One of the best things about sports is its finality. There's always one winner, and many losers. Yet aside from airlines (think: "Fly the friendly skies"), sports may be the only business in which losers market themselves as winners and get away with it.
I examined franchises in the four major professional sports to see if they were making strides in becoming more authentic by tying their taglines and website experiences to on-the-field performance.
Winners Never boast
I've been a loyal New York Jets fans since Super Bowl III. It's been all downhill since.
The team's current tagline is "Play like a Jet." And, having toured the team headquarters, I can tell you management's motto is "Think like a Jet." When one considers such ill-fated acts as quarterback Mark Sanchez's "butt-fumble" last season or this year's win one week, lose the next performance, neither playing nor thinking like a Jet sounds very enticing.
The team website is up to its shoulder pads in denial. Despite losing to the Cincinnati Bengals by 40 points, various players dismissed the shellacking, calling it instead "a learning lesson." I guess Pearl Harbor was a learning lesson as well.
Consistent success is rare in professional sports, but the NFL's New England Patriots are an exception. Surprisingly, though, the team doesn't have a motto. The website is factual, containing neither boasts nor brags. In fact, it reflects the personality of the team leadership. The Patriots let their success speak for itself.
And, then there's the NFL’s worst team, Jacksonville Jaguars. Their tagline is "Stand united." I think that's code for misery loves company.
The website reads as if the team's gone undefeated this season. There's an all-out blitz of videos from the Jags’ recent game in London, England (where they were embarrassed by the 49ers). But, there's no word to be found anywhere about what went wrong, why the team is broke or how soon it will be fixed.
A Timeless Legacy
The Yankees' tagline is "A timeless legacy." That rings true. No team has won more World Series. None has more players in the Hall of Fame. The Yankees own the word timeless in the same way MasterCard does with the word priceless.
The Yankees website surprised me, though. Rather than boast about past glory, it instead addresses the reality of a roster that features old, injured players, a lower payroll and a depleted farm system. That’s honest, transparent, and consistent with the team’s flawless reputation.
The Chicago Cubs are baseball’s Yin to the Yankees’ Yang. They’re terrible. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Yet, the team's tagline is "Committed." Committed to what? Losing? Fielding awful teams? Perhaps, they’re suggesting fans commit themselves to a sanatorium?
The Cubs’ website experience parallels that of the Yankees’. It speaks to the future. But, how could it do otherwise? That said, the site provides no explanation whatsoever for the word committed. So, here's a suggestion: Lose the word entirely.
NBA teams are full of glitz and glamour, rivaling only professional wrestling for the soap opera-like histrionics that precede any game.
That holds true for winners and losers.
The Toronto Raptors are a god-awful team (they've only won one play-off game in the last 18 years). Yet, their tagline, "Elevating the game," would suggest otherwise.
Ah, but the website does provide a light at the end of the tunnel. Newly named general manager Masai Ujiri is featured in a home page blog explaining how he hopes to make defeat as extinct as the dinosaurs themselves. He's direct, and pulls no punches about the coming season. The team may not elevate their game, but their new GM is elevating authenticity.
Icing the Brand
The Phoenix Coyotes are coyote ugly. The NHL team's past performance makes Congress seem successful in comparison. And, until a new management team recently bought the moribund franchise, it was bleeding money.
Despite those dreary facts (or, maybe because of them), the Coyotes chose a tagline that reads "Hungrier than ever." That’s not the message I’d be sending. I’d opt for a more defiant, aggressive slogan, such as "Howling mad."
I’d also euthanize the current website. It’s pedestrian to the core. In fact, the only visuals that break up an otherwise desolate landscape are ads for Geico, and a local school. I almost expected to see tumbleweed blow across the screen.
The New York Rangers may be mediocre, but their website wins my Stanley Cup for best user experience. "Welcome to Rangerstown" features a very active blog, links to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and swarms the reader just like a five-on-one break does to a goaltender.
The best sports teams provide an authentic fan experience on their sites. They don't hide from failure like the Jets do. Nor do they laud their success.
And, me-too teams (and businesses) everywhere should study Rangerstown. It provides everything a next-generation website experience should (except for the tumbleweed).