Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Overbranding

There was a time when the examination of an individual lead to a comparison of one's character and personality, with the former being that substantial aspect that was immutable and personality something that was a tad more fluid and apt to change according to circumstance, comfort or company.  I'm raising this as a means to raise the topic of personal branding which has emerged as a significant complement to character and personality and may even supersede them.  The interest in polishing up our avatars or digital effigies for the social media environment, quite frankly borrows too much from the corporate sector.

In the last decade or so corporate branding has evolved to become a more significant part of a communications strategy.  After generations of a brand's qualities being attributed to it by consumers or fans over the course of time and through the evolution of a product's or company's reputation, the efforts to control or project that brand has lost a degree of authenticity due to the efforts to control and take ownership of a brand and its traits rather than to acknowledge that a brand is a public entity separate from the organization that owns the trademark and creates and builds the product(s) associated with it.

One consequence of the more methodical approach to branding is that organizations have tended to distance their core operations and mission from the brands that they promote and earn their revenue from.  In the case of Proctor and Gamble, the brands they have compete with one another, each projecting their images to targeted audiences to win favour and expand profit margins.  The branding seems to be an even more cynical guise of corporate intentions at Unilever, where the branding for Dove products - with their positive body image approaches targeted at female consumers - stands in stark contradiction to the branding used to pitch Axe products to men.  Corporations are intent to say whatever their appeals to their targeted audiences, but at the same time keep enough distance from their brands that the general public can participate in the dialogue on brand perception or definition when choosing not to buy.


Branding for a corporation is often intended to add complexity to an object or product where none actually exists.  The intention is to take something as simple as soap or a car and entice a consumer to further define their own personality with the product and do so at a premium.

With personal branding it seems that the complexity and range of interests or traits a person can have ought to be simplified and encapsulated to a digestible entity, with perhaps the opportunity to dole out those personal subtleties over time, in a manner that narrows what we are and as with corporate branding, distances a projected image from our character.  Such an approach to presenting an online presence of one sort or another is not without its advantages, but there are too many occasions where our online presence overlooks so much of our essence our character that it never does us justice.  It is ironic that when so much narcissism is attributed to people who are active in social media that profiles - whether via Twitter, Facebook, a blog (or five) or message board - are so much aimed at pleasing others and adapting to the communities one gravitates toward.  The question that I would like to answer is if there is a correlation between the increase in personal branding and the quest to assert a degree of authenticity as well.  The complexities that one creates by with this new online-self-consciousness only emphasizes the artificiality of the process.  It is more ideal to strip down the core of an online presence as much as possible and get to the reality of character.  The more you try to mold or edit out of your virtual presence, the more likely you are to limit the core audience that would follow regardless of the range of expression,

In many ways online presence needs to get closer to that face-to-face persona, which again is based on company, comfort or circumstance.  Bear in mind that an online presence can become rigid in the name of neatness rather than the complex messiness that we are more capable of presenting "live," whether we intend to or not.  At the end of the day, we must find someway to let our character and individuality find expression no matter what the niche of the net we drift into.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Disposable Stadium Game

Turner Field (1996 to 2017)
Business news has become a more significant component of the Sports section and no small part of that gets consumed with the moves that are made because of the financial realities of sports today.  Those realities have resulted in teams leaving town in nearly every major professional sports league and leaving a trail of enmity in their wake.  Those cities that have been out in the cold have been wooed time and again as part of the charade played to force local governments to pony up for a new stadium. The romance of the older buildings that have been discarded or imploded has not been recaptured in the softer seats or the luxury boxes added to the recent facilities and it seems that newer stadia may not get their chance to stand long enough to do so either.

This week's news that the Atlanta Braves would be vacating Ted Turner Field in three years time to relocate to a suburban stadium a full 17 years after the stadium hosted the Olympic Games is a stunning highlight in the parade of stadium stories that have unfolded throughout North America over the last 25-30 years.  Just months after the City of Atlanta approved a $1 billion deal to replace the 21-year-old Georgia Dome with a new stadium with a retractable roof, the insatiable appetite for new stadia met a remarkable new threshold for disposability when the city announced it would raze the Braves' home after they moved out and redevelop the land.  As surprising as this is in light of the short lifespan of Turner Field, Atlanta managed to steer well clear of the controversy that still lingers in Miami surrounding the construction of Marlins Park.

As seems to be the case in many of these stadium developments, public money is used to support these projects regardless of the other needs that governments may need to address, including bankruptcy as may the case in Detroit if plans go ahead to provide the Red Wings with a new arena to replace the 32-year old Joe Louis Arena, which suffers from steep staircases, an unpleasant smell and a humble scoreboard that can't compete with more modern jumbo-trons.  The Red Wings plan is to replace it with a new arena modelled on the old Olympia which it left in favour of the Joe in 1979.  Detroit - having seen the Silverdome (granted in Pontiac, Michigan) dispensed with by the NFL Lions after 26 seasons in favour of Ford Field, which at age 12 must have the Lions planning to consign it to a dust bin any year now - ought to know as well as Atlanta about the new stadium treadmill.

Cities ought to know by now that the stadium game with the major professional leagues is an invitation to hop on the treadmill to bleed their coffers dry.  Apart from the cost of construction of these facilities, there are major extensive renovations, which few teams seem able to bear themselves, despite the revenues they are earning through the facilities.  Despite what would easily be labelled subsidies, franchises show little loyalty to the communities that foot the bill.  In San Francisco, that city's efforts to bid for the 2016 Olympics were dashed when the NFL 49ers set their sights on moving to Santa Clara rather than agreeing to use a new stadium that would have been part of an Olympic bid.

Despite not wanting to stay in the cities that they are named after, the Braves and 49ers remain content to carry those cities' names rather than Cobb County or Santa Clara.  This is not unusual.  Several teams in all of the professional leagues play away from their nominal homes.  The Phoenix Coyotes are based in Glendale, which could be a tome or two unto itself rather than a footnote here, the NFL's Jets and Giants share their home in New Jersey rather than New York, the NBA Pistons are in Auburn Hills and so on.

Cities have to stop falling for the game.  With contraction in each league mentioned as regularly as expansion and perhaps more realistically as the Darwinism of small-market teams grows too bleak to offer much promise to a new franchise in a virgin market, there are fewer viable places for relocation and a greater risk of building a white elephant that ends up abandoned or underutilized, such as Kansas City's Sprint Center, which was opened in 2007 with the yet unfulfilled hopes of attracting a major sports franchise.

As cities and other municipalities buy in to the ratrace of funding these stadia rather than tell their teams that previous arenas managed to serve 60-70 years rather than a few dozen, the partnerships that end in naming rights on these buildings ought to be examined.  Do these teams connect with their cities as deeply as the romantics might believe?  With very few exceptions, the only time a team's connection with its community becomes a mutual one is during a championship run.  Fans devote themselves to the team but the athletes on those teams rarely devote themselves in the same way, unless there has been a hardship as was the case for the New Orleans Saints post-Hurricane Katrina.  In the end, business is business.  Athletes rarely feel accountable to the community they play in and a civic government cannot pressure an athlete or a team to conduct itself properly because of the city name that is on the jersey. Cities have to stop being stooges providing corporate welfare to sports franchises.  Instead, these governments ought to be committing these projects to the same oversights, strategic assessment and lifespan planning that they would any other project to participate in rather than inventing ways to redistribute funds and drum up debentures that would make the project palatable to enough voters to keep in office.  They are fools to presume a new stadium would foster loyalty to the community that makes itself tangible.

What if sponsors invested in naming the team, rather than the stadium?  For decades, stadiums were named for the community they were served or were built by, rather than the highest bidder.  I would propose that sponsors name they team after themselves, as in the Nintendo Mariners or the Time-Warner Braves.  The facade of civic loyalty would be scrubbed away and replaced by a relationship that would elevate the teams' and athletes' accountability.  The sponsors of the Miami Dolphins would be press for a quick intervention in their hazing controversy because of the embarrassment it would bring to their brand.  The sponsors of the Yankees would be keen to distance themselves from Alex Rodriguez. The cities they play in (and nominally for) don't seem to have that kind of stake that a corporate sponsor would have.  It is unlikely corporations would invest as much in the team name as a city would in a stadium, but they would still have more influence.  All the more reason for municipal governments to think twice.  What is the return on the investment?

It is time for cities to put away the childish notions of major league sports making vast contributions to the economy and community life and make more rational decisions in this area.