Nowadays destinations organize, promote and run sports events for a variety of reasons. The role of sports events has been evolving over time. If events are still planned to bring people together and to generate economic benefits, they are increasingly used as marketing strategies to help promote, position, and brand destinations.
Managers and politicians of cities, regions and countries should espouse a integrated approach when developing their place branding strategy through sport. It appears relevant to combine sport and tourism in this research. The main objective is to reflect on the effectiveness of place branding strategies through sport. How can sports or sports/sports related events help city branding? In other words, how could a city, a region or a country succeed in its attempt to use sport to (re-)define, position and promote itself? Sporting events, especially major ones, offer business leaders and politicians a catalyst for economic and urban (re-)development, helping them shape the legacies they envision for themselves (Nauright, 2013).
Analyzing the difference between minor or major sport events is also important. Major sporting events, also called sport mega-events, are defined as “exceptional sporting events with an international scale that are hosted in a particular city” (Caiazza and Audretsch, 2015). The Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup of football and Formula 1 races would be prime examples of mega sporting events. According to some authors, sport mega-events offer outstanding branding opportunities for nations (Berkowitz et al., 2007; Campbell, 2015). Minor sporting events, A football championship tournament organized by a city district for kids, as well as a local cycling tour or a regional swimming competition, would fall into that category. In terms of benefits, small-scale or second-tier sporting events can lead to intangible outcomes which might generate a deeper identification and sense of belonging to the community, because of the extent of local involvement.
Sport tourism is when people travel to a specific place or city to the sport event. Because tourist destinations are often seasonal, sport can help a destination extend its tourist period by offering regularly scheduled league games during the off-season. This is the case of cities hosting professional sport teams, which often try to capitalize on the attractiveness of the respective clubs in order to seduce visitors: this applies to matches but also to stadiums which can become iconic museums, such as the Camp Nou in Barcelona, the city’s second most visited stadium after the Picasso Museum, with an average of 1.2m visitors each year (Corneanu, 2017).
From all over the world we can see the growing place that sports events are taking in city branding or as some authors call it destination marketing. Developing a brand and a image for a destination can take many years and this different types of events can really help to build it up.
Place branding through sport
Place branding through sport, branding is everywhere and everything is a brand. The role of sports events has been evolving over time. Participants, followers, spectators, business people all converge and contribute to make sports events some of the most sought after opportunities to showcase a destination, events have been used as tools that are beyond mere tourism products to generate additional visits to a destination. Sport events bring with them investments, sponsors, participants and visitors that are expected to leave behind significant direct impacts. Amongst other benefits, it help creating awareness, present a quality image to visitors and attract tourism business to generate future inbound travel. More specifically, events can be used to help a destination, in a similar way that events contribute to corporate brand development through sponsorship activities. Sports have often been an integral part of a nation’s identity. The Olympics are one of the defining attributes of Ancient Greece and the Coliseum in Rome still stands as a symbol of the sports and entertainment culture of the Roman civilization. The most prominent example of this sport event approach would be Qatar which aims at capitalizing on sport by organizing major sporting events (FIFA World Cup 2022).
The history of branding countries through sports is marked by spectacular results, promising fits and starts, and self-serving manipulation. There is arguably no better example of the potential power of the relationship between sports and place than New Zealand. In the early 20th century, New Zealand branded the All Blacks, its national rugby team. In wearing their ominous black uniforms and silver fern logo and conducting their fearsome Haka opening game ritual based on the Maori culture, they began to invent a brand for this faraway English colony. The All Blacks put a face on its country and still remain an integral part of its identity
It appears relevant to combine sport and tourism in this research. The main objective is to reflect on the effectiveness of place branding strategies through sport. In other words, how could a city, a region or a country succeed in its attempt to use sport to (re)define, position and promote itself?
Destinations organize, promote, and run sports events for a variety of reasons. A destination brand is a name, symbol, logo, word mark or other graphic that both identifies and differentiates the destination. Events can first be considered as products that add to the attractiveness of a destination, place branding through sport a place, nation or destination branding is a process of image communication and brand image changes of a city, region or country, to a target market (Braun et al., 2014). Such events can be used as an incentive to attract new markets and first time customers to the destination. Visitors interested in a sport event may visit a destination for the first time because of this event. In addition, events may encourage regular customers to extend their stay in a destination in order to attend an event or a show they had not originally planned to see. Sports events can really contribute to the overall marketing of the destination by helping to create or maintain an image for a destination.
Beyond the disputable economic benefits, events are also supposed to contribute to the destination.
- Increase public awareness of the destination
- Increase target market awareness of the destination
- Enhance destination image
- Build positive images and / or overcome negative images
- Build brand associations
- Alter public perceptions
- Increase community involvement
- Stimulate brand preference
- Increase visitation
Sports can provide places with both tangible and intangible benefits. Sports receive widespread free media coverage, which generates valuable visibility that can attract tourists, residents, and investors.
Examples of sports events being used to “communicate” and to establish images are a lot. For example, the 1988 summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, were used to display Korean savoir-faire, and to establish the country as a tourism destination and as place to conduct business. For the first time, the world realized that Koreans were beyond the level of a developing country. They organized successful games and demonstrated that South Korea was a modern, industrious state, able to deliver quality services and products. Similar efforts have been attempted over the decades, with some countries experiencing sustained success and others only temporary recognition. For example, the Scandinavian countries have branded skiing, the Dutch speed skating, and the Japanese sumo wrestling.
Sometimes sports have been used as an instrument to reshape perception, and not always in the most ethical manner. In a backhanded compliment to the power of sports branding, Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the Soviet Union during the Cold War sought to impress the world with their sports dominance. The 1936 Berlin Olympics, captured by Leni Riefenstahl (1938) in her documentary Olympia, was an attempt by the Nazis to imprint German athletic superiority on the globe.
Sport tourism occurs when people travel to watch sport (event or game), visit a sport attraction (stadium or sport complex) or participate in a sport competition (Delpy, 1998). Because tourist destinations are often seasonal, sport can help a destination extend its tourist period by offering regularly scheduled league games during the off-season. This is the case of cities hosting professional sport teams, which often try to capitalize on the attractiveness of the respective clubs in order to seduce visitors: this applies to matches but also to stadiums which can become iconic museums, such as the Camp Nou in Barcelona, the city’s second most visited stadium after the Picasso Museum, with an average of 1.2m visitors each year (Corneanu, 2017).
Sport, in general, and the sporting event, in particular, should be organized around three priorities. The first one is the economic development of the community, with sport and the sporting event being a true leverage. The second is social cohesion by creating a sense of community around sport and horizontal social capital. The third priority and most important is national and international promotion of the destination that should lead to an effective place branding strategy through sport. Sports have the ability to transmit emotional energy and qualities of competition and dedication that no other event or action.
Mayor sports events
Mayor events or also called mega-events can yield extraordinarily high levels of tourism, media coverage, prestige, or economic impact for the host community or destination. Hosting Olympic Games, for example, is often the opportunity for a city or country to build a large scale stadium, a modern public transportation system such as a subway or a new airport, or buildings that will later serve as public housing. Indeed, large sports events not only attract visitors for a few days or weeks; they greatly contribute to the overall marketing of the destination by helping to create an image for the city, country, or even continent. Hosting a successful mega-event represents a window for a society and its businesses. Olympics can showcase a wide range of a country’s expertise across several sectors and demonstrate that a city can produce leading edge products. Sporting events also have the potential to build strong brand associations between people and places (Higham and Hinch, 2009).
Minor sports events
Minor sporting events. Small-scale, non-mega sport(ing) events or second-tier sporting events are: “smaller in size, scale, scope and reach than their mega counterparts, [and] have received less scrutiny, both on the economic and social levels” (Djaballah et al., 2015, p. 49). A football championship tournament organized by a city district for kids, as well as a local cycling tour or a regional swimming competition, would fall into that category. In terms of benefits, small-scale or second-tier sporting events can lead to intangible outcomes which might generate a deeper identification and sense of belonging to the community, because of the extent of local involvement.