Is an NFL team’s brand as important as its record?

Confession: I am a Cheesehead. Through and through. No apologies; no regrets.

I may live in Minnesota and cheer on my Gophers and Twins, but as a Wisconsin native my passion for the Green Bay Packers has burned long and strong since before the team’s return to Titletown in 1996. That said, it probably goes without saying that I have found 2010 post-season play especially captivating.

Before the Pack took on (and defeated!) the Eagles on January 8, I tuned into the pregame special to get jazzed before the big show. On this particular night, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said something that made me realize it might be more than hometown pride and Aaron Rodgers’ boyish charm that fuels my love for the green and gold.

McCarthy said that each week he gives his players a “theme” to keep in mind and focus on. That week’s theme? “Stay true to the brand – the brand of the 2010 Green Bay Packers.”

You couldn’t imagine my surprise. I always knew that managers, agents, marketing execs and NFL reps were paid to think existentially about who a team is and what it stands for. What I didn’t know was that the coaches and players are aware of these issues as well. I wrongly assumed that between practices, traveling and actually competing, a team’s sole focus would be on winning – and whatever image they project is simply a byproduct of how they play the game.

That got me thinking: Is a brand something that fans ascribe to a team, or can a team control public perception? If so, how – and how much – can a team shape its image? What is the Packer brand? Some words that immediately came to mind were consistent, passionate, team-focused, fan-loyal and dedicated. Of course this year successful could also be on that list, but perhaps that’s secondary to what the team stands for.

And how does a team continue to deliver on a brand promise? Maybe it’s as simple as avoiding scandal and staying the course, but winning a few games here and there doesn’t hurt either.

For the Packers at least, the coaches and players making a concerted effort to define who they are and what the “brand” of the team projects just might be paying off in spades. Going into the 2010 season the Packers were ranked the No. 3 favorite team in the NFL, according to data from Rochester, N.Y., research company Harris Interactive. Not too shabby, eh? Coming off a final loss to the Cardinals in overtime in the wild card round of playoffs in 2009, it seems the team is doing something right (besides winning) to garner nationwide fan favor.

So what do you think? Is there a connection between fandom and a team sticking to its core values? What does it mean for a team to be/have a brand? What words would you use to define your favorite teams?

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