Thilo Kunkel, Ph.D.

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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The #KickEbolaInTheButt Challenge

The #KickEbolaInTheButt Challenge Vision: We dream of a world without Ebola. Mission: We started #KickEbolaInTheButt to help infected individuals and stop the virus from spreading across the world by raising awareness and collecting donations. According to the World Health Organization, the current Ebola virus is one of the world’s most virulent diseases. It has started in Guinea, spread over to Sierra Leone, and has killed more than 2100 people in west Africa. Infected individuals have a 47% chance of survival. To treat patients and prevent the disease from spreading across the world, donations are needed. Therefore, we have started the #KickEbolaInTheButt Challenge. Why am I involved in this challenge? I always teach my students that we can use sport as a vehicle to make the world a better place, not just to entertain the masses. Although I have previously used sport events to support charitable causes, such as collecting donations for “The Water Project” by running a marathon, I wanted to make a difference on a bigger scale. So linking up with Michael Lahoud for this project gave me the opportunity to put theory into practice and hopefully help making an impact in the fight against Ebola. https://youtu.be/YoG1cOvi2cs   Update June 2016: We were able to raise over $5000 to support Doctors without Borders in fighting the virus in Sierra Leone. The money was used to treat patients and support orphans of parents who died from the Ebola infection. 

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Bayern Munich Brand Image

Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich have a chance to repair the damage that the game against the MLS Allstars has left on their brand image. The German club has opened an office in New York City to “increase its stateside fan base and strengthen the position of its brand, product and philosophy in the U.S. market,” according to Jörg Wacker the club’s executive board member for internationalization and strategy. Bayern Munich has received extensive media coverage in the last three years because of their attractive style of play and their success in the UEFA Champions League. However, the positive image that fans formed about the German heavyweight has received some dents in their recent game against the Major League Soccer (MLS) All-Stars. The game ended 2:1 for the MLS All-Stars, but it was not the loss that had tarnished Bayern’s brand image, but the fact that Pep Guardiola refused to shake hands with Caleb Porter after the game, because of fouls committed against Bayern Munich players. Instead of shaking hands, Guardiola wagged his finger at the coach of the MLS All-Stars (see picture above).   Pep Guardiola stated that he didn’t see Porter (the finger wag seems pretty obvious to me) and US Soccer president Sunil Gulati tweeted that everything was “All good with Pep Guardiola and Caleb Porter” (see tweet on the left).   However, US soccer supporters were angered by the gesture. One comment that represents the sentiment of many other soccer supporters (see the 116 likes) states: “The MLS should not invite Bayern back next year or any year until that [curse word] coach is gone. That act of un-sportsmanship should not be rewarded with a return trip to the states for Bayern to build their marketing arm in the US. Suffer the consequences of your coaches’ actions…” (see picture below). Here is also a link to an original article posted by the MLS: MLSsoccer.com  A video posted by Caleb Porter has given Pep Guardiola to repair the negative impact his behavior had on the Bayern Munich brand image. Porter has nominated Pep Guardiola to complete the #IceBucketChallenge to support the ALS Association. The Ice Bucket Challenge involves dumping a bucket full of ice water over ones head and then nominating other people to follow lead. After he had a bucket full of ice water dumped over his head (see picture below), Porter nominated Jürgen Klinsmann and Pep Guardiola. Now they have 24 hours to complete the challenge or make a donation to the ALS foundation who support scientific research to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. For the video click this link: SBNation   By accepting the nomination, Pep Guardiola can regain respect from US soccer supporters and repair the damage done in the MLS All-Star game. However, for best results here is some advice to approach the challenge: Don’t just dump a bucket of ice water, sit in a pool of ice water. Hold a colorful cocktail, yes, with little umbrella (a little self-mockery never hurts). Wag your finger at Porter (ironically) while saying “na na na, Caleb, Mir san Ice Bucket Challenge”. Nominate Osvaldo Alonso and Will Johnson (the two players who committed the fouls in the All-Star game. State that you are square with Porter now. Have the pool sponsored by one of the club sponsors who donates X amount of dollars to the ALS Association. State that this sum will support the fight against ALS. Publish the video on the webpage and all social media channels. Use hashtags plenty of hashtags, such as #IceBucketChallenge #ColdAsIce #ALS, and twitter handles to reply to Celeb Porter’s video. Dear Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich, you have just regained the respect and appreciation of 93% of all US soccer supporters, the remaining 7% probably support Borussia Dortmund.

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Gamified fan engagement to increase loyalty

The School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple has formed a strategic partnership with Swiss software developer Appventures to conduct data analysis of their ARENOO soccer fan engagement app. Initial data analysis has led to a paper to be presented at the Sport Marketing Association conference in October, held in Philadelphia. The following is the abstract of the paper: Digital media has created ample opportunities to grow sport brands, generate revenue, extend the fan experience beyond the game, introduce loyalty programs, and allow for the gamification of these programs.  Gamification represents customers’ playful interaction with brands aimed at increasing their engagement with the brand and subsequently their loyalty toward the brand. The current research is based on data from the ARENOO football fan engagement app.  The app allows users to engage with their favorite sport and collect points based on their interaction with their favorite football team.  Results of Person Correlation analyses indicate that users’ activities within the app were strongly positively correlated with team related outcome variables, such as stadium attendance.  This research supports and extends theoretical knowledge related to gamified customer engagement.  Furthermore, we present a fan engagement tool that is of relevance to sport practitioners who are looking for new routes to engage customers in a digital, mobile environment.  In particular, the app allows sport managers to deepen the relationship with existing sport brand customers and generate new customers by building on their relationship with the sport and then funneling them into customers of the brand. For information how sport organizations can benefit from the ARENOO app, see this link: ARENOO – Gamified fan engagement to increase loyalty 3 page flyer  

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Thinking about the same things differently: Examining perceptions of a non-profit community sport organisation

Thinking about the same things differently: Examining perceptions of a non-profit community sport organisation (Lock, D., Filo, K., Kunkel, T., & Skinner, J.) Sport Management Review (ERA ranked: A) This paper explores the differing perceptions and identity responses (identification, apathy and disidentification) that potentially exist in relation to one non-profit Community Sport Organisation (CSO), and whether they explain variations in individuals’ existing values and beliefs, sport interest, community identification and views about one organisation’s legitimacy. Data were collected using a quantitative online survey (n = 390), then analysed using Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) and Multiple Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) to test three hypotheses investigating whether existing values and beliefs, shared community values, local players, organisational practices and sport interest varied based on perception of organisational image and identity response. Based on the contributions of this study, non-profit CSOs should spend time developing understanding of the key dimensions that make them relevant to constituents and to decipher the values and beliefs that underpin what external audiences expect from organisations. In addition, understanding specifically what a CSO’s audience expects is fundamental if the organisation is to be perceived as legitimate in relation to its purpose. Send an email to receive a copy of the article.

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Sports spectator segmentation: Examining the differing psychological connections amongst spectators of leagues and teams

Sports spectator segmentation: Examining the differing psychological connections amongst spectators of leagues and teams (Doyle, J. P., Kunkel, T., & Funk, D. C., 2013). International Journal of Sport Marketing and Sponsorship. (ERA ranked: B) The results from this study extend previous research by empirically testing the involvement based Psychological Continuum Model (PCM) segmentation procedure on sports spectators. To date, the procedure has only been verified using sports participants, although the PCM was developed with a broader range of sports consumers in mind. The validity of the procedure is confirmed using two online surveys, which gather data from spectators at both the league (n=761) and team (n=623) level. A three-step segmentation procedure then places respondents into the PCM stages – awareness, attraction, attachment and allegiance. ANOVA tests indicate that the four groups significantly differ from one another on attitudinal and behavioural measures for both league and team spectators. Findings suggest that the PCM is an appropriate framework to investigate fan development at both league and team levels. Thus sports marketers are provided with a research segmentation tool capable of helping them to better understand their heterogeneous consumer bases and thus guide marketing decisions.

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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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Leagues undermined when clubs play dirty

Leagues undermined when clubs play dirty written by Stephen O’Grady February, 13th, 2013 “As six NRL clubs slipped into the glare of the Australian Crime Commission’s spotlight this week, so too did their parent league. The fate of clubs like the North Queensland Cowboys, Manly Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights in the days and weeks ahead will have a bearing on public perceptions of the National Rugby League. The NRL’s leadership – or lack of leadership – during the fallout from the ACC investigations will also have a major bearing on fans’ perceptions of its member clubs – not only those under investigation – and their likelihood to attend games and emotionally commit during the forthcoming season. This connection between the parent league and its member clubs may seem the most obvious of links but it is one that has not been academically investigated or established previously. A Gold Coast-based researcher at Griffith University’s Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management has now confirmed the major influence a parent league has on its constituent clubs, and vice versa. Fans of the NRL, AFL, A-League and English Premier League participated in the four-year research project, which involved in-depth interviews, two online questionnaires eliciting more than 1600 responses and consultation with online A-League fan forums which involved 420 respondents. The final stage of the research focused solely on soccer’s A-League where Dr Thilo Kunkel engaged with online fan forums around Australian to study the influence of the A-League on clubs and how this influence extended to the consumers’ perception of the teams in the league. The attitudes of fans were studied in relation to the league and in relation to the team, as was the social acceptability of supporting a team, and the fan’s capacity – through time and money – to support their team by attending their games. “The first major finding of the research is the strong influence a league has on the marketing and strategic brand management of teams in that league,” German-native, Dr Kunkel, says. “The league has a major bearing on the attitude of fans towards teams within the league. “If a league is going well, its teams tend to go well. If the league is not going so well, the teams tend not to go so well. The connection works the other way too. Teams are representative of their league, notably when they do well. “By the same token a scandal around a team or an individual player within a team has a bearing on the league and, by extension, on the rest of the teams in the league. “This may come be borne out during the weeks ahead as teams are publicly scrutinised in relation to drugs and corruption in sport. The intrinsic connection means the league and other member teams will be impacted if one or more teams are in the news for the wrong reasons. “The second major finding of my research is that it is very important for a league to provide a brand framework and brand alignment structure for the teams in the league. The teams can build and market themselves using this, while also establishing their own brand by differentiating themselves from other teams and building their own unique identity. “The third significant finding shows the league has a major influence on attitudes towards teams and whether fans attend club games. The league plays a big part in this through its strategic involvement in areas like match schedules, stadium lease contracts, and guidelines on how teams should treat their fan bases. “The league needs to guide its teams’ match-day management and marketing. The teams need to not only make it convenient and affordable for people to attend a game but also communicate this to their fans. This will boost game attendance, which will help both the teams and the league.”

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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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