Poor Branding Strategy Mirrors On Field Ineptitude: San Francisco 49ers Misfire

Reuters.com published this deansguide and innerarchitect.com article October 6, 2008

Branding and marketing your brand’s message is all about perception, believability, and credibility. It is also something that requires a hard look at what will resonate with a particular targeted population of customers you want to accept and embrace your brand. If there was ever a case study on how not to brand a product, it is the recent season ticket sales radio advertising campaign by the San Francisco 49ers.

Qualifications: I am a native San Franciscan, a 38 year fan of the Niners, and a former season ticket holder from 1996 to 2006. I am a fan of this team but not a blindly “Faithful” drone as they seem to want to create. My assertions about fan demographics, fan behavior, and message viability is based on my experience with the sport. Since 1972 I have attended over 200 NFL games, 5 NFL playoff games, and one Super Bowl. In addition I have attended another 100+ college football games-I have experienced many crowds in my long journey as a sports fan.

The Radio Branding Message

Setting: A father gives his preteen son and daughter a lesson on being a 49er fan aka one of the “faithful.”

Message: the father is training his children to be 49er fans, faithful 49er fans, and nothing else.

Branding Message: Being a 49er fan is about blindly following, supporting, and being proud of your team.

The Reality: A Branding Message Gone Bad

1. Being a 49er “Faithful”: is a very old marketing message that was established in the 1970’s. It has very little impact upon the buying public as it does not address image, invoke faithful behavior, or inspire people to buy season tickets.

Case Study of Excellence: The Oakland Raiders, although enduring hard times for many years without excellence on the field, continue to invoke and inspire fan participation. Why? Being a Raider fan holds the connotation that you are a tough guy, hard scrabble, pure violence loving fan of a very violent game–the Raiders tell it like it is and embrace the brand they have created for themselves

2. Association with Baseball’s Message: The 49er’s attempt to utilize the message major league baseball has been extremely successful using does not work. Baseball is associated with family, apple pie, and America. It is a tradition of heritage passed down from generation to generation; something a father can share with a son or daughter. And baseball is an affordable family outing for everyone to enjoy.

3. The 49er’s Branding Strategy: to sell season tickets, is to create a following of blindly faithful fans. By describing a pep talk between a father and his children, you are left with the perception that the ticket buying fan base that attends games is a demographic closely inline with baseball’s fan demographic-that is ridiculous!

Football is a very violent sport. The fans at games are often unruly, drunk, and misbehave. The atmosphere at a professional football game has nothing in common with the gentile atmosphere at most major league baseball games. The age of the NFL fan base is older. The number of preteen and teenage fans at professional football games is far fewer than what you would see at a Major League baseball affair.

Results: A Complete Misfire

What the radio listening public is left with is a NFL team that is attempting to sell season tickets by invoking faith in the team. Their method of invoking faith is to “start em young” and bring up little 49er fans that will grow into season ticket buying 49er fans. Their brand is be faithful-be a 49er fan. This is very ineffective and completely ignorant of the brilliant marketing and branding message the team could create from their storied heritage. Why is a franchise with 5 Super Bowl wins, voted the team of the decade in the 1980’s, completely ignoring their brand strength?

San Francisco Forty Niners 5 Super Bowl Titles: 1980’s Most Dominant Era In NFL History

All due respect goes to Tom Brady, a local Nor Cal guy, and the Boston Patriots. Great team but not the greatest ever. That designation, in my opinion, goes to the San Francisco Forty Niners voted team of the 1980’s. Why are the Niners my choice as the dynasty of all dynasties?

1. 1980’s: Coming off the heals of the NFL’s greatest era the 1970’s, the decade of the 1980’s included some of the greatest teams in NFL history. Powerhouses included the 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Raiders, Bears, Cowboys, Steelers, Eagles, Dolphins, Broncos. The talent level on each team was deep and Hall of Fame quality.

2. No Cap: Teams in the 1980’s were loaded. They could pay players without salary caps to hamstring their efforts.

3. Parody: In the 1980’s there were at least 8 great teams operating every year. Parody was not part of the equation as the philosophy without a cap is to produce the “super talented super deep” teams.

Today’s Patriot’s team, like Jordan’s Bulls, does not have enough quality foes to test themselves against nor enough quality rivals. The Patriots, like the Bulls, walk through mediocre (by 1980’s standards) schedules. They do not have the competition to compete against to consider them the greatest team of alltime.