Prof: NFL Super Bowl a ‘Battle of the Brands’

January 31, 2014 - News Release

Sunday’s Super Bowl game is more than a test of strength, skill and stamina – it’s also a battle of brands, according to a University of Guelph marketing professor.

The National Football League’s championship game has commonly featured a coincidental clash of brands vying for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, said Timothy Dewhirst, a professor in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies.

“Sports teams often adopt names and symbols that represent tough, fierce, fearless and menacing qualities,” he said.

“Such team identifiers seem particularly applicable to the NFL, given the spirit of the game. Players are often portrayed as warriors in combat, and the game is full of martial phrases such as shotgun formations, blitzes and trenches.”

For example, nationalistic fervour was on full display in the 2005 Super Bowl game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, which corresponded with a post-9/11 patriotic surge, he said.

And the 2011 matchup of the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers exemplified a battle of industrial brands, reflecting a blue-collar ethos soon after the economic downturn.

“This year’s Super Bowl matchup between the Broncos and Seahawks is not such a coincidence, given that nearly half of the NFL’s teams use animals for branding purposes,” Dewhirst said.

The Denver Broncos debuted in 1960. “Generally, a horse represents courage, loyalty, speed, endurance, strength and power,” Dewhirst said. “In particular, a bronco invokes excitement, as well as a wild or ‘un-tame’ horse that habitually bucks. “

In Spanish, the word describes a horse and also signifies “rough.”

“The term has been culturally recycled and reworked for the purposes of cowboy lingo, much like chaps, buckaroo and lariat.

“Cowboys, rodeos and visual images of the American West are regarded as powerful symbols of rugged masculinity and heroism.”

The Seattle Seahawks debuted in the NFL in 1976. Seahawk refers to the osprey, which is a large raptor or bird of prey. “During home games, an augur hawk leads the team from the tunnel onto the field and prompts the crowd to go into frenzy.”

Seattle’s logo, based on Pacific Northwestern tribal art, was recently modified to depict a more intimidating and aggressive-looking hawk, with pointed eyes and arched eyebrow. The name Seahawk also has naval and military aircraft connotations.

Controversy about sports team branding has surfaced ahead of this year’s Super Bowl, Dewhirst said. Recently, the National Congress of American Indians released a video condemning the Washington Redskins moniker.

President Barack Obama even weighed in on the issue this season, saying he would think about changing the name if he owned Washington’s NFL franchise.

“Teams with Native American references were commonly so branded to make reference to toughness, bravery and notable warriors,” Dewhirst said.

Among the NFL’s 32 football teams, Washington ranks third in value, with an estimated worth of $1.7 billion. “That’s considerable financial clout and likely points to owner Daniel Snyder’s opposition to rebrand.”

But the team risks appearing out of touch with changing social values, and the name is now commonly regarded as offensive, Dewhirst said.

“So this year’s Super Bowl is a classic ‘battle of the brands,’ a matchup between animals recognized as strong, fierce and relentless, while simultaneously there is considerable controversy for teams with Indian or Native American references.”

Prof. Timothy Dewhirst
Marketing & Consumer Studies
519 824-4120, Ext. 53328

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