Sports fans don’t naturally think about what their favorite team’s “brand” is. Athletes past and present, along with historical successes and failures usually drive the narrative, at least on a conscious level. But beneath the surface, every team has a brand relative to its market.
Take the Yankees, for example. No matter where you travel in the world, you’re bound to see more Yankees logos on merchandise than any other professional sports team. Their brand is synonymous with history, success and “greatness”. They overdo it too: Yankee Stadium feels like a mausoleum, their network oozes pomp and grandeur, and their championship banners stand as a testament to dominance. Fans of the other 29 teams generally resent this brand for these reasons, which just emboldens the existing fan base even more. It’s a terrific example of building your brand identity and knowing your market.
Me? I’m a Mets fan. Loyal and dedicated, along with all the suffering that goes with it.
And let me tell you, the Mets brand has seen better days.
Let’s be clear now: while the quality of the team you put on the field is important, and winning does sell tickets and merchandise, incompetent roster management doesn’t necessarily need to damage your brand. For example, the Chicago Cubs are a notoriously poor team (granted, some years better than others) that regularly sells out Wrigley Field regardless of how many times they fly the “W” flag. Why? Because they’ve built their brand around the Wrigley Field experience, which has the benefit of transforming every game into a party, win or lose.
And I’m sure beer sales get a boost when the heightened expectations fall. I can relate.
In terms of team management, the Mets are the perennial laughingstock of the league, if not the sports world. Want to quantify it? Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci did, and the Mets far and away provided the least amount of value to their fans per dollar spent last decade.
And what a decade it was. Start at the World Series, decline, get Robbie Alomar and Mo Vaughn and watch their careers plummet, bring in Kaz Matsui from Japan with high expectations and watch him flop, trade Scott Kazmir for a power arm attached to bad mechanics and a blown elbow (bring in a new GM with “full autonomy” to wash away the PR disaster that follows), pay Pedro Martinez $56 million for one quality season, make the definitively mediocre Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver look like the collective second coming of Walter Johnson in the 2006 NLCS, lose 12 of your last 17 games to choke and lose a playoff berth in 2007, fly your manager out to the west coast in 2008 and fire him after one game in the middle of the night, watch your bullpen implode to miss the playoffs by one game for the second year in a row.
2009? Everyone gets injured, the manager laughs it off, the VP of Development acts like a psychopath and gets fired (the GM rats out a reporter during the press conference that follows), more players get injured, players lose morale and faceplant on fly balls, drop pop-ups in nationally broadcast games, forget to touch third base when coming home, and generally play sloppy baseball. All this in a brand new stadium charging premium prices for tickets to watch a terrible product in a bad economy.
Throw in the greater history of absolute futility (save one legendary mid-to-late 80s version of the team and a 1969 squad that is still beloved today), and you’ve got a tough brand on your hands here.
Then again . . .
In 1962, the Mets were the worst team in baseball history, losing 120 games. They sold almost a million tickets that season. They lost 111 in 1963, and had an attendance of over a million, for fourth best in the National League. Thanks to the brand new Shea Stadium opening its doors in 1965, attendance increased to nearly two million. The Mets became the top draw in the National League with their 1969 championship team.