Making his Sports Marketing Scotland debut is Duncan McKay, a lifelong Scottish football fan. Duncan works in communications and is talking about SPFL branding and opportunities. You can hear Duncan regularly on Terrace Podcast or read his blog where he visited every SPFL ground in one season, 42 Grounds.
We in Scotland are fairly inventive. Most Scottish traditions are in fact constructs. Kilts, Burns Night and the Loch Ness Monster are but three examples of invented traditions that Scots have marketed and sold to the world.
Yet, when it comes to football, Scottish football seems to be stuck in a rut. Instead of seeking fresh ideas, we look to see what is being done down the road and then cheaply replicate it.
Here’s a few suggestions as to how we can improve the ‘brand’:
Drop the league names
Premiership, Championship, League 1, League 2. The exact replication of how England brands its top four divisions. Not helpful for the Scottish game to differentiate itself, but also a total nightmare for the all-important search engine optimisation. Why doesn’t the SPFL board draw up a shortlist of solutions and let the fans vote for what they want their divisions to be called? It would demonstrate a level of engagement to potential sponsors that other brands would kill for.
Let’s make a big deal about the opening weekend of the season. Brand it like MLB does. The first day of each season is a sign of rebirth. Everyone is equal on opening day. For those moments before the whistle blows, your team is perfect (unless they’ve been dumped out of Europa League). It is a day that requires pageantry and build-up.
One of the key, maybe only, assets Scottish football has going for it is its heritage. But this doesn’t mean we can’t create our new traditions. A modest proposal would see every single Premiership season kicked off by the newly promoted Championship winners playing at home on the Friday night and the opening weekend of the season closed by the Premiership winners playing at home. Make the flag unveiling a formal tradition. By creating totem events, we create a unique, marketable event, which should in turn, make them more desirable to fans.
Every club has their heroes, their era when they were top dogs. Why not formalise that? Why doesn’t the SPFL designate one weekend as ‘Legends Weekend’ where club heroes are honoured and celebrated? The opportunities for a legends weekend are endless. From celebration dinners to fan meets and greets to crucially, the opportunity to celebrate Scottish football’s heritage. The opportunity for clubs would be huge. Limited edition ‘throwback’ kits could be worn in the fixture. Who wouldn’t like to see Aberdeen take on Motherwell in their 1904 kits? Baseball does this to great effect and it could be worth investigation in Scotland. The more radical clubs might want to offer admission based on 1904/1937/1983 prices.
This might seem basic, but where’s the branding of the SPFL? It doesn’t extend much beyond traditional methods. Compare (once again) to the MLB. Everything has a brand, a theme. Last season in the post-season it was ‘Club X wants it more’ then in spring training, it was ‘Train to Reign’. It’s small, it’s subtle, but it promotes the competition.
It’s mystifying that the post-split in the Premiership hasn’t been branded. For example, why not use well-worn Scottish language by calling the top six ‘The High Road’ and the bottom six ‘The Low Road’? Instead we have the stasis of the fixtures being somewhat confusing, ones that require prior knowledge of the league set-up. A branding exercise to differentiate the two would be most welcome and could ultimately lead to different sponsorship opportunities (7th place could be ‘King of The Low Road’ for example), bringing more money into the game.
There are things in Scottish football that we can have little control over: what actually happens on the park and whatever the behemoth south of the border decides to do, but there’s plenty we can do it to mitigate it. With a bit of imagination we could invent new traditions and make Scottish football more enjoyable for everyone.