As programme leader for UCFB’s BA (Hons) International Football Business programme, Dr Michael Anagnostou has recently published an article entitled ‘Greek sport fans’ evaluation of football leagues’ brand associations and their influence on brand loyalty: the case of the UEFA Champions League’. Here, he shares what motivated him to pursue the research project, as well as the key findings for the Champions League’s brand…

The initial reasons for conducting this research go back in time to my PhD years and my long-term concern about improving the conditions of football business in Greece, my home country. Since my early days working for the Greek Super League as a director and a CEO in later years, I often wondered how The Super League Greece 1 could emulate the English Premier League? What are the deepest reasons for being a football fan in the new digital and broadcasting era to follow and be loyal to a football league?

My work experience as a UEFA match delegate and my academic exploration led me to the conclusion that football leagues form brands which add or subtract value through their brand awareness, unique brand associations and brand architecture. I had to understand what parts form a successful brand image and for this reason I chose to investigate the most famous and successful football league in the European continent and possibly globally: the UEFA Champions League. I implemented my findings in the strategic marketing and communication plan of the Greek league with great financial and commercial success.

More recently, while working in the UK, I followed all the discussions and negotiations around the competitive balance, the revenue distribution of the Champions League and its challenges ahead as a brand. In my opinion the threat of the creation of a European Super League was always related to the efficiency of the current Champions League brand. I believe football in Europe is not just business, it also provides a special opportunity for a positive social impact. The people who work in the football industry have the responsibility to support, investigate and enhance its brand management aspects in order to keep it competitive in the global sports, leisure and entertainment market.

Brand associations research in the sports industry over the last few decades has mainly focused on sports teams. Only a small number of empirical research studies have examined brand associations of leagues or international competitions. With my colleague Professor George Tzetzis, previously Head of Sports and currently Dean in Aristotle University of Greece, we concluded that we had to develop a scale to measure the brand associations of the Champions League and to investigate their influence on brand loyalty for Greek football fans.

Six brand association factors were revealed in our research for the Champions League through an exploratory factor analysis: elite management, entertainment, elite-sportsmanship participants, escapism, elite refereeing and corporate identity. In addition, new brand associations and elements were found, such as fast football and the league anthem which was found to co-exist with logo. Elite management, entertainment, escape and corporate identity associations were found to influence brand loyalty variables.

The study revealed a useful tool to measure sport leagues' brand associations, to measure their influence on fans' loyalty and build strong, unique and favourable consumer-based brand associations. The paper contributes to the sports brand associations research by examining brand associations in the context of European leagues and elite level football competitions.

It further contributes by identifying and revealing new brand associations and new elements to co-exist with other already known sports brand associations. Finally, it examines the influence of the new brand-specific associations to the brand loyalty of the Champions League tournament.

Click here to read the full article.