Great brands resonate through vision and communicate with strong visual language. Rigorously applied design systems deliver recognition and experiences evoke a sense of feeling. A brand is not only how people think and perceive you as an organisation but also what you do and for what you stand.
In sport there are phenomenal brands. Teams with rich histories and passionate fans that together become part of the fabric of the city in which they reside.
A significant challenge for sport today is to balance the sometimes competing force of purity to the brand against the need for commercialisation.
On a recent trip to LA, we witnessed a team that puts brand at the nucleus of everything it does, and from an outsider's perspective, it's yielding significant commercial results. LAFC gets brand and it benefits every aspect of the business.
While LAFC doesn't have the history of a 100+ year old European football team, it does have a brand that's been created with thought, purpose and vision. The visual mark and associated architecture embody a powerful subtly that makes it flexible and an extensible foundation for the future.
Forges the fan to the team & city it represents.
As you approach the stadium on match day, you get a sense that things here feel a little different. With the beautiful curves and angles of the Banc of California Stadium behind, the approaching grassland greets you with a 'tailgate' of fans. Adding street food, celebrations and the 3252 in full song, the tone is set for the proceeding match. The festivities reflect a sense of inclusion, community and family (even more so apparently during Fan Fest).
There's ultimate strength in the simplicity of the pre-match presentation where the crowd is allowed to focus on a set of core activities with, again, the 3252 doing the heavy lifting. Its primary aim is to create excitement and build the impending match. Overall it's pure to the game with no misplaced activations or over the top theatrics. Football is the resounding focus.
Walking around the stadium, there's so much strength in the brand. It's not a visual onslaught of partner logos and promotions. LAFC first and foremost. Added to this food, concessions and general experiences are linked to the city and its culture.
We were fortunate to be provided with a personal tour of the Banc of California Stadium (big thanks to Corey Breton for his time and insight). Once you pass behind the "velvet rope" to witness the executive areas of the stadium, it's incredible to see how considered each element is and how it aligns with the LAFC brand and ethos.
The supporters, specifically the 3252 are such an integral part of the brand which in turn commands the atmosphere during the match. Many intricate details help accentuate this both in the way the stadium has been designed (the roof design capturing and amplifying the nose and seats allowing the 3252 to stand) as well as the input the 3252 have had in the development of the team. The access that supporters have in the continued growth of LAFC provides an incredible sense of ownership and commitment. This resonates through the atmosphere felt at a match.
Partnerships can be tested
For some, it could be forgotten that customers often interact across multiple team departments. On a daily basis a fan can be social, hit the site to purchase tickets, view banner ads off-site, watch content on YouTube, shop merch, experience an event, view sponsor offers... the list is endless.
The common link in creating a single, cohesive and unified fan experience is, of course, brand. When adhering to brand, customer-focused departments such as comms, marketing and digital have little trouble. For others, especially sponsor-related, it can become tricky.
The ultimate intent of commercial partners is to share in the strength and passion fans hold for a team's brand. So why not aim to be a seamless part of that? Why not get the most from the fan sentiment, rather than awkwardly encroaching your way into the picture?
Top-down support, bottom-up vision
Timeless brands are championed by visionary CEOs, boards and senior staff. It's not hard to find great examples when you look at iconic companies across any industry from Apple, Virgin, Nike, Mercedes, Disney.
The vision comes from within, from the staff, customers, passionate advocates and public that surround the brand. Without this feeder and internal drive, brands can not only validate their vision, they can't exist!
Seth Godin highlights this with a simple test:
"Ask a few people to name a logo they like.
With very few exceptions, people will choose a logo that’s associated with a brand they admire.
That’s because what makes a good logo is a good brand, not the other way around."
When it comes to team brands, we've learned a great deal from LAFC:
1. Work with the community to build (and solidify) the vision, essence and fundamentals of the brand.
3. Integrate partners with the team brand
Through adopting the LAFC brand, partners become a part of the experience rather than a jarring afterthought. The pre-match sponsor 'village' becomes a natural extension of the match presentation. Walking around the concourse and partners adverts feel part of the stadium itself creating a robust and organic link between them and the club.
4. Consistency creates the experience.
As mentioned above the community has had incredible input into the formation of the club, potentially unparalleled in every sense. Understanding its place between fan and partner, LAFC is often the dominant visual across sponsor activations. Capping it all off, LAFC doesn't utilise paid advertising. All marketing and communication activities are through social, content and brand advocates (passionate fans especially).
From inside out the LAFC fan experience feels tremendously consistent and purely organic.
With it, LAFC sells an experience – not just a ticket.