Marketing by Peter Diekmeyer

Expos can help Boost Montreal's Brand Image

The Quebec government's recent announcement of its intention to contribute $7-8 million annually towards the construction of a new stadium for the Expos has shifted the spotlight to the city of Montreal, which has been reluctant to help local sports franchises. Yet according to a study prepared for the ball club the city would be the beneficiary of $21.78 million worth of media exposure annually due to its association with the team.

Conducted by the Ann Arbor, Michigan firm of Joyce Julius and Associates, the study tracked the number of impressions of the word Montreal generated in North America on national and regional television, radio, and print media due to its association with the Expos.

They then made projections as to what they would be if the team gets their ballpark and attempted to quantify the value of this exposure by assigning what they call a national television impression value to the coverage.

This process is not new. At its heart is the assumption that getting mentioned in the media has a publicity value for a company or product, although unlike advertising it is not paid for directly. When the Expos are in New York and a Yankee fan watching the game on television sees the word Montreal on the scoreboard, or hears the announcer say "will lead off for Montreal at the top of the ninth," that is worth something to the city.

According to media consultant Alan Itakura "In general editorial media coverage has more credibility than advertising and can be more effective." Using the previous example a Yankee fan may watch the entire local telecast and by using his channel changer avoid all the commercials. But he cannot get through the game without being reminded dozens of times that he is watching his team play the MONTREAL Expos.

Companies have long accepted the promotional value of getting their names in the media. That is why stadium-naming rights such as those to the proposed Labatt Park often fetch more than $2 million annually.

Although by no means conclusive and of doubtful objectivity due to who paid for it, the 1998 study raises some interesting points and deserves more attention than it has gotten. To properly assess what a sports franchise such as the Expos can deliver to a city you have to go beyond the direct economic benefits.

Think of a Montreal as a brand. Like consumer products such as Coke, Tide detergent and the Honda Civic, cities also have brand identities, which can be significantly enhanced by increased media exposure.

The study's basic parameters seem to make sense. Relying on viewer data supplied by the Expos a total of 1.163 billion visual, vocal and oral impressions was estimated. These were valued at an average of $18.65 per thousand.

"Estimating what this kind of coverage is worth is very much an art, especially since the city does not get to frame the message they are getting out. All that is conveyed is the word "Montreal" and the fact that the city is associated with a major league franchise," said Itakura. "But when you look at what it costs to reach a general audience through mass advertising the rates used, while maybe a little on the high side, seem realistic."

With falling trade barriers, cheaper communications and the financial constraints that national and provincial governments are seeing all over the world, the importance of an individual city brand is rising. Those that recognize and act upon this reality stand to profit greatly over the next several years.

Think of such well-known city brand names as Toronto, New York, and Hong Kong. Over the years the public has accumulated a complex set of ideas and images as to the major characteristics which comprise these city's respective identities. Without ever having visited them we have formed beliefs about their economies, the quality of life and the kinds of people we are likely to run into there.

A city's brand image reflects upon its businesses, educational institutions and public services. For instance if an employer receives a resume from a graduate of New York University, unless he is familiar with the institution he will make assumptions about the value of that degree based on what the word "New York" means to him. If the next resumé he looks at is from a graduate of the Université de Sherbrooke, the employer will make assumptions about the value of that degree based on the word "Sherbrooke."

A city's brand image influences how company's located therein are perceived and in an international context this can be important. For example India has a growing software-development industry. Many high-tech firms would not rule out subcontracting to a company based in that third-world country.

But it is certain that two software developers one located in New Delhi and the other in Calcutta would not be judged just on their qualifications. The very different identities of their native cities would reflect on both companies.

To get an idea of the value to Montreal of its association with the Expos compare the situations of two hockey franchises- the Red Wings and the Devils. Even many people who don't watch the sport can tell you that the reigning Stanley Cup champion Red Wings are from Detroit.

But when asked about another recent Stanley Cup winner the Devils, most would say they are from New Jersey. Few would know that they play in the city of East Rutherford. That is because the team has chosen to associate its name with the state of New Jersey rather than with the town it plays in. The Florida Marlins and the Texas Rangers have chosen this route as well. A similar anonymity among baseball fans would accrue to the city of Montreal if the club were to thank their major sponsor by renaming the team the "Quebec Expos."

As the city reflects on whether it should assist its major league baseball team in building a new stadium it should also be thinking about what would happen to its brand name if several million dollars in free media exposure were taken off the table.

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  © 1998 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.