Skip navigation
5 ways to cultivate fans by thinking like a football team

5 ways to cultivate fans by thinking like a football team

With the Super Bowl upon us, I'm left wondering what brands can learn from sports about generating a more passionate fan base. After all, brand advocates are ever more important in today's connected world.

Beyond just winning on the field, five opportunities come to mind:

1. Develop a narrative for fans to join. Sports brands tend to be rich in heritage, and populated by human stories about star players, coaches and fans. Food and food retailing is also a rich field for storytelling, yet few have really created a distinct identity (More: How distinct is your brand?).

2. Create symbols that fans can rally around. Sports franchises are masters of this, using such elements as the logo, team nickname, club colors, mascots and anthems. Trader Joe's shows how this can be done in retailing, with its handwritten signs, Hawaiian shirts, Fearless Flyer and playful branding of its own products creating a quirky, distinct and memorable identity.

3. Give fans the opportunity to connect. Sports franchises work hard to connect fans with the club and with each other beyond the stadium. Retailers can use social media to encourage fans to share opinions, meal ideas, photos, videos, etc., and create engagement beyond the shopping trip.

4. Cultivate the neighborhood. No matter how big the sports franchise, they work hard to maintain a connection with the local community, who they depend on to fill the stadiums week in and week out. Similarly, each supermarket depends on the neighborhood it serves, and can become a part of the community (More: Is your store a good neighbor?).

5. Look after your super fans. Season ticket holders enjoy certain privileges, such as better seats, and access to clubhouses, which make them feel special. Supermarkets could use their loyalty programs in a similar way, to make their loyal customers feel really valued.

Perhaps though, the underlying point is to commit to nurturing fans, rather than customers: a customer is a business transaction, while a fan is an emotional connection. As the longevity of sports franchises demonstrates, a passionate fan base is in the end good business.

How do you nurture your fans?

Simon Uwins is a former CMO of fresh&easy and Tesco UK, and author of Creating Loyal Brands (2014). Find him online at

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.