagues and teams through leveraging their brand relationship, which subsequently may increase consumer loyalty with both brands. Kunkel, T., Funk, D.C., & Hill, B. (2013). Brand architecture, drivers of consumer involvement, and brand loyalty with professional sport leagues and teams. Journal of Sport Management, 27(3), 177-192. Get this article via email:   My research has examined the influence of the league brand on consumers’ connection with their favorite team. In this research project, my co-author and I examined how brand associations linked with a league influence consumers’ team identification and team-related consumption. Findings of this research support that consumers’ perceptions of the league brand influence their identification with their favorite team and their team-related behavioral intentions. This research has implications on the management and marketing of the relationship between leagues and their affiliated teams. This research is currently in review.

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Academic research that can help the sports industry

Can academic research help sports industry?  In the latest issue of the Sports Business Journal (August 12 – 18, 2013, Volume 16, Issue 17) senior writer Bill King addresses the question how academic research can help the sports industry. Bill King makes the argument that academic research has a lot to offer to the sports industry.  He highlights six articles that are beneficial for sports practitioners – one being the article “Brand Architecture, Drivers of Consumer Involvement, and Brand Loyalty with Professional Sport Leagues and Teams” (Kunkel, Funk, & Hill, 2013) published in the Journal of Sport Management. Obviously, I am very proud that my article received a mention as being relevant for the sports industry.  Hopefully, both league and team managers will find value in finding out more about the brand relationship of their entities as perceived by consumers, to leverage their close relationship.  

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Australian Football Drug Scandal Media Coverage

“Neil Henry, coach, Cowboys says the handling of doping allegations is a ‘disgrace’. The Cowboys are one of six clubs named in last week’s ACC report into doping in sport. The club has not been audited and was reportedly mentioned only in relation to current players’ past clubs. Henry says ‘it is embarrassing for the NRL to mention that there are six teams’. Henry says that the allegations have been a slight on the club and its fans. NSW police are looking at a league game played in Sydney, suspected of match-fixing. Dr Thilo Kunkel, Griffith University says that more scandals detract from the economic success of the league. John Fahey, president, WADA says that ‘blood passports’ need to be introduced for players.” (TEN News at 5pm – 13/02/2013 5:145pm: Audience: 160,000 viewers). “Dr Thilo Kunkel, Researcher, Griffith University, says the way the NRL and other governing bodies respond to allegations of drug abuse following the ACC investigation will largely determine the future prosperity of their sporting codes. Kunkel interviewed hundreds of soccer, rugby league and Australian rules fans in a project looking into perceptions of football leagues.” (ABC Gold and Tweed Coasts (Gold Coast) 06:30 News – 14/02/2013 6:32 AM) “Dr Thilo Kunkel, Researcher, Griffith University, supports a call by the president of the World Anti-Doping Authority for leading Australian footballers to have biological passports. Kunkel interviewed hundreds of soccer, rugby league and Australian rules fans in a project looking into perceptions of football leagues. Kunkel says biological passports would help restore fans’ faith in various codes as they deal with allegations.” (ABC Gold and Tweed Coasts (Gold Coast) 07:30 News – 14/02/2013 7:33 AM) “Dr Thilo Kunkel, Researcher, Griffith University, says football codes should not panic over ACC findings and allegations of widespread doping. He suggests the quality of leadership can determine the size and strength of the fan base retained during a crisis.” (ABC Gold and Tweed Coasts (Gold Coast) 08:30 News – 14/02/2013 8:31 AM)  

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The attractiveness of national and international football leagues–the perspective of fans of “underdogs” and “star clubs”

The attractiveness of national and international football leagues – the perspective of fans of “underdogs” and “star clubs” (Koenigstorfer, Groeppel-Klein, & Kunkel, 2010) European Sport Management Quarterly (ERA ranked: B) The goal of this study is to determine what factors affect the attractiveness of both national football leagues and the Champions League from the perspective of fans, and how these factors are viewed by fans of clubs at the top and bottom of the league table. This is of interest as there are differences between the financial resources available to the clubs and leagues. Based on the literature on sport consumer behaviour, we propose that four determinants are relevant to the league’s attractiveness: stadium atmosphere, international success of the clubs, uniqueness of dominating clubs and perceived competitive balance. A total of 1,404 committed fans of 12 selected football teams from the UK Premier League and German Bundesliga participated in the study. The research model was tested using PLS. The results show that the determinants significantly impact perceived attractiveness, and that even fans of financially privileged and successful clubs concede that perceived competitive balance is necessary for the attractiveness to be maintained. Request the article here: [filebyemail file = 289]

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