The Starting Five: Using the Senses in Sports Branding

Allow me to let you in on a (not so secret) secret…I LOVE watching sports. But did you know that I can also taste, hear, feel, and smell sports, and that you can too? This is not thanks to some sort of superpower, but rather because a correctly branded sports organization takes advantage of all five of the human senses to construct the ultimate fan experience.


Believe it or not, one of the most effective methods to enhance a fan’s experience is by targeting their sense of smell, as this is one of the most complex senses that the body possesses. In fact, according to Martin Lindstrom on DesignMantic, “75% of the emotions we generate on a daily basis are affected by smell.” Also, the Sense of Smell Institute found that “a human being can remember up to 10,000 different odors that can elicit different memories; sometimes transporting us all the way back to our childhood.” Therefore, specific smells within a sports facility may be attractive to fans, such as the aroma of popcorn in a basketball arena or freshly cut grass at a ballpark. Pleasant smells such as these remind people of that particular place, causing people to want to attend these events when they come across that smell in the future.


Properly utilizing sound is yet another way for sports brands to improve their overall perception within a fan’s mind. Teams may decide to play popular songs before an athletic event, or add exciting music to their television advertisements to hype up viewers, causing them to want to experience a game for themselves. Some sports brands even use unique sounds within the game itself to interest fans, such as the ringing bell sound that commonly plays during third down at football games. According to research by Suvi Saarikallio, “music is found to increase physiological arousal, affect our moods, self-regulate our emotions, and even to affect us physically by alleviating or escalating our heart rates.” For example, if you have ever attended a high school or college basketball game, there is a good chance that you may have witnessed or been a part of the intimidating “I Believe That We Will Win” chant. This demonstration by fans of the Utah State University basketball team is one of the most energy-driven of them all, and makes it clear that the gameday atmosphere is nothing short of electric:


Visual marketing is an extremely powerful component of fan experience in its own right, and is arguably the most important factor in how a consumer percieves a particular sports brand. The Sensory Design Research Lab at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design found estimated that “83% of the information people retain is received visually”, therefore proving that teams should place great emphasis on making all aspects of their product visually appealing. This process starts with developing a logo and color scheme that gives the team its own identity, therefore sticking in the consumers’ heads. For example, the color most closely associated with “Sky Blue” is referred to by many as “Carolina Blue” as a result of excellent visual branding by the University of North Carolina Tarheels. From here, the team increases their awareness by placing their school colors and logo on their uniforms, facilities, and memorabilia.


One of the simplest yet most effective ways to target consumers’ sense of taste is through the concessions offered at games. The satisfaction that an individual receives from consuming food and drink during the game plays an important role in a fan’s overall experience. Casual, low-commitment fans are especially variable in this category, as they are much more likely to base their gameday experience on the products such as concession options rather than the game itself. One way that the Arizona Diamondbacks helped compensate for their 69-93 record in the 2016 MLB season was through the introduction of their very own “Churro Dog”, a cinnamon churro served in a doughnut with frozen yogurt, caramel and chocolate syrup. Because the team was struggling to get fans in the seats, they offered this new and unique ballpark food in hopes of drawing more fans to their games to give the one and only Churro Dog a try for themselves.

Churro Dog

The Churro Dog, offered during the Arizona Diamondbacks 2016 season (source: Phoenix New Times)


The sensation of touch can be included in sports branding as well. One of the most important ways that sports teams use touch to generate a strong fan experience is through the comfort of their facility. Generally, people will be more inclined to attend sporting events if they will be observing the game in comfort, such as sitting in chairs with raised backs instead of basic metal bleacher seats. In addition, touch can be used through meet-and-greet sessions between fans and players. Allowing fans to physically shake a hand or take a picture with one of their favorite players gives them the feeling of intimacy, helping fans identify with them on a more personal level.

I believe that West Virginia Wesleyan athletics can take these ideas and make use of the five senses to produce a more positive fan experience. Bobcats basketball, for instance, could develop a new and intriguing concession product to sell at their games, just as the Arizona Diamondbacks did last season. This would be an unordinary way to capture fans’ taste, especially for a school at the Division II level. If the food catches on and the word spreads, it could potentially result in national attention, therefore helping awareness of WVWC athletics skyrocket. My suggestion for how Wesleyan basketball could take advantage of the visual aspect is by developing new neon orange uniforms that draw in the attention of fans. Also, developing a fight song can serve as a way to build recognition of the program, so people will think of WVWC athletics whenever they hear the tune being played. Smell can be controlled by ensuring that the facility is clean for game time, and that the appealing aroma of concessions is the only smell that stands out to fans. Finally, the basketball program can enhance the gameday experience through the addition of more comfortable chair-style seats as opposed to bleacher seats. The details may seem insignificant, but when combined properly, focusing on the consumers’ senses can aid in building a strong and well-rounded sports brand.


-Collin Wallace


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