tourism & city branding

Place branding: Strategies for sports cities

Dec 15, 2015

Brief summary of an academic paper written by Irving Rein and Ben Shields – When we think about place branding and sport, the first technique that often comes to mind is usually the hosting of major events.
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In this paper, the authors Rein and Shields identify three different types of platforms that can be used by any city that wishes to develop a place branding strategy through sport. These channels can most probably give your city a few ideas on different strategies it can use to promote itself through sport:

The Event platform, the “current state best practice” of sports place branding, consists of hosting sport events to promote a place’s economy, culture and health. The authors cite Beijing as an example: with the organisation of the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese were able to show the world their progress from a third-world country to a powerful free market economy.

The Team platform is split in two different categories: the privately owned teams that are named after a place and the national teams from the place itself. According to the authors, it is the “task of the place to cooperate in building facilities, participating in joint marketing campaigns, and facilitating the relationship so that the teams have friendly environments.” For the privately owned teams, Rein and Shields give the examples of the New York Yankees and Manchester United, who have both helped build the brands of their places through their global reach. For national teams, the authors cite the Brazilian national football team who, during the 2006 World Cup in Germany, launched the Culture Cup, an initiative that used the team as “the springboard to showcase Brazilian art, film and other parts of its culture.”

The Place platform is the “newest strategy of the three and involves wholly integrating sports into the design of the place of the brand.” Rein and Shields cite Dubai as an example, detailing the success of the Dubai Sports City initiative. They explain: “While sports have always been a central connector in communities, never before have they been institutionalised as a primary place builder. Like a town where an automobile manufacturing plant defines its identity, the Dubai Sport City is defined by sports and plans to use the events and their athletes to connect the residents, tourists and investors.”

Therefore, next time you reflect on new vehicles to promote your city through sport, keep these ideas in mind!

Question to the authors Irving Rein and Ben Shields.

Smart Cities & Sport: What would be your first practical recommendations to a city that wishes to develop a sport place branding strategy?

Rein & Shields: Any city exploring a sport place branding initiative should analyze two fundamental considerations before deciding on a strategy.

First, be clear on the goal you are trying to achieve and how a sport place branding strategy can help you achieve it. Whether your city is seeking to attract tourists, retain residents, or rebuild infrastructure, you should implement a sport place branding strategy if – and only if – it brings your city closer to its goal.  A goal needs to be reachable, affordable, and have the potential of community support.  For example, the Dubai Sports City is not a practical goal for most cities because of long-standing infrastructure issues, financial costs, and conflicting traditions. However, a city like Indianapolis, building on its strengths as the home for amateur athletics, has transformed its urban core into a sport center.

Second, think realistically about the long-term impact of your sport place branding strategy and be prepared for a variety of potential outcomes. Project out five or ten years after a place branding sports initiative is launched.  What is the best case, worst case, and likeliest scenario?  Before moving forward, your city must be comfortable with the risks involved in all potential scenarios. Most importantly, there should be a series of action steps in place to implement the plan.  Too often plans are abandoned for financial or political reasons and pile up in the back room of the office.  Make sure to establish checks and balances with consequences if the plan is not implemented.

With competition in the sport marketplace intensifying, aligning your stakeholders on goals and potential outcomes of a sport place branding strategy – and committing to a plan to implement it – will help set up your city for success.

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