Branding within sports is an everchanging sector that is constantly adapting to the modern era due to the evolution of digitalization and the online environment (Schäferhoff, N, 2016). The fundamentals of branding have followed the same path for many years; research, development and strategy, design, positioning and communication through different channels. How the new technologies available influence the way a brand communicates, changing constantly, is what makes branding within sports appealing to me, with new challenges, new skills, new knowledge and new opportunities is something that I find a positive challenge and why I wish to be a part of it.
Branding within sports is an extremely broad sector within design and changes constantly as a result of the versatility and diversity of sporting events, activities and athletes participating in the sports and continued advancements in technology. Using English football as an example, there are multiple avenues available for branding within just this one sporting sector alone, with multiple leagues, many teams within the leagues, international events such as the world cup, sponsorships associated with football and finally, the individual footballers themselves. The broadness of opportunity within football is echoed throughout all types of sport; I have just focused on football to give you an idea of just how vast this sector of design is.
I have a clear focus on the specific sector within sports branding that particularly interests me, with my ultimate goal being to work with the NFL in America. The NFL is an abbreviation for the National Football League, a professional football league within America, consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between two conferences, National Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC) (NFL Draft,2020). The AFC is similar to the Premier League within English football. My main goal is to work for either of the conferences to brand events and teams within one of the conferences because the NFL is considered one of the most popular professional sports organizations in the world and it is a sport that I follow with interest. Sport plays a very important role in American society, acting as a vehicle for transmitting many core values such as teamwork and fair play, either as a player or a viewer. Sport in America has been cited as helping to have contributed to both racial and social integration and has proved a very effective vehicle in helping unite the country. As stated by the US Embassy, the unification of society through sport, not only in America, but globally, and the way it helps bring people together is something that inspires me.
Although working within the NFL is my primary objective as a designer, I am fully aware that it’s an unrealistic prospect to go straight from University to working at this level. Based on this assumption, I will be focusing on the specific sector within sports branding I plan to enter into initially, and through analysis, help me gain a better understanding of the key stages, design environments and knowledge needed to help me eventually progress to my primary goal.
Working in a junior graphic designer role with the English Football, and hopefully, Premier League is something that appeals greatly to me. The Football League would be a fantastic springboard to launch my career and gain working knowledge, exposure to the sporting industry and increase my skill sets in a fast-paced working environment, dealing with multiple or individual teams and players. Just as within the NFL, the Premier League is a sporting organisation that groups teams of similar sporting ability to compete against each other (Premier League, 2020). As the Premier League is smaller, consisting of just 20 teams, compared to the NFL’s 32, and obviously UK based, I believe it would present a more realistic initial step towards my ultimate goal and help me understand what is required of a graphic designer in this particular field of design.
The immense popularity of sports within the UK is assisted by social media. These platforms provide opportunity for brands to increase their profile and identity globally. Sports is where social media has really changed the game. In many ways, social media has changed the way we view, think, and feel about sports. It is no coincidence that clubs and brands within the sector are focusing on utilising these platforms; over 80 per cent of sports fans interact on social media sites according to Sprout Social (JMPUK, 2020). Fan interaction is one of the reasons the sporting industry is successful in the modern, digital era.
Social media is an effective way for sporting brands, teams and athletes to expand their appeal, increasing their profile and popularity and provides an increased sense of interaction between the supporters, teams and players. Many teams and even individual athletes within the industry use social media platforms to expand or reinforce their brand and appeal. Pushing a digital identity, consistent through all social media platforms, has become increasingly important to brand recognition. Most notably the industry has very effectively used the image sharing social media platform, Instagram, to promote their visual digital identity. Through online postings, including animations, videos and 2D static designs, they are able to visually illustrate statistics and relevant team and player information, continuing fan engagement between matches.
(Examples of how sporting brands who utilise social media to expand their brand)
The Hundred, a new fast paced and exciting cricketing tournament due to be launched in 2020, has been developed to revolutionise the traditional game into a fast paced, actioned packed format in the hope of attracting a newer and younger fan base audience. Through my research, and viewing their website, I noted that to further expand The Hundred’s appeal, they have introduced a “fantasy league” (similar to an idea used in Premier English Football) to enable fans to pick players from a variety of team within the tournament, to play in their personal “fantasy” team (TheHundred, 2020). This cleverly encourages fans to follow more players (and in turn, watch more games) and promotes increased engagement and ultimately, increased interest in the sport from a new, younger audience.
The approach to the branding of The Hundred is noticeably different to that of the conventional test match version of the game. The designers and branding experts within the sporting industry have come together to create a vibrant and more visually appealing version of the game. The Hundred is a clear example of how the sector has cleverly developed a new spin on an old sport, and paired this with a new dynamic and interactive style of promotion, using the latest digital technology, and gives a very different look and feel to that of test cricket.
When comparing the Official England and Wales Cricket website with The Hundred, the presentation of the sport is noticeably very different. Throughout The Hundred website there are many features designed to engage and interact with the user, such as videos, graphics and animation, compared to the more traditional style of presentation used on the other website. The branding of The Hundred has also taken inspiration from other commercially successful sports such as football, even incorporating interactive features on its website that are not dissimilar to the approach adopted in many video games, all obviously designed to engage and entertain a much younger audience.
How players are presented in the Southern Brave team (TheHundred, 2020)
How players are presented in the Super Northern chargers team (TheHundred, 2020)
How players are presented in footballs Fifa 2020 ultimate team (Oliver, E, 2020)
FIFA 2020 Launch Premier (McQuaide, B, 2019)
The use of bright solid colours, vibrant music and sound can be seen throughout the branding of The Hundred and demonstrates to me that inspiration has been drawn upon from the video gaming industry because of its obvious popularity and appeal to a much younger demographic.
The Hundred draft studio (Wigmore, T, 2020)
Through the visual approach and use of interactivity on its website, the end user feels engaged and engulfed by the interactive experience that is “The Hundred,” with the “fantasy league” section in particular, heavily influenced by video game design. The Hundred demonstrates the importance of the use of UI and UX in graphic design and how fans now want and expect the entertainment to continue on after the actual cricket match itself has finished.
Team logo’s within The Hundred (The Hundred, 2020)
Team logo’s within the NFL (Creamers, C, 2020)
Notice how the logos within the NFL leagues make reference to the sport itself through the visuals and language, these references are not made for the teams within The Hundred. As traditional cricket is a sport that predominantly appeals to an older audience, the team logos and names avoid making reference to cricket to entice the viewer into The Hundred and in a way forces the user to understand the new spin on cricket that is being proposed. The desire to present this new iteration of the game as being fast paced and exciting is a prominent theme seen through their advertising:
(Youtube, 2020). This video demonstrates how the extensive use of animated graphics and dynamic audio is used to grab the viewers’ attention and increase their interest in the content being presented. It is clear that the use of bright or contrasting blocks of colour and bold shapes is currently very much on-trend in sports branding.
Keeping myself informed and abreast of current trends in sports branding has assisted me to explore and develop design that are in keeping with the current design trends. Below are several examples of projects I have worked on independently that align with this specific sector of design.
Football Kit design for Palmers FC (Maskell, Z, 2019)
The brief for this project was an online competition published by Palmers FC (a lower league football team) who required a new football kit designing. As I am particularly interested in the sport apparel area of design, I stay abreast of the latest trends in the sector and design a strip using bright blocks of colours and edgy shapes. I combined my knowledge of sportswear design and researched additional information on the team to help execute the design. I designed this last year, however as I can see characteristics of this trend being incorporated in kit designs now.
Trent Rockets Cricket team kit (The Hundred, 2020)
As can be seen, the similar use of bold shape and bright colours is prominent throughout the design of sporting strips in any different sports at the moment. To further reinforce my point, the team kits design for The Hundred are adopting many characteristics of this style of design, more commonly seen in sports such as football, as opposed to the typical all-white test strips. The above example (Trent Rockets) illustrates a bright, vibrant design of the team strips being adopted in The Hundred.
Social Media advertising for individual athletes (Maskell, Z, 2020)
Throughout my investigation into this sector it is apparent that there are trends within the sporting industry that are visually appealing to a particular audience, which designers and brand experts are aware of. Branding, especially within sport, is heading towards focusing on making a brand something that someone can feel and be a part of. I feel, with the development of technology, the sporting sector is gravitating towards UI & UX design to provide an immersive experience for the user in a digital environment. As a result of the current difficulties faced by the sporting industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic, maintain the ability for fans to interact on some level with teams, makes it all the more important. The feeling of interaction can be achieved, to a degree, in a digital environment and provides fans with the ability to not only see, but “experience” a brand. Through my research I have learnt the importance of video editing, UI/UX and web design and having more experience in these particular areas will make a graduate designer stand out in this sector, and an area of design I need to focus on in more detail in the future. (Indeed, 2020)
The whole sports industry is very different to how it used to be, due in part to the advancements in technology and the enhancements in the whole “sporting experience” it brings to the fans. We live in a consumer society where everything is available on-demand, and sport is no exception (MCI Experience, 2020). Fans want to remain involved and engaged in sport, even after the game ends, and through the use of technology, sports brands are finding new and exciting ways in which they can deliver this.
Creamers, C (2020) NFL Logos [online]. Available from: https://www.sportslogos.net/teams/list_by_league/7/National_Football_League/NFL/logos/ [Accessed: 6th May 2020].
ECB (2020) England and Wales Cricket Board [online]. Available from: https://www.ecb.co.uk/england/men [Accessed: 5th May 2020].
Indeed (2020) Junior Design Intern [online]. Available from: https://www.indeed.co.uk/jobs?q=Sport%20junior%20Graphic%20Design&l&vjk=a4ef37c8390bb77a [Accessed: 1st May 2020].
Indeed (2020) Junior Designer-Global Sports & Entertainment Agency [online]. Available from: https://www.indeed.co.uk/jobs?q=Sport%20junior%20Graphic%20Design&l&vjk=3f09a7e554e0e002 [Accessed: 1st May 2020].
Indeed (2020) UI/UX Designer - TV Show & Sport Team Apps [online]. Available from: https://www.indeed.co.uk/jobs?q=Sport%20junior%20Graphic%20Design&l&vjk=1f169418051a430f [Accessed: 1st May 2020].
JMPK (2020) How social media has changed personal branding in sport [online]. Available from: https://www.jmpuk.com/how-social-media-has-changed-personal-branding-in-sport/ [Accessed: 3rd May 2020].
MCI Experience (2020) Creating Brand Experiences for Fans of Sporting Events [online]. Available from: https://mciexperience.com/creating-brand-experiences-for-fans-of-sporting-events/ [Accessed: 4th May 2020].
McQuaide, B (2020) FIFA 20 World Premier [online]. Available from: https://www.soccerbible.com/news/2019/09/ea-sports-host-the-fifa-20-world-premiere-in-london/ [Accessed: 4th May 2020].
NFL Draft (2020) What is NFL [online]. Available from: https://www.nfl.com/standings/league/2019/REG (Accessed: 9th March 2020).
Oliver, E (2020) FIFA 20 [online]. Available from: https://www.behance.net/gallery/95851779/FIFA-20?tracking_source=search_projects_recommended%7Cfifa%2020 [Accessed: 4th May 2020].
The Hundred (2020) The Hundred [online]. Available from: https://www.thehundred.com [Accessed: 4th May 2020].
The Hundred (2020) What is the hundred [online]. Available from: https://www.thehundred.com/info/what-is-the-hundred [Accessed: 5th May 2020].
US Embassy (2020) Sports in America [online]. Available from: https://usa.usembassy.de/sports.html [Accessed: 14th March 2020].
Wigmore, T (2020) How many leagues can cricket take? [online]. Available from: https://www.thecricketmonthly.com/story/1207031/how-many-leagues-can-cricket-take [Accessed: 4th May 2020].
Youtube (2020) 100 Ball Cricket [online]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdb4tHQVqBw [Accessed: 4th May 2020].