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The power of sports branding in uniting a nation

The importance of branding in creating a close connection between fans and teams

Dani Smith, FutureBrand

Design Director

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There are few moments that unite a nation. Arguably, none are more unifying than sporting events. The women’s Euros saw record-breaking viewership numbers and sold-out stadiums. And amidst the cluttered news agenda, it was a moment to celebrate. But the impact of this moment may never have been so rich if it wasn’t for the ‘Lioness’ identity that underscored the team.

Brands work to communicate the values of the businesses they stand for - it’s these values that emotionally connect the audience with the brand. But unlike the brands we are loyal to, the connection between sports fans and teams goes deeper. After all, it’s their passion that buys tickets, season passes and merchandise. This social link is nurtured through commonalities. The shared values, goals and mutual respect that are the complete embodiment of these sporting entities.

Unlike the brands we are loyal to, the connection between sports fans and teams goes deeper. After all, it’s their passion that buys tickets, season passes and merchandise

Dani Smith, Design Director at FutureBrand

The legacy that unifies us

Last year, The FA released its new England Football logo featuring a lion, lioness and a cub; a symbol of grassroots to the elite. Within this, at the heart of the club, sits the Lionesses. The identity for the women’s team as an archetype of female power; the lionesses do most of the hunting, care for the young and are powerfully united. This three-lioness-crest stands bold within the team as the players incarnate the brand. It acts as an aspirational device, weaving a meaningful narrative to express their self-identity. And much like the unity embodied between the players, the audience becomes emotionally connected, creating a sense of belonging within the community and espousing the intricate link between sport and national identity.

Yet, this is not the only event to manifest solidarity. This moment of national unity harks back to 10 years prior in the halcyon days of the London 2012 Olympics. Paralleling the backdrop of uncertainty, the Olympics delivered an extraordinary festival of human endeavour. For the first time in history, the Olympics and Paralympics were visually represented in a single unifying look. This visual unity helped further elevate the incredible feats of the Paralympic athletes. And the multi-sensory accessible design solutions, opened the Games up for everyone to enjoy. 

Nick Sykes, Global CEO of FutureBrand, who led on the delivery of the marketing programme and brand strategy for London 2012, said ‘the ambition for London 2012 was full stadium, full stop. We created cross-community appeal by exploring values that were central to each local region and embodied this throughout the campaign. By understanding these, we were able to re-engage a disjointed nation.’

How inclusivity unites

The Olympics brand is built around inclusivity and diversity. London 2012 worked to externally articulate this international positioning, which was further elevated with a brand personality and experience designed to be truly accessible for all, creating an ethos which they truly embody and one which united warring factions. We saw this most recently with the Commonwealth Games, held in Birmingham in 2022, which showcased the biggest ever female and para-sports programme in history. Instead of isolating the para-games programme with its own brand, the Commonwealth Games included every activity under the core brand, signifying the equal standing in the eyes of the organisers and audiences.

As audiences evolve, brands must drive engagement in a meaningful way to connect wider markets. Cutting through the noise, The Hundred demonstrated the power of unity between teams and role of inclusivity as a whole. The men and women’s teams were not pitched apart from each other and instead had the same team names, kit, logos and identity as a whole. All of which were inspired by local hometown nuances, solidifying the identity as part of something, which helped to drive deeper connections with the fans. The competition, resultantly, drew in more diverse audiences than ever and reached record viewing figures.

Each event united diverse audiences. With a common thread of owning their visual expression beyond the brand mark. These days, brands that lead with purpose and authenticity generate more meaningful influence - and this is no different for sports brands. Each has an impactful and iconic identity system that resonates with the audience on a deeper level. The players become the personification of the brand, sending a positive message to fans and shifting perceptions, with a unified goal that identifies with their audiences and one that transcends differing backgrounds and ideologies.

Guest Author

Dani Smith, FutureBrand

Design Director

About

Danielle Smith is the Design Director at FutureBrand, working as an integral member of the company since 2015. In her time at FutureBrand, Danielle has had a huge involvement in many globally recognised projects, including the game-changing launch of The Hundred (which was recently shortlisted in the Cannes Lions Awards), the renowned Atlantis Royal hotel and the world's biggest private school entity Nord Anglia Education. Passionate about design and its evolution, Danielle began her journey as a designer ten years ago. Danielle has developed an eye for bringing considered strategy to life, future-proofing the brands of tomorrow.

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Sport Branding/Design