The 2016 AFL Pre-Season Brand Premiership Ladder. Where did your club finish?

On the eve of a new season, as each of the AFL teams continue to dial up their marketing efforts in an attempt to grow their membership in an increasingly competitive Australian sporting marketplace, it’s time once again to review just what each club is promising.

Considering last year’s AFL Branding Premiership was easily my most popular blog post, I’ve decided to make to make this an annual affair. While the people have  clearly spoken, I also don’t need much of an excuse to combine two of my favourite things in footy & brand strategy.

While it’s difficult to assess a brand’s marketing slogan (their promise) objectively without an intimate knowledge of their long term brand strategy and vision, I’m still convinced most AFL clubs only see their brands as year to year propositions anyway. My advice to quite a number of the AFL clubs would be to invest less in looking for a catchy slogan year upon year without first focusing on defining with more clarity what they actually stand for as a brand outside winning and losing or the team that’s named to play every week.

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again. You have to stand for something more than a catchy slogan each year because the brand is all that’s left to believe in when you’re sitting near the bottom of the ladder struggling to win a game

Premiers: Western Bulldogs: Be More Bulldog
The Bulldogs were the surprise packet of the competition on the field last year. While apparently in a rebuilding phase they put together a brand of football that was fast and furious that troubled all of the top sides. Since undergoing a rebrand a few years back they have stepped up their game from a marketing point of view as well, as they continue to build brand awareness and their identity around their positioning as the club of Melbourne’s west. In a similar fashion to Essendon’s #donthesash last year ‘Be More Bulldog’ is a promise & a call to action at once, and is linked to an important brand touchpoint, the club’s mascot. I like how It paints a picture, but it’s not overly prescriptive. It lets you define what ‘more bulldog’ means to you. It’s got great scope as well, in that it can be brought to life in many different ways and circumstances.

Runner Up: Essendon: Standing Firm?
Essendon doesn’t really have a slogan this year, but rather a series of questions on their membership website that acknowledge how hard the last few years have been for fans. Scrolling through their membership website they even acknowledge if some members might want to ‘throw in the towel’ and not support the club financially this year. This approach is the perfect strategy for the situation. It acknowledges a key point of pain right up front and then appeals to members and supporters with honest and open way language. The Essendon marketing department has really done an amazing job over the past few years; it’s a pity for Bombers fans that the rest of the club has been run so poorly!

3rd – North Melbourne: Shinboner Spirit. One and All.
North completely lost their way with their marketing last year. There has been an obvious shift back towards embracing the idea of ‘Shinboner Spirit’ in the last 12 months, and it’s now front and centre in all of their brand messaging. It’s a concept unique to the club, something they can build a story around that has history and authenticity, so there is lots of potential there. Similar to Collingwood’s strategy for some time, North also reference an emotional hook from their theme song—‘One and All’—which speaks to their inclusive club values and team spirit.  North have charged up the marketing premiership ladder this year embracing something unique to their history.

4th – Adelaide: We fly as one.
From the tragic death of their senior coach last year in shocking circumstances mid-season last year, the Adelaide Crows really galvanised themselves together as a club. Their promise this year is a continuation of this. It’s something for all their members and supporters to get behind, believe in, and want to belong to.

5th – St Kilda: Keep Belonging. Start Believing.
St Kilda is in a rebuilding phase and their promise is the perfect strategy in this situation. Right now they are selling hope and optimism. With a young list coming through, including the number one draft pick this year, they are acknowledging on-field it might be tough however they are promising there is light at the end of the tunnel.

6th – Geelong: Greatness. Our Tradition. Our Ambition.
Considering that their ‘Greatness’ only started in 2007, you could argue that it’s not much of a tradition, however, that aside, Geelong will continue to leverage their recent golden era for as long as they can, and why wouldn’t they. In 2015 they missed the finals for the first time in almost 10 years, however, this year with Patrick Dangerfield, the highest profile free agent defecting from Adelaide to come back home, they are promising to return to that greatness.

7th – Collingwood: Together we are Collingwood.
Speaks to the heart of what it is to be a Collingwood supporter. Supporting such a huge club that is almost universally loathed by everyone else no doubt brings with it an ‘us against them’ mentality, which is what the Collingwood marketing department realised some time ago should be at the core of their messaging. Not quite as strong as ‘Side By Side’ but another version of this.

8th – Melbourne: My heart beats true.
Melbourne has continued with the same slogan as last year, taking an emotional line from their theme song as a call to action. It’s not much of a promise, however with a refresh of their visual identity this year (again…), it feels like a bit of continuity here isn’t a bad thing, as the club continues to rebuild itself on the field.

9th – GWS: Expect big things.
Being Giants, this is a bit of a cute play on words. It’s certainly a promise, but it doesn’t seem like it has much conviction. Without much history, the AFL expansion clubs like GWS have really struggled build strong identities, unlike their A-League neighbours the Western Sydney Wanders have.

10th – Richmond: Strong & Bold.
Similarly to Melbourne’s strategy, Richmond has continued with the same slogan as last year. Considering how disappointing they have been the last couple of years, with their apparent potential, I would have been recommending a refreshed promise this year.

11th – Hawthorn: Hawthorn. Always.
Hawthorn is so good on the field that they clearly don’t have to care much about their marketing. They took their previous slogan and swapped the words around a bit and will still most likely have the most members this year…

12th – Fremantle: Forever Freo
Free have run with this the last few years as well. Not much of a promise, unless they’re promising to have the same slogan forever?

13th – Brisbane: Your Club. Represent.
Not much promise to get behind for here. Almost condescending?

14th – Carlton: Bound by Blue.
So what? No promise, no creativity, hardly something to get behind.

15th – Sydney: Welcome to the Spectacular
So very Sydney. They seem to struggle every single year with their messaging. Maybe I just don’t get it because I’m a Victorian, so if any Sydney people can explain to me what this actually means I’m all ears!

16th – West Coast: The West is United.
Last year West Coast took aim at Fremantle by announcing that ‘The West Is Ours’. This year they seem to have strangely forgotten that Fremantle even exist?

17th – Port Adelaide – We are Port Adelaide
Port was riding the wave of a huge brand resurgence for the last couple of years on the back of this promise. After such a dismal year on the field last year it should have been time for a new promise and fresh approach. Unfortunately for Port, as their fans seem so fickle, if they rest on their laurels they could end up right back where they were a few years ago; unloved and our of fashion.

18th – Gold Coast – We are Gold Coast. We are your Suns.
Not really a promise, but possibly more of a plea to Queenslanders to actually notice them.

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