Rugby League

Innovate or die say sports marketers as Bulldogs’ jumper sparks debate

Sports marketing experts have applauded the Western Bulldogs' controversial decision to wear a Thor-inspired jumper in the first AFL game at the re-branded Marvel Stadium.

Club captain Easton Wood displayed the jumper for the first time at the Bulldogs' season launch on Tuesday night and the reaction on social media to the decision was swift and mostly negative.

However Iconoclastic's Ben Parsons, the founder of Ministry of Sport and a leading sports marketer, said such innovation was necessary otherwise sporting codes would lose relevance.

He also had a message for sports fans trying to make sense of the decision.

"You ain't seen nothing yet," Parsons said.

"I think they should be applauded for trying to do something different rather than rolling out the same mundane stuff.

"They are trying to engage with a difference audience group. That's alright."

Thor is a Marvel-created character played by Australian actor and Western Bulldogs' supporter Chris Hemsworth and the jumper is understood to be one part of a wider marketing strategy between the Bulldogs and Marvel, which also has a naming rights deal with the AFL.

Thor-ny issue: The jumper is modelled by Easton Wood.

While the financial component of the deal remains unclear the relationship is seen as a potential opportunity for the Bulldogs' brand to grow as they connect with Marvel Entertainment, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Company.

Parsons said it was a bigger risk for clubs to do nothing although they still had to be aware of supporter reaction.

"You've got to worry about the negativity but you have to see where they are coming from," Parsons said.

RMIT Marketing expert Dr Con Stavros agreed with the Bulldogs' decision saying it made sense from a marketing perspective.

"If a club can stand up and say this is our home stadium, it's about entertainment, it's about tying us in to that kind of world, it's part of something we are trying to build that's positive," Stavros said.

"If you just stand up and say someone chucked us enough money so we decided to do it than that is not a great story.

"The Western Bulldogs fans are attuned to this idea that we have got to be innovate, we have to try different things to succeed."

More components designed to attract fans to opening round match between the Western Bulldogs and the Sydney Swans at Marvel Stadium expected to be communicated in the coming days.

Clubs are allowed to submit home, clash, indigenous and an alternate jumper for events to the AFL with the AFL having to approve jumpers. The Thor-inspired jumper received approval from the AFL football operations and licensing department.

The Bulldogs' decision comes on the back of the AFL-marketed AFLX pre-season tournament held on February 22 that saw four teams wear superhero inspired jumpers with the marketing directed at children. The AFL said they were pleased with the outcome despite the fact it was spurned by many supporters and ticket sales ahead of the tournament were low.

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