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This paper analyses the marketing strategy, marketing mix and brand development of SF Paris rugby union club, which succeeded in attracting huge crowds (around 75,000 spectators) for several regular season games and in building strong brand equity. Parallels with American professional sports are drawn and differences from other European clubs highlighted. Finally, planning, consistency and in particular innovation are identified as key factors for success in implementation of the club's marketing strategy.
On 27 February 2007, Stade Francais Paris (SF Paris) rugby union club set a new world record of attendance with 79,741 spectators for a regular domestic rugby union game. This record is particularly interesting because the regular home ground of SF Paris has a capacity of 12,000. The reason for the club's success in filling huge stadiums several times a year is the chairman's ability to market events and build strong brand equity. Indeed, it is thanks to the chairman, Max Guazzini, that the club has developed an innovative marketing strategy based on the targeting of new 'temporary' fans rather than just the traditional 'devoted' and 'fanatical' fans (Hunt et al, 1999). Essentially, SF Paris has targeted aesthetic and interactive fans who respectively look for the theatrical and emotional dimensions of the sports spectacle (Bourgeon & Bouchet, 2001). It has also identified young an fans and females--women and girls.
The brand was positioned in opposition to its main rugby union competitors located in the south-west of France and the club has developed a modern, fashionable brand image. Marketing was conducted in accordance within the overall strategy and the segments SF Paris targeted. The club focused on offering highly entertaining games with numerous peripheral elements at very cheap prices (starting from 5 euros), developing the merchandising through innovative replica shirts and extending the brand with innovative merchandise such as cosmetic products.
This strategy has important similarities with American professional sport and is considered innovative when compared to European practices. Indeed, European rugby union clubs, and professional sport clubs in general, concentrate mainly on attracting the best players in order to secure as many victories and trophies as possible. These, in turn, enhance customer loyalty, which then guarantees steady financial income (Morgan, 2002).
Moreover, Harris and Jenkins (2001) highlighted the lack of strategic marketing in English and Welsh rugby union clubs, which favours the reproduction of traditional practices.
The aim of this analysis is not to encourage replication of the SF Paris strategy because it is strongly related to the sports club's identity. Instead, it is to emphasise the essential role of marketing strategy for professional sports clubs and to encourage innovation in the increasingly competitive professional sport and entertainment sectors, which are, more than ever, being driven by globalisation.
On 27 February 2007, Stade Francais Paris beat Stade Toulousain 22 to 20 in a game that set a new world record, not for its score but for attendance at the stadium (Jackson, 2007)--79,741 spectators for a French premier league regular season match constitutes a world record for rugby union and also a French national record for any sport. The reasons why this event is so interesting are based on the context in which it was achieved. This was not the result of a regular on-field success, but a result of the role of marketing in attracting such a crowd. Incidentally, the attendance figure was not a one-off. Since the 2004-05 season, SF Paris has on several occasions succeeded in gaining significantly large crowds through marketing initiatives. Crowds in excess of around 70,000 or 40,000 (depending on the capacity of the stadium) have been achieved regularly. These are exceptional performances considering both the general interest in rugby union in France and that the club's regular home stadium has only 10,500 seats (Ligue Nationale de Rugby; LNR).
The objective of this paper is to highlight the successful marketing management of SF Paris in attracting big crowds and developing strong brand equity. Obviously, investigating a posteriori the success of a company or a brand is always a difficult exercise because analysts can never be entirely sure about the authenticity of the managerial rationale that leads to success. However, in our case, we think that the marketing strategy that we present was well considered and intentional, mainly because of the personality and the professional background of the chairman of the club, Max Guazzini. This former chairman of a successful private French radio station took over the presidency of Stade Francais in 1992 and was the catalyst for the development of the club, indeed some might even say for the overall rejuvenation of French professional rugby.
Therefore, we will present the strategic plans and marketing initiatives SF Paris implemented to build its world record attendance and strong brand equity. Finally, a comparison with other European clubs will be made to show why this case is unique and how it could be replicated.
As stated by Kotler et al (2004), strategic marketing relies on three elements: segmentation, targeting and positioning. Segmentation consists of clustering a market in several homogeneous groups, which are both significant and accessible to marketing activity (Kotler et al, 2004). In the case of SF Paris, the first question concerns which market the club is competing in (Couvelaere & Richelieu, 2005). Indeed, as with professional sports clubs in general, SF Paris competes in several markets, namely the rugby union market, the professional sports market and finally the broad leisure and entertainment market (Euchner, 1993; Mason, 1999).
As far as the rugby union market is concerned, the intensity of competition can be determined through analysis of different levels of the sport. At the national level, …