A survey of the perception of sport brands amongst select customers in the Pietermaritzburg region.
The global sportswear industry has experienced significant growth with future growth projected to reach a value of US $125 billion and a category growth of 6% (Lucintel, 2012). Two brands dominate this category, namely Nike and Adidas. As one of the leading sports brands in the business, Nike features as the highest valued sports brand according to the Brandz Top 100 Report (Milward Brown, 2014). Such brands have contributed to the consistent growth trends of this category. Other factors contributing to the positive growth experienced by sports brands are due to an increase in the participation of sports, the increasing number of women participating in sport and more consumers leaning towards a healthier lifestyle (Transparency market research, 2013). There has also been an increase in sports spectatorship with spending on tickets growing by 20% between 2006 and 2010 (Spectator Sports – UK, 2011). Evidence supporting these trends can be attributed to such statistics that crowds attending football league games in the United Kingdom reached the highest number in 2004 – 2005 after 45 years (Robinson, 2008) whilst three quarters of adults in Britain claimed to watch or listen to sport in 2004 (Mintel, 2005). Successful branding of sports brands have also been shown to have positive implications such as influencing the likelihood that a brand will be chosen, the willingness of consumers to pay a price premium (Gladden & Milne, 1999), and a positive spread by word of mouth (Arai, Ko & Ross, 2013). These effects have also been tied to athlete endorsers who have been shown to maintain the support of their fans regardless of their performance within their areas of sport, resulting in more athletes being used to endorse products (Arai et al., 2013). Another potential contributor to the growth of sportswear brands is the growing usage of sportswear for the purpose of following fashion trends (Sweeney, 2006), for the use of comfortable casual wear (Yee & Sidek, 2008) and to show support towards a particular sports team. A number of factors are believed to have contributed to how sportswear brands are perceived. The usage of sportswear brands more for fashion and comfort than just for sport and the growing importance of sport and athlete endorsers have both potentially contributed to how sports brands are seen and perceived by consumers. This study aims to explore how sportswear brands are perceived within a selected sample of respondents at a health club within the Pietermaritzburg area. The objectives are to determine what the influencing factors are that drive sportswear brand preference and to determine which attributes are associated with sportswear brands, as well as how the leading brands in the industry are perceived and whether there are emotional factors influencing sportswear brand preference. Demographic factors were also evaluated to determine whether perceptions of sportswear can be attributed to specific demographics. The study takes an exploratory and descriptive approach to uncover insights pertaining to how sports brands are perceived and aimed to describe group characteristics that may exist. A self-administered questionnaire was administered to 100 respondents. The sample of respondents was conveniently selected at a health club in the Pietermaritzburg region. Participation was strictly voluntary. The data was analysed using the statistical programme, SPSS. The literature covers the construct of perceptions and provides insight from the sportswear brands, where possible with the intention of understanding how sportswear brands are perceived. The study is of an exploratory and descriptive nature, with the objective of investigating factors relating to the perceptions of sports brands held by consumers in the Pietermaritzburg region. Therefore a self-administered questionnaire was used as the method of data collection. The data was analysed mainly by using non-parametric and descriptive statistical methods. The study evaluates several variables of perception in relation to sports brands. The results of the study showed that there were no significant gender differences impacting on how sports brands are perceived. Furthermore, the market leaders within this category tested very strongly on values of awareness, association and brand preference. In contrast to the available literature, weak levels of loyalty to sports brands were evident, indicating that respondents are likely to switch between brands regardless of their strong preference for a particular brand. Positive emotional variables were visible indicating that emotion may play a role in influencing the perceptions of sports brands. However, no relationship was found with negative emotional variables. Respondents reportedly did not place significant value on advertising or their preference for either male or female athletes who were featured in sport brand advertising. This is supported by the results indicating that sport, athlete and sports team endorsement do not impact on their preference for brand or brand choice and do not influence which brand is selected. The most popular media sources for information on sports brands were reportedly television, online and magazines. Overall, respondents reported holding their favourite sports brands in high regard, perceiving favourite sports brands to be relevant to their needs. Respondents also sought quality, innovation, comfort and style as mandatory variables that sports brands should possess and which are likely to result in their switching behaviour to brands other than their preferred brands, should the alternate brand meet their needs. Price was shown to be a driving factor in switching behaviour. This was an indication that the choice of sports brands may be needs driven and that decisions are influenced by price, even though respondents reported strong preferences towards particular brands.