Marketing managers in football have been talking and trying to focus their efforts on creating an all-around experience for their fans on and off the pitch for many years. Since smartphones gave consumers to opportunity to have the web 2.0 in their pockets and just one click away, experiential marketing has arguably become more visible than ever for any brand. A study by Sahin et al. (2011:1297) shows that brand experience has positive effects on brand satisfaction, trust and loyalty. The authors state that brand experience creates and develops trust-based relationship platform between brand and customer, and brand experiences arise in a variety of settings when consumers search for, shop for, and consume brands.
According to Chen et al. (2008:2), experiential marketing involves the marketing of a product or service through an experience, such that the customer becomes emotionally involved with the object of the experience (Mathurs, 1971). A well designed experience engages the consumer, becomes memorable and allows for a free interpretation as it is non-partisan (Hoch, 2002:448). In contrast to traditional marketing which focuses on gaining customer satisfaction, experiential marketing creates emotional attachment (Cole, 2004:531-539).
Smilansky (2009:3) defines experiential marketing as follows: “The experiential approach is focused on a two-way interaction in real-time, a live brand experience and thereby a significantly deeper consumer bonding process. Live brand experiences usually manifest in the form of live events that allow the consumer to live, breathe and feel the brand through interactive sensory connections and activities.”
In their 2009 book release, Marketing the Sports Organisation: Building Networks and Relationships, Alain Ferrand and Scott McCarthy describe the structure of a sports organisation’s experiential marketing system. Ferrand and McCarthy (2009:94) explain that ‘marketing strategy decisions must take into account five key elements: brand foundations, programmes and offers, relationships, stakeholders and brands/experiences’. We will apply their suggested model to Austrian Bundesliga club FC Red Bull Salzburg in this post as an example.
The experiential marketing system of The Red Bulls
Heritage. The club was founded in 1933 as SV Austria Salzburg and had their name changed in 1978 to SV Casino Salzburg, due to a sponsoring deal, and in 1997 to SV Wüstenrot Salzburg. In 2005 Red Bull took over the club and rebranded it to FC Red Bull Salzburg. The club has 9 championship titles, 2 Austrian Cups and 1 Austrian Supercup title under its belt. The reconstruction of the club started at the general assembly on June 3, 2005 with the statement, “No compromises. This is a new club. There is no tradition, no history, no archive.”
Vision and purpose. “…vom Millionär zum Meistertellerwäscher!” (Translation: …from millionaire to ‘Champion’s Dish’ washer!) The ‘Meisterteller’, which in English can be translated into ‘Champion’s Dish’, is the championship trophy in the Austrian Bundesliga. The vision and purpose of the club is, obviously, to provide a winning atmosphere to their fans and amass as many titles as possible.
Identity. A global football and lifestyle brand originating in the heart of a baroque Austrian town, which also happens to be birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Values. ‘We for you, you for us!’ ‘A Football club is nothing without its fans.’
Main benefits for club’s fans
Forming group identity and sense of belonging:
- Spectacle, emotion and excitement
- Create new history and traditions
- Pride over new achievements
Programmes and offers
Services related to targeted communities (events and media excluded)
- Participants: i) Tickets and season tickets, ii) VIP & business offerings, iii) Stadium show entertainment
- Football players: Training and equipment
- Sympathisers: Fan club packages
- Members/Fancharta: FC Red Bull Salzburg drew up a FAN CHARTER in 2012 together with the fan board, which regulates the relationship between the club and spectators and in particular conduct in and around stadiums. The body exists to represent the fan culture that has long been in existence at the club.
- For all: i) Merchandise products, ii) 61 official fan clubs, iii) interactive extranet on website, iv) guided stadium tours
- Sympathisers: Title party; Pre-season activities, such as friendly matches and tournaments at home and away against prominent teams – in 2015, West Bromwich Albion, SV Werder Bremen, FC Southampton, FC Valencia, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen
- Participants: Stadium show for international competition; Children’s day, Charity Day, etc. at the stadium
- For all: Open-day at Red Bull football and ice hockey academy with celebrations and activities
The Red Bull Arena in Salzburg has a capacity of 31,895 and was opened on March 8, 2003. In addition, the Red Bull football and ice hockey academy in Liefering, Austria, includes 5,000 square meters of living space for 180 players from 11 youth and academy teams, as well as indoor and outdoor training grounds, and more.
- Top players from 13 countries and four continents
- Interactive extranet on club website
- Meet and greet events
- Website in English and German including forums, as well as audio-visual media
- Social media channels including Facebook (321,000 fans), Twitter (18,000 followers), Instagram (7,400 followers), Google+ (9,000 followers; 2.7 million views), and YouTube (3,500 subscribers; 893,000 views)
- Fan TV (video content)
- FC Red Bull Salzburg App for smartphones
- The Red Bulletin, monthly lifestyle magazine published by Red Bull Media House, covering sports, culture and lifestyle
- General publicity by the media
Licensing and merchandising
Red Bull has become an established lifestyle brand not only because of their energy drink, but because of the licensed content that has been spreading through the web. Red Bull Media House, the holders of the holy grail of the Red Bull brand and its respective content licensing, state the following on their website:
Since its inception in 2007, Red Bull Media House has become one of the world’s leading producers of premium audio-visual media from the fields of sports, culture and lifestyle.
Through magazines, video series, clip shows, tailor-made program blocks, and documentaries, we offer our partners – TV stations, platform providers, cinema distributors and others – a vast array of remarkable products.
Terra Mater Factual Studios and ServusTV enrich our content offer by contributing TV magazines, TV series, and documentaries covering history and science, wildlife and travel, and art and culture.
Its catalogue spans 166 pages with different content in the worlds of sports & lifestyle, nature & science, and tradition & inspiration.
Merchandising can be found in their online fan shop and includes all common items, such as jerseys, apparel, and accessories.
Co-branding and partners
FC Red Bull Salzburg names 3 premium partners on their website: A1 Telekom Austria (major Austrian mobile network operator), Audi, and Nike. In addition, their official partners are: tipp 3 (betting), Niki (airline), Salzburger Verkehrsverbund (public transportation), Salzburger Stiegl (beer), and Spieth & Wensky (traditional Austrian clothing). Furthermore, the club is partner with sky and ORF (both broadcasting).
An important factor in the Red Bull branding strategy is the global approach in regard to team sports. There is not only one football club that encompasses Red Bulls in their team, but several; and they all belong to the same Red Bull umbrella brand. Red Bull GmbH owns four football club in different countries: FC Red Bull Salzburg (Austria), New York Red Bulls (USA), RB Leipzig (Germany), and Red Bull Brasil (Brasil). The company follows a similar strategy as the City Football Group with Manchester City FC and its satellite clubs New York City FC and Melbourne City FC, where a presence in different markets can be advantageous in regard to internal business synergies and external branding opportunities.
Various football clubs run cultural charities or foundations, or are somehow engaged in non-profit organisations. I could not find any information in this regard for FC Red Bull Salzburg, therefore, this section remains empty.
Ferrand and McCarthy (2009:95) write that “When brought together, the features and programmes within this system create an experience for [football] fans. However, for experiential marketing to be most effective, the system must be managed to develop the experiential value given to fans.” This means that even though the system seems like an easy task to undertake, its success depends on the management skills of all involved project managers appointed and led by the club. Ferrand and McCarthy (2009:97) continue by saying that one of the project managers’ main tasks is the development of offers and control processes; and their focus should lie on season ticket holders, spectators, sympathisers and players; also, there a worldwide supporters’ service should be offered by the club.
Even though the above-described model is basically nothing more than a list of crucial pinpoints that need to be constantly addressed, it is a good way to keep an overview of said pinpoints. Especially, a brand needs to unmistakably communicate its core values at any time. For that reason, it is advisable to have them at arm length – figuratively and literally – on any marketing working paper. Furthermore, having a dynamic list with all running, past and future, programmes and offers ready can help to prevent missing obvious opportunities. And, having an updated list of all communication channels handy can make spreading the gospel of the brand more effective and efficient.
These kind of models are always an integral part of my work. They help me keep our marketing activities organised across all teams and are often the base upon which original content is created and produced. It needs to be mentioned, though, that such lists should be revisited regularly and are therefore dynamic. This means, it is advisable to nominate one person as the master/administrator of the list and/or organise it as a wiki. Nonetheless, one project manager should be responsible for its development.