Do Mets Need a Brand-Boost at Citi Field?

How many disgruntled fans swear off their team after a devastating loss, only to return as vociferous advocates the very next day? How many brands in other industries could withstand repeated bad customer experiences with a product and have those same customers remain steadfastly loyal?

Sports franchises represent the ultimate in brand engagement. Most fans may not think of it in these terms, but they believe they own the team brand; they worship the team brand. They will object strenuously when management doesn’t take great care in planning for the brand’s future, attending to its present and, most importantly, honoring its past.

Case in point: The recent debate about the New York Mets new ballpark, Citi Field, and the underwhelming presence of the Mets brand itself.

There is plenty of branding at the beautiful stadium; it’s just that most of it isn’t Mets branding. Banners of past Met greats adorn the outside of the stadium on the left and right field sides. Inside, however, the team’s branding – i.e., placement of Mets’ signage and logos, spaces dedicated to Mets nostalgia– is not readily apparent.

There is also the $400-million naming of Citi Field itself. Yes, this is an old subject now, and the Mets aren’t the first team to sell naming rights to their home field. Others include the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park, the Astros’ Minute Maid Park and the Giants’ AT&T Park. But should the Mets do more to boost their brand presence at Citi Field?

A baseball brand is a shared emotional history that transcends commerce in the mind of the consumer (although its chief purpose is to drive commerce); fans expect the home park to be a shrine that reinforces that bond. Although Citi Field’s construction, design and features pays homage to New York’s former National League brands – the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants – the new stadium fails, at least in the mind of some fans, to pay proper tribute to the Mets own nearly half-century legacy.

In response to a fan outcry about management’s attempt to erase a Dwight Gooden-autographed brick inside the Ebbets Club, owner Fred Wilpon has promised to build a Mets Hall of Fame in the stadium. Such a tribute was never an afterthought for the cross-town rival Yankees.

The old Yankees Monument Park was transferred to the new stadium, itself a cathedral reinforcing the brand. The Yankees name is an imposing presence on the stadium’s front. The building also features the famous façade circling the stadium top, the “Great Hall” showcasing players past, and countless other reminders of Yankee heritage.

The Yankees are arguably the best known sports brand in the world. Having the most world championships, 26, will do that for a team. But the team owners are also careful to reinforce the brand – that shared emotional history – at important consumer touch-points, including most notably the stadium itself.

According to a recent poll, in New York City, the Yankees were ranked more popular than the Mets. Could the Mets benefit from a brand-boost at Citi Field? Or was Vince Lombardi correct? “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

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