Fair-Weather Fans: Where Are Brand Partners When Things Get Rough?

July 31, 2023 Fair-Weather Fans: Where Are Brand Partners When Things Get Rough?

Since this post will be published on my birthday (no gifts, please) I’m going to allow myself to get slightly personal and discuss my own sports fandom.

In college sports, I’m a diehard fan of all the teams of my alma mater, Northwestern. In baseball, my allegiance remains with the Mets, as we were both born on Long Island around the same time, even though I departed for western Pennsylvania after just a few years.

Needless to say, it’s been a rough month, what with hazing and other serious issues rocking NU athletics and the less important but still painful spectacle of watching the highest-priced team in MLB vastly underperform and start selling off pieces at the trade deadline. (Thank goodness I have the prospect of a decent Steelers season to look forward to.)

Amid a lot of commiserating with fellow Wildcats and Mets fans, a thought occurred to me: There is an opportunity here for corporate partners. Those same brands that rightfully celebrate the big wins could earn major points with suffering fans by showing up when the going gets tough.

Everyone agrees that the key factor in successful brand-property-fan relationships is authenticity. It’s not fun being an NU or Mets fan right now, so a team sponsor acknowledging that fact would be a truly genuine move. It would be better than the usual response of stone-cold silence, not to mention much more welcome and far less cringy than rah-rah promotions that ignore reality.

That’s not to say sponsors shouldn’t continue to promote efforts such as the Citi Community Home Runs Fan of the Game Sweepstakes, which not only gives fans a chance to win prizes based on how many home runs Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and friends will continue to hit, but also donates $2,000 to No Kid Hungry for each Citi Field dinger. Feel-good promotions that also are not dependent on live attendance and/or winning games should still work well.

I’m also not saying it’s easy to jump into the woe-is-us conversation. Any brand taking the chance to do so would have to get the communication just right to avoid being seen as callously trying to capitalize on a bad situation. Especially in a case like Northwestern, which is a minefield of serious accusations, legal issues and plenty of opinions on what should be done/not done that no marketer should get near.

Most likely, a simple show of support with a “we feel your pain and we will get through this” message should suffice to reinforce the connection that brands have forged during good times and earn even greater appreciation and loyalty.