Building and Marketing a Professional Water Polo League Part 4

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

For several years, players and their fans worldwide have lamented the lack of a professional water polo league in the USA. In the first part of this series, we looked at a preliminary Branding Strategy for a Professional Water Polo League in the United States. In Part 4, will look at the process of marketing and developing a BRAND IDENTITY for professional teams, and offer a few examples of how this can be done.

I will caution everyone that the “build it and they will come” mentality will not work. A Pro League is neither a pot of gold tossed by a Title IX pressured the AD nor an equal opportunity pie tossed to each zone by an NGB. Professional teams are run for professionals, and by professionals, all of whom are going to demand return on their investment. Neither the operating paradigms operated by the NCAA nor the NGB are correct nor realistic in the fight for the limited discretionary entertainment dollars available in the USA. In Part 1, we documented the fact that water polo is currently attended almost exclusively by family and friends of the players. The goal of our marketing will be to extend this fan base through a series of brand identities and marketing strategies that pull people to the sport from outside the family circle and make it attractive to sponsors.

In response to these facts, my vision for a professional water polo League takes a somewhat different approach to development. Our initial fund raising will be spent to establish the league website and individual team marketing strategies designed to appeal to both fans (spectators) and advertisers (sponsors). Without a successful professional image, none of us (California or elsewhere) can expect any return on investment in terms of ticket sales or advertising. By combining all of our initial purchasing power into one large basket, we will be able to obtain move value for our advertising dollars and ensure that each team has the strongest possible foundation upon which to build both a spectator and sponsor base.

It is expected that each team will require a different strategy and by centrally funding an advertising group, each team will be able to optimize its return within the overall image of the league.

Let’s look for a moment at the concept of establishing Brand Identity.

The European club structure provides a very effective player stream and fan base for the sport of water polo, beginning to establish a brand identity early in a player’s career (at age 6-10). In Europe, kids begin playing for a club, a club which is almost always the same club to which their parents belong, and is often the same local club which sponsors a professional team. Kids grow up wearing team apparel, team logo and colors and take pride in being part of the group.

Those clubs with the largest or most fervent members and fans tend to retain the best professional players via the desire to continue their association with the most successful brand identity in the area. Brand identity incorporates visible elements of a brand (colors, design, logotype, name, symbol) that together identify and distinguish the brand in the consumers' mind. A successful marketing identity will produce a physical and mental reaction from the viewer simply by use of color form and font. This reaction is major component of the value a consumer places on the product and will identify a brand even with an incorrect individual identifier. Are there any of these logo spoofs that you cannot identify

Coca_Cola_Logo.jpg AC_DC.jpg Fed_ex.jpg Intel.jpg

In the United States, a few water polo people understand the cachet attached to such top European clubs such as Partizan, Jug Dubrovnik, Pro Recco, and Vasas, although I doubt that a handful of us would evince a physical and mental reaction from, OR be able to identify, the brand simply by color and font.

Jug.gif vasas.jpg ProRecco.jpg

While clubs are the most successful branding identity in Europe, in the USA, branding identities are generally linked to educational institutions beginning with high school colors and logo, going on to the symbolism of the NCAA. The difference in the US is a nearly continual stream of different marketing identities which assign value without us even realizing it. Interestingly, this value will usually last throughout a consumer’s lifetime.
To illustrate the concept of marketing identity in water polo, let’s look at a product:  For this exercise, our products are 3 individual members of the USA Men’s National team. I have taken each “product” (person) and associated him with a brand identifier.


UCLA.jpg Cal_Logo.jpg SC_Logo.jpg
Adam Wright  John Mann JW Krumpholtz

Looking at these products and brand identities, what value would you put on a ticket to see the product?  $20  $50?  $100?
Now, let’s move the SAME PLAYERS into caps with a different logo



NYAC_Logo.jpg LAWP.jpg Shore.bmp
Adam Wright  John Mann JW Krumpholtz

What value would you put on a ticket to see the same product with a different cap? 

How does your reaction and the value you attach to the SAME PLAYER change in your mind between Examples 1 and 2? If specator attendence to watch THE SAME PLAYERS compete in the last year of the Premier League is any indicator, the answer is that there is a significant value difference.

THIS is the hurdle we must overcome in order to make a Professional Water Polo League a viable financial reality for each team.

So how do we do this?

Primarily,  with an experienced advertising and creative group that will look at each area’s market and determine which market identity works best. As a start up league, we will be under pressure to show sponsors a return on their investment almost immediately. The teams will not have the luxury of several years to develope a truly unique market identity so may need to borrow well know pieces of other existing entities to jump start the marketing effort.

Let me illustrate one possible example of a “borrowed” marketing concept and identity. I am using the selected team as an example that is familiar to most of us to make the illustration more applicable. I have no idea whether they are interested in a pro team and have borrowed their name at random.

C.H.A.W.P: an existing water polo club, CHAWP has an established base of loyal, passionate spectators in a city of 75,000. This is an area enough far enough geographically removed from LA that it could support a professional team as a strong candidate for local discretionary spending. It has an existing regional identity to attract residents (Chino Hills) and an existing group of people upon which to grow (the water polo club). With CHAWP, I would look for the age group club to sponsor a tailgate party before the games that is able to draw in neighbors, friends and others to a parent and family get together and generate interest in going to the game. The existing club kids can explain to their (non water polo) friends the basics of the game and introduce them to the pro players before or after the game. The tailgate party can involve something unique and fun such as an “Inner Tube Water Polo” game coached by parents and perhaps even pro players.  Chino Hills has 2 local cable channels that would be good candidates for team sponsors who could televise the home games and advertise the schedule.

CHAWP is a good example of how a simple song can be used to create a branding identity for an entire team and is borrowed from the hit Movie “Major League”

If I were going to market C.H.A.W.P as professional team, I would look to attach a team name… taking somewhat from C.H.A.W.P’s existing image within the water polo community and making it a positive identity , C.H.A.W.P “Wild Thing”. This name has different connotations (the childrens book and the 1960’s song by the Troggs) that would appeal equally to parents, kids, and grandparents, and  give the team a song that could be played when the team enters the pool area, scores, or at the end of a winning period. It will also give the team great promotional material  C.H.A.W.P Wild Thing…You Move Me. The name could also be adulterated as a cheer “CHAWP Thing”

Tailgate Parties and half time could have a theme with a contest for the “Wildest T Shirt” or the “Wildest Makeup”, “Wildest Costume”. This would make a great human interest story for the local newspaper that would promote the event… with the contest winners picture and the caption ”Wild Thing, I think I Love You”.

The Pro players stopping at the tailgate parties prior to the game and perhaps taking part in contest judging would be an added benefit to increasing visibility of the sport and league within the community.

Marketing and brand identity is not complicated…but it IS a very important component of a league populated with healthy, successful teams. It is our goal to facilitate affordable and competant marketing assistance for every team in the league to maximize repeat customers,  an affordable destination to fans, and a profitable sport franchise for owners, sponsors and players.