The Multi-City Franchise

We are getting closer to the day when high-speed bandwidth will be an everyday reality for those in industrialized nations. Some wonder what applications can possibly exist to utilize all of that bandwidth. I can suggest that one of them will be establishing independent television channels for professional sports franchises or other organizational entities in sport (ie. PGA Tour). In essence, while each team currently may have a direct media channel to the sports fan via the Internet — that is, a web site — in a competitive landscape of fibre optic bandwidth, that channel will become televisual. This has serious potential implications for professional sport.

One of the most interesting is the possibility of the multi-city franchise. As economic globalization continues and any team can have its own television channel, the spatial boundaries of stadium are fragmented and the audience decentralized. Or, to paraphrase McLuhan, electric media implodes a fragmented audience to the stadium. That stadium does not have to be in one place, however. With the availability of a decentralized media channel, franchises can play games in a variety of markets and build fan bases in each — geography becomes less important.

An example of this principle at work may be found with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE — get the 'F' out of here…!!!). There are myriad reasons why the WWE works on so many fronts, but one of them is due to the multi-city franchise principle. Using the framework developed by Aaker and Joachimsthaler (2000), the WWE consists of various sub-brands under a master brand working synergistically: fans come to see individual wrestlers, such as The Rock, Hulk Hogan, or Chris Jericho, which gives the WWE master brand legitimacy; however, this legitimacy allows the WWE to boast the best stable of wrestlers, which suggests that any new wrestler sub-brands must be worthy of the master brand name. The key for this strategy to work is that there are so many sub-brands available for the WWE to use — none of which are anchored geographically. So at the firm level, the WWE can offer events in big cities and small towns all over North America, developing decentralized audiences for the sub-brands in each market, while imploding the rest of the audience via television to the event in question.

Modern professional team sports struggle to match the branding elegance of the WWE, as the geography inherent in the former adds a layer of complexity to the branding equation: is the value-driving brand the league, the franchise city, the team nickname, or the team's star athlete(s)? I would suggest that as our team sporting cultures become more postmodern, the branding of the franchise city is subordinated to the other three.

The case of the Montreal Expos may prove illuminating. The Expos, which drew just 812,000 fans at home last year and don't have an English-language television contract, will play 22 games of their 2003 schedule in San Juan, Puerto Rico (Associated Press, 2002). I presume that the league will make some sort of effort to have the rest of the Expos' games televised in Puerto Rico, and the "stickiness" of their visits will make for interesting research.

How does the sports fan identify in the situation of the multi-city franchise? Dewq calls it transientity, while I have chosen chameleontology. The general idea, though, is that traditional place-based fan identity is on life support.

References

Aaker, D.A., and Joachimsthaler, E. (2000). Brand leadership: the next level of the brand revolution. Free Press.

Associated Press. (Nov. 20, 2002). MLB - Island fever: Expos playing 22 in Puerto Rico. ESPN.com. Retrieved online: http://espn.go.com/mlb/news/2002/1120/1463782.html.

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