Branding has long been a focus of marketers who want their brands to represent something bigger than the products or services they are selling. It was such a lively topic that the Association of National Advertisers named their 2018 Marketing Words “Brand Purpose”.
At today’s virtual Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit, executives from three sports leagues discussed the importance of defining the brand’s purpose and the challenges associated with it.
“Brands spend a lot more time and resources identifying their purpose and strategizing,” said Jill Gregory, Nascar’s evp and chief marketing and content officer. “There is more attention in this area than ever before. I think we can all agree that this is really good.”
JoAnn Neale, President and Chief Administrative Officer of Major League Soccer, said that sports leagues in particular have the “unique ability and power to bring about social change,” as they are often influential.
Jessica Berman, assistant commissioner and executive director of the National Lacrosse League, said the bar in this area has risen as more brands double up to find their purpose. She said that while that’s a good thing, it can be harder for brands to stand out.
Every leader felt that taking a stand and having a purpose is especially important this year. Berman pointed to a recent example of the World Games, an international sporting event slated to take place in Birmingham, Alabama, next year.
A Native American team called the Iroquois Nationals was initially not invited to the competition because it is not a sovereign nation. This decision spurred the lacrosse community on.
“People who know the sport of lacrosse know that the sport is deeply rooted in the indigenous community,” she said. Although the Iroquois Nationals are not part of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), the organization made a statement in support of the team.
Ultimately, the organizers of the World Games reversed their decision and the Irish lacrosse team gave up their place in the competition to play the Iroquois Nationals instead.
“It was one of those moments that I was really proud to see the support of everyone in our ecosystem, within the NLL and more generally,” said Berman.
That summer, Nascar made the decision to exclude the Confederate flag from their events after Bubba Wallace, the only black driver in his top racing series, asked for its removal.
“It was very visible and direct message. Risky given some of the sentiments of our fan base, but it was the right thing, ”said Gregory. “We wanted to make a statement that Nascar is a place where everyone is welcome. If you have a symbol of hatred that makes people uncomfortable, then we didn’t want that in our facilities. “
When Major League Soccer returned this summer after a hiatus due to Covid-19, a group of 100+ black league players organized a silent pre-game demonstration to honor George Floyd, who was murdered by police in Minneapolis in May has been. The league helped organize the logistics of the peaceful protest.
“It was a really convincing moment for all of us,” said Neale.