services & publications: Sport branding:
"volleyball and beach volleyball - successful brands in a crowded market place"
by Andrew A. Napier [ aanapier.com ]
article published in FIVB VolleyWorld (June 2005)

“Volleyball has enhanced the value of all the qualities required of a man or a woman today: quick mind, prompt decision, hard training, self sacrifice, team spirit, tenacity and will, excellence in physical abilities, health, beauty, elegance, and refusal of violence and provocation in order to give a suitable place to physical and intellectual achievement.” 

Mr. Adolf Ogi, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace

The phenomenal worldwide growth of Volleyball, Beach Volleyball and the sports’ world governing body the FIVB owes much to an ongoing focus on developing and nurturing the sports’ brand and identity.  Since the FIVB moved to Lausanne in 1984, the FIVB has worked closely with the IOC in the development of its sport and also embarked on a marketing strategy involving the development of new competitions aimed at consolidating FIVB's own brand identity and world class profile.

“Each sport is a brand … and as such possesses its own identity consisting of the values inherent in each sport.  Identity corresponds to the essence and values of each sport, while image is the collective perception of the sport by customers, athletes, spectators, sponsors and the media,” to quote “Managing Sport Organizations” by the FIVB President Dr Acosta.   And the governing body drives its own identity and values through the sport at all levels: this not only increases respect for the governing body but also helps to increase the sport’s chances of enhancing its profile at all levels and succeeding in today’s competitive ‘marketplace’.

The clues are in the FIVB’s Mission Statement: “The FIVB governs, manages and communicates all forms of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball worldwide. It aims to develop Volleyball as a major world media and entertainment sport through world class planning and organisation of competitions, marketing and promotional activities.”  The keys here are “major world media and entertainment sport”, “world class” and “planning and organisation of competitions, marketing and promotional activities.”  The game has come a long way since invented as ‘mintonette’ in the USA in 1985 (and entering the Olympic Programme for 1964), as indeed has Beach Volleyball, which started on the beaches of the West Coast of America in the 1920s, was recognised by the FIVB in 1986 and entered the Olympic Programme for Atlanta ten years later and is now the world’s fastest growing summer sport.

This higher profile has led to greater recognition of the sport’s values such as athleticism, rapidity, alertness, excitement, drama, entertainment, enjoyment, tactical skill, fair-play and universality.  As Adolf Ogi, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, said:  “Volleyball has enhanced the value of all the qualities required of a man or a woman today: quick mind, prompt decision, hard training, self sacrifice, team spirit, tenacity and will, excellence in physical abilities, health, beauty, elegance, and refusal of violence and provocation in order to give a suitable place to physical and intellectual achievement.”

The values were also recognised by HE Juan Antonio Samaranch, former IOC President (1980 – 2000) when he said: “Volleyball has managed to have itself identified in the world's eyes as a sport that is youthful, athletic, universal, and democratic, a sport that has in its spectacularly telegenic nature and in its clean-cut heroes a new model that I do not hesitate to recommend to the youth of the world today. The image, behaviour, athletic capability, and above all drug-free performance are of the highest class, and are the winning tools needed to perpetuate the Olympic spirit in the twenty-first century.”

The FIVB created a new corporate identity and image in 2001, introducing a completely overhauled modern new look and image for the FIVB and Volleyball worldwide.  Stringent requirements for its application are included in all contracts with promoters and organisers of FIVB events, and indeed for the layout and placement of banners and TV locations. 

This means that all FIVB-recognised events not only have the same ‘look and feel’ but the ‘spatial branding’ is strikingly ‘FIVB/World class’, even down to the easily-recognised main sponsors such as Mikasa for all forms of the sport and Swatch and Nike for the Beach Volleyball World Tour on all continents.  Spatial branding is a relatively new concept: it refers to how the brand affects the experience of people using a space.   Usually ‘spatial branding’ involves visual identity being programmed into spaces and usually refers to buildings or retail environments, but the FIVB has been ahead of the curve: its own spatial branding is multi-sensory (as well as sight and sound, it could even be argued that ‘feeling’ may also be covered: when the whether is very hot at Beach Volleyball events, enthusiastic spectators can expect a nice spray as they are ‘hosed down’ to chants of ‘agua’!   A feature of the Brazilian events on Copacabana beach that has been picked up in other countries!

There are many theories about branding, identity and culture – some more complicated and confusing than others.  However, essentially all successful corporate brands and corporate culture are a mix of:

  • values and aspirations
  • plus performance and behaviour
  • plus reputation & how you are perceived
    • all of which must be right for the marketplace and today's expectations
    • and consistent with business strategy and objectives

The FIVB has long recognised this and has taken decisions to give maximum scope for and enhance the values of its sports and of the organisation itself: rule changes such as the move to the rally point system of scoring for both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball and the introduction of the ‘libero’ for the six-aside indoor game are cases in point.  Continuous rally scoring maintains spectator excitement and game drama.  The 'libero' defensive player has added excitement to rallies.  These and the organisation of international competitions in such a way as to increase the chances of evenly-matched games have all made the sports more dramatic and entertaining.

At the highest levels the blend of entertainment, glamour, athleticism and sporting skills required to succeed in elite beach volleyball are integral to the explosive growth of that sport.  Not only does Beach Volleyball bring new converts to Volleyball, but attendance and media interest in the sport at both Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 (95.7% of available 155,000 tickets sold for Sydney , and 75.6% of the 202,500 for Athens ) suggests that they also played a major part in the popular success of these Olympic Games.

The promotional value of elite Volleyball and Beach Volleyball bring new people into the sport, but the sports’ values of athleticism, rapidity, alertness, excitement, drama, entertainment, enjoyment, tactical skill and fair-play apply at all levels, which adds to the importance of both sports for development and educational programmes, and they are also enjoyable amateur sports that are practiced on all five continents. 

Andrew A. Napier

May 2005