Defining brand values and communicating them through every facet of the Fremantle Football Club is helping the organisation achieve prominence in the competitive AFL marketplace.
When the FFC launched in 1995 it entered a local market saturated with devout West Coast Eagles followers high on the memory of two recent premiership wins.
Both Western Australian clubs have had to build brand without the generational benefits assumed by teams such as Collingwood and Essendon, for which club loyalty seems a birthright.
The Dockers need to be different was evident when the club was launched, with its name, theme song and colours all recognition of this point.
But building on this difference through defining its brand position, goals and objectives has been a relatively recent focus. And the results are earning the club significant off-field success.
Corporate sponsorship has increased 50 per cent, memberships are up 27 per cent to 32,329, and sales from merchandise have grown from $60,000 gross a year to a profit of $500,000.
FFC chief executive Cameron Schwab said core brand values had formed the basis of decisions at all levels of the club, particularly when combined with stronger on field performances and strong recognition in the marketplace.
“In 2002 we talked about the brand a fair bit but we couldn’t quite nail it,” he said.
FFC recruited The Right Group to provide a strategic guidance for its brand.
“Out of that came four key brand platforms,” Mr Schwab said.
“One is the notion of being the best club. That doesn’t necessarily mean winning every game but it’s a reflection on making the right decisions more often.
“The second was being distinctive. That’s why you see us putting Chris [Connolly] out there, because he’s a distinctive bloke.
“The colours are distinctive. It’s shown that, despite the criticism, the colour has become a strength, because now we own that colour.”
Mr Schwab said the third brand pillar was the notion of loyalty.
“If you go to our football dinners, a lot of people have a Fremantle heritage,” he said.
“Loyalty can be testing because we have to make the tough decisions, which is about the first brand value.
“We will have to make hard calls on people because that is the nature of our industry but it is the way we manage it that becomes the issue.”
The fourth brand platform is the Fremantle Dockers experience.
“Tuesday afternoon at 4pm we have training, and most people know it. We have thousands of kids who come down and get the players’ autographs,” Mr Schwab said.
“It’s making sure Chris [Connolly] is accessible and the players are accessible because they make up the experience.”
These brand attributes are not only differentiating the Dockers in the local market but are helping to build brand presence on the east coast.
“We have the weakest brand nationally. Part of it is due to being in WA,” Mr Schwab said.
“What is good for us is most people know about Fremantle because it’s a tourist destination.
“When we are playing a game in Sydney, Chris and I will do two or three corporate events, mainly for sponsors. More and more decisions are being made out of the east coast and increasingly out of Sydney, so I think Melbourne clubs have a similar problem.”
The Brand Agency delivered the FFC’s ‘Do you have the passion?’ membership drive campaign earlier this year.
According to The Brand Agency partner Colin McKay-Coghill, Fremantle’s emergence as one of WA’s formidable brands is a result of consistent communications.
“They are doing everything consistently. The position that they have taken, which is around passion, is really simple but it’s something that they embrace from the staff that work in the office to the players and the fans,” Mr McKay-Coghill said.
The Right Group managing director David Kent agrees that while a football club’s core goal is to win premierships, the club’s brand needs consistency.
“You need the consistency between on-field and off-field performance,” Mr Kent said.
“North Melbourne won two premierships in the 1990s but towards the end of the 1990s they were financially unstable.
“The clubs have to make sure they are on track on and off field.
“The Dockers have done a great thing in that they’ve tackled the brand no differently to a Bunnings or an Alinta. They realise it’s not just about advertising and recruiting members.
“Everyone at that club, even those who kick the goals, have been through brand workshops.”