In today’s world, where places are competing more than ever for attention, sports events can provide a unique promotional platform for a city, region, or country to brand itself. This is due to the many positive values attached to sport and the media coverage that it generates. Each individual place can of course have its own motivations for hosting an event (e.g., internal promotion, international re-positioning or putting the place on the map), but no matter what the objective, a clear four-step approach can be used to deliver the right results.

To fully utilize the unique opportunity that hosting sports events has, places must be very clear and thoughtful in the messages they want to show the world. From the beginning, a place needs to be clear on what its objective is in terms of branding. Sochi, for example, had a clear objective to put itself on the map as a resort destination and amplified this message while hosting the Winter Olympics, FIFA World Cup matches and Formula 1 races.

Branding won’t simply happen by itself and while sports events can support branding efforts, it cannot do it all alone. With hundreds of events taking place every year, it is a challenge to remain relevant, maintain momentum and make a long-lasting impact. Unless the host has a clear idea of what it wants to achieve from a branding perspective, it risks simply being an anonymous stage for showcasing the sports organisations’ products.

So, what needs to be done to make the most out of hosting a sports event from a branding point-of-view? There is a clear four-step approach used by successful hosts: formulating, visualizing, demonstrating, and communicating the message.

Formulating the message
Start by questioning what the place is already known for and what you want it to be? The message that will be conveyed has to be easy to demonstrate within the organisation of the event itself. Does your city want to be known as a peaceful relaxed destination? Make sure the sports events that are hosted expresses a similar image and values.

Visualizing the message
A visual concept should reflect the basis on which the story is built, create a clearly understandable and recognisable identity to guide all actions in the implementation phase. Vancouver, host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, proposed that the Games would be a green event. During the event, they made sure that green Olympic rings were seen at every single sporting venue.

Demonstrating the message
Organise the event in a way that it reflects the story. The story needs to come alive in the methods used to run the event. For example, if you want to express and promote a story of friendship, create gathering areas for fans to meet and celebrate during the event.

Communicating the message
Ensure that messages and innovations are acknowledged and communicated. Make sure that the messages that has been translated into concrete actions (demonstrating the message) is seen by the wider audience, both on location and on television. Communication around the event must focus attention on these details. Media needs to be briefed on all new and different elements so that your message is received in a credible way with real impact.

All in all, sports events are a great tool for cities, regions, or countries to communicate something new and interesting about the place itself. However, it shouldn’t be neglected that a careful thought-out process to create a message is needed to make a significant and lasting impact. Only when the four-steps are fully incorporated in an actionable plan can an event host be successful in branding itself.