There is an obvious relationship between the investment a company makes in a customer relationship and the return that investment generates (Grant, 2008:324). Kotler (2003:76) claims that the aim of customer relationship management is to produce high customer equity, which Rust, Lemon and Zeithaml (2004:110) define as the total of the discounted lifetime values summed over all of the firm’s current and potential customers. According to Blattberg and Deighton (1996:138), appraising customer equity is conceptually similar to appraising the value of a portfolio of income-producing real estate, and they add that the goal of maximising customer equity by balancing acquisition and retention efforts properly should serve as the star by which a company steers its entire marketing program. In this article we will discuss the three drivers of customer equity, as distinguished by Rust, Lemon and Zeithaml (2004), namely value equity, brand equity, and relationship equity, and assess how well the Swiss Super League club BSC Young Boys manages the above-mentioned drivers.
Value equity is the customer’s objective assessment of the utility of an offering based on perceptions of its benefits related to its costs; the subdrivers of value equity are quality, price, and convenience (Kotler, 2003:76). For the purpose of this exercise, we define the specific factors underlying each subdriver, in the context of the football industry, as follows:
Quality. We define quality as the total overall experience when visiting a BSC Young Boys game in their home stadium, Stade de Suisse, in Bern. Questions such as, ‘Do I as a spectator like the ambience, feel physically comfortable in my seat, can easily cover most of my needs (vision, food, toilet, etc.), or similar’, influence the perceived quality of live football entertainment. Subjectively, the quality of going to a BSC Young Boys game at Stade de Suisse can be regarded as one of the highest in Switzerland, considering the above-mentioned factors of this subdriver. The average attendance at Stade de Suisse is approximately 17,500 (StadiumDB.com, 2014), in a stadium with a capacity of 31,783. Therefore, the atmosphere is arguably better than in many other Swiss stadiums, who have significantly lower attendance. In addition, the new stadium was opened in 2005. That means, the entire infrastructure is relatively new, which implies safety and a certain comfort, given Swiss standards. Furthermore, Stade de Suisse is a dedicated football stadium, which means the action on the pitch is closer to the stands than in a track and field stadium. Price. Price is a quantitative measure that can be compared with all other stadiums and clubs, as well as other entertainment offerings in the immediate surroundings. Considering the fact that Stade de Suisse tickets for BSC Young Boys Super League matches can go as low as CHF 20 (ticketcorner.ch, retrieved on 19 April 2015), which equals to €20, $21, £14, or ¥2,500 (exchange rates as of 19 April 2015), it can be argued that visitors receive an adequate return for their money. Additionally, BSC Young Boys and Stade de Suisse offer discounts for students, elderly, and other audiences. In comparison, 1 cinema ticket in Bern costs between CHF 17 and 21, which makes it a similar expense for entertainment; or, 1 medium-sized Big Mac Menu at McDonalds in Bern costs approximately CHF 13 (mcdonalds.ch, retrieved on 19 April 2015).
Convenience. We define convenience as ‘ease of accessibility of the BSC Young Boys football entertainment product’. This includes ease of buying a ticket, ease of access to the stadium, and ease of mobility around and within the stadium. Buying tickets for BSC Young Boys matches can be done easily before the match at the cashiers around the stadium and the tickets can be paid cash or with credit card. However, on the day of the event, the cashiers open 90 minutes before kick-off. The club recommends to buy tickets in advance online by using the Print@Home platform eventimsports.de, accessible through the club’s website. I have used that platform before and have had absolutely no problems with it. I have also tried the cashier on the day of the match at Stade de Suisse and it was uncomplicated. In addition, the stadium is easily accessible from the center of Bern, where one of the largest public transportation hubs of Switzerland is situated. From there, trains, buses, and trams provide simple and fast access to the stadium. Plus, the interior of the stadium is kept straight-forward and everything is close-by. In a nutshell, Stade de Suisse is very convenient for anyone who wants to visit the stadium for an afternoon or evening of football entertainment.
Brand equity is the customer’s subjective and intangible assessment of the brand, above and beyond its objectively perceived value (Kotler, 2003:76). Gladden argues that as brand equity increases for the sport brand, so too should brand loyalty increase; and this thinking justifies the focus on brand equity, as loyalty can be monetized, or translated into revenues (ed. Pritchard and Stinson, 2014:5-6). Aaker (1996:316-320) points out that good management starts with good measurement, and the key to managing a [brand] portfolio is a common set of measures; he nominates the four dimensions of brand equity: loyalty, perceived quality, associations, and awareness.
Loyalty. Bridgewater (2010:48) mentions Reichheld (1997) who argues that loyalty-based management must focus on retaining customer and employees to enhance profitability. In fact, BSC Young Boys drive numerous campaigns that target the inclusion of at least one person in the immediate network of a customer. This might be a ‘take a friend to the match’ campaign, where every season-ticket holder can bring a friend for free to the match or for a highly discounted price. – That is how I got a free ticket to a BSC YB match many years ago. A further loyalty campaign that the club can and does run, is to give season-ticket holders the option to purchase tickets to other competitions, such as UEFA Champions League, Europa League, etc., before the official ticket launch. Also, BSC YB publishes a high-quality and high-gloss physical magazine with articles about the club that is sent to season-ticket holders. That is another campaign to show appreciation for fans’ loyalty. Perceived quality. Aaker (1996:324) claims that perceived quality is one of the key dimensions of brand equity and that it can be measure with scales such as:
- High quality versus shoddy quality
- Best in category versus worst in category
- Consistent quality versus inconsistent quality
- Finest quality versus average quality versus inferior quality
If we consider that loyalty – as measured in match attendance – reflects quality, it can be observed that BSC YB is perceived as a high-quality brand. The club has constantly recorded the second highest attendances in the Swiss top-flight in the past three seasons with 17.565 in 2014-15, 17.553 in 2013-14, and 17.242 in 2012-13 (european-football-statistics.co.uk, retrieved on 19 April 2015). In regard to being best in category, it is a fact that BSC Young calls the second largest stadium in Switzerland, Stade de Suisse, its home, which can look back to a rich history for Swiss football standards. The stadium was one of the venues used for UEFA’s Euro 2008, has been home to UEFA Champions League and Europa League matches for BSC Young Boys and FC Thun, and has therefore received international acclaim. In addition, its predecessor, the Wankdorf Stadium, which was build on the exact same spot, hosted several important matches, such as the 1954 FIFA World Cup Final – also known as the legendary Miracle of Bern –, the 1961 European Cup final, and the 1989 Cup Winners’ Cup Final. BSC Young Boys can use the legendary status of its home turf to boost their own brand equity by leveraging a strong club asset.
Associations. Measurement of association can be structures by using three of the perspectives on brand identity: the brand-as-product (value), the brand-as-person (brand personality), and the brand-as-organization (organizational associations) (Aaker, 1996:326). Brand value can be measured by whether the brand proves good value for the money and whether there is a reason to buy the brand over others. According to Bridgewater (2010:48), in academic literature, fans are found by economics studies to be more loyal to teams that are successful (see Baade and Tiehen 1990; Domazlicky and Kerr 1990), and loyalty is measure by both high average attendances and less variability in attendance. That can imply that there is more value for the money, if the club is successful. Looking at how BSC Young Boys ranked in the past five seasons of the Swiss Super League, it can observed that the club ranked three times #3, once disappointingly #7, and once #2, hence, earning 4 times a spot in an international competition. Considering these achievements, BSC Young Boys can be considered a club that gives fans good value for their money. In regard to brand personality, it is observable that BSC YB has a large following that strongly identifies with its club, given the high attendance numbers, as well as large social media following. In terms of organizational associations, BSC YB has two strong businessmen investing and engaged in the management of the club, the brothers Andy and Hans-Ueli Rihs. This gives a certain stability in the vision of the club and in its business operations. The brothers Rihs have been criticized before for their unfocused interested in the club – they are heavy supporters and investors of the BMC Racing Team –. However, their financial investments and engagement in the board seems legitimate and fruitful.
Awareness. Brand awareness reflects both the knowledge and the salience of the brand in the customer’s mind (Aaker, 1996:330). Brand awareness is important because it is quite difficult to have strong, unique, and favourable associations without significant brand awareness (Gladden, ed. Pritchard and Stinson, 2014:13). However, in professional sports, this is largely down to the extent to which the club is covered by television and other media (Bridgewater, 2010:47). BSC Young Boys does not necessarily receive more media attention than other Swiss clubs. Nonetheless, given their strong performances in recent years in all competitions – with strong emphasis on UEFA competitions –, as well as its legendary history, the club has received an above-average exposure through different media outlets. Therefore, it can be argued, that the club reached top-of-mind awareness among people interesting or watching Swiss football.
Relationship equity is the customer’s tendency to stick with the brand, above and beyond objective and subjective assessments of its worth; subdrivers of relationship equity include loyalty programs, special recognition and treatment programs, community building programs, and knowledge-building programs (Kotler, 2003:76). Bühler and Nufer (2010:79) explain that in general, a loyalty program is a structured relationship marketing tool that rewards, and therefore encourages, loyal buying behaviour. As noted in the ‘Brand equity > Loyalty section’ in this article, BSC Young Boys make use of several such programs.
It can be stated that the customer equity of the BSC Young Boys fan group might be one of the highest and healthiest. The club provides a good return for a customer’s money with arguably good football entertainment based on title-contending and international on-pitch performances, good stadium atmosphere and infrastructure, professional organizational club structure, above-average media attention, and proactive customer relationship. It would be interesting to actually calculate what the customer equity of an average BSC Young Boys fan is in quantitative terms. If anyone ever makes that calculation, please let me know.