The name of the top tier of Scottish football and the organisation that serves the 42 clubs that make up the top four tiers of men’s football in the country is a regular topic of conversation. Back in 2013 the decision was made to merge the Scottish Premier League (SPL) and the Scottish Football League (SFL) to form the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). Looking back on this now, it was a time when social media and marketing were just starting to properly kick off. A time when building a brand could’ve proved important for the way football across the country is viewed at home and beyond.
Evan McFarlane recently Tweeted the below and across this piece he’ll outline evidence that further indicates the rebrand hasn’t quite worked out. The decision to kick a well known brand to the curb looks like a poor one.
Doing a wee bit of research atm, this is…alarming.— Evan (@EvanMcFarlane) July 21, 2019
The rebrand has failed pretty spectacularly, do something about it. pic.twitter.com/nTWi1yxKa4
The need for Scottish Football to market itself better is not a new phenomenon. We know we have problems selling our game, we know we’re guilty of even talking it down ourselves. We’ve found ourselves in a situation though where the very name of our top division is unknown to most. It doesn’t matter how exciting events on the park may be or how dramatic they are off it, it is vital people are actually aware of what the product is called. Right now, they definitely don’t.
To give us a rough insight into how well known the SPFL name is, we can use Google. Anyone that wishes to find out anything about the game here is likely to head to the world’s most popular search engine first. Google Trends is a really simple tool that allows us to break down how Scottish Football is being searched for by online users – and crucially, where those users are coming from. The results make for worrying reading.
So, Graph A shows us a comparison of worldwide searches for SPL table (the blue line) and SPFL table (the red line) from July of last year right through until now. When I first posted some of this data on Twitter, a couple of the responses pointed out that “SPFL table” makes little sense for the search term as SPFL is all four divisions. A fair point, but it’s what we’re going with and I’ll explain why further down.
As Graph A shows us, things aren’t even close. Searches for the SPL table blow searches for the SPFL out of the water. Especially during the most popular period for online activity about Scottish Football (December 23rd to December 29th – which featured an Old Firm game being aired unopposed on Sky Sports) when viewers from England, America, and even Scotland tuned into that game and wanted more information on the title race, they hunted for the table of a league which hasn’t existed for 7 years.
Back to my earlier point about the wording of the search. Graph B is a comparison of SPL table (the blue line) and Scottish Premiership table (the red line) – which is the term a few people suggested using, given that it is actually correct. Well, there’s the results. It’s even worse, despite a strange period at the end of February which I can’t quite explain, it’s not even close. That peak period of late December is particularly eye-opening as well. Nobody is searching for the SPFL, and if they are, they’re more than likely from Scotland. It’s a complete whitewash for the world’s favourite non-existent football league.
I chose “SPFL table” on purpose, and the comparisons with “Scottish Premiership table” would back up my assertion that nobody outside of Scotland actually has any idea what the league is called. I love Scottish lower league football more than most, but the interest for it internationally isn’t particularly high. Therefore, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume anyone typing “SPFL table” into Google A) isn’t simply making a typo missing out the “s” to make things plural and B) are actually looking for info about the Premiership, not Annan and Montrose.
Graph C shows us things in non-abbreviated form. Blue is results for Scottish Premier League table, red is Scottish premiership table. Despite a mid-season dip, It’s another comfortable victory for the SPL boys. Even those taking the time to write out the league’s name in full (I don’t know why either) aren’t getting it correct.
We see it all the time whenever our game is covered in England, America or even here. Those that have actually heard the SPFL name more often that not mistake it for the name of the top division. The Scottish Premiership is a relative unknown. It is perhaps reasonable to expect those involved with the game in Scotland to know the names of the leagues they’re working in/covering, but elsewhere? We love to jump on media outlets, clubs and pundits for still calling it the SPL or the Premiership the SPFL, but how could they ever really be expected to know?
The rebrand has been a disaster. It is one thing to ditch the SPL name, which rolled off the tongue and was pretty well known for something much clunkier, but to completely fail to market it and reinforce it is astonishing. The marketing budget at Hampden is small (and that’s being generous) but being 7 years into a “rebrand” and the vast, vast majority of people (including many in your own country) still being confused as of to what the league is called is really rather bad.
We ditched SPL because the brand had apparently become toxic, especially around the demise of Rangers. The idea was that those three little letters would only ever be associated with blunders and chaos. If we were to ever develop Scottish Football for an international audience, it simply couldn’t be under that banner.
There’s a couple of issues with that point. We haven’t actually done anything to get rid of the negative connotations attached to Scottish Football. Nothing about our approach to how we sell the game here has really changed outside of the switch to SPFL, and that’s a problem. We have a more complicated name than before and nothing to really show for it.
It’s Scottish Football, we’re never going to be seen as an upstanding, ultra-professional setup. It is very difficult to imagine us shaking off some of the tags and labels we already have, so embrace it. The chaos and unpredictability of the SPFL is what sets it apart from the soulless, homogenised English setup. I say we go all in on that. People will always have their own opinions on Scottish Football no matter how we market the game. Some might detest it and mock it, some might grow to love it. Call it the SPL though, and they’ll at least know the name.
Guest posts are always welcome on Sports Marketing Scotland if you’ve got an opinion to share on the business or marketing of Scottish sport. The email address to get in touch with is firstname.lastname@example.org, or just Tweet @sportsmarketsco.