Brand Loyalty, As Told by (Toronto) Sports Fans

December 12, 2016 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai, Content Editor

After two scoreless halves, overtime and injury time, Toronto FC lost to the Seattle Sounders in penalty kicks.

Whomp, whomp.

It was bitterly cold for Toronto FC fans, who braved the weather to cheer on their team. Had they won, it would have been the first Canadian MLS team to win the championship and by the first Canadian team inducted into the league no less. It also would have been the first major championship win since the Jays winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.

It was crushing for people to say the least. You’d think fans would be outraged and extremely disappointed.

But they weren’t. The overall sentiment that rippled through social media channels was super positive.

Now that’s some solid brand loyalty, even in a time of let down.

Businesses, look closely.

This is what captured our minutes this week.

Here’s how to take a lesson from Toronto sports fans. These people are known for their loyalty to local “six” teams, no matter what happens year to year.

1. Don’t sugar coat it, just be positive in as authentic as a way as possible.

Losing in penalty kicks is a rough way to lose. Some people would even say (or shout), “come on, really?!”

For the majority of Toronto FC’s history, they weren’t a stellar team. They often didn’t make the playoffs, let alone get to be one of the final two teams.

However in the last few years, they’ve really pulled it together and made something of their brand. To get this far and not win is incredibly difficult, not just for fans but for the actual team itself. Imagine having to explain what’s next after a long, bright season comes to a close like this.

Yet instead of dwelling on the loss, head coach Greg Vanney turned it completely on its head.

“It will only make us better as we go into next year and stronger as a group as we try to get back to this and come away winners.”

Disappointment aside, Vanney refused to make this a pity party. Instead, he said this is an opportunity to learn and grow from. He took a negative and, very easily, drew the positive out of it.

The bad stuff doesn’t mean the end, nor does it have to be doom and gloom. In fact, it’s when stuff doesn’t work out that makes everything clearer.

From here, you know what doesn’t work and where your areas of opportunity are. Be bold enough to take that opportunity.

2. Don’t make promises you can’t deliver on.

There is no possible, mathematical, statistical, scientific way to successfully predict and promise a future win.

It’s also silly (and honestly, typically just gives more pain to Toronto sports fans than they already have).

There’s no way Toronto FC will know if they will make it to the same spot next year. Nor can any brand really know what the future holds for them.

What can be does is planning for the future.

In the same interview with the Globe and Mail, Coach Vanney said “This off-season, we’ll look to make one or two moves, three moves at the most, to strengthen our team. We’re just getting started.”
So something didn’t work out for your brand. You can be positive in the aftermath, but don’t be so positive that you blindly promise things you can’t actually make happen.

Instead, offer your specific plan for what will happen next. Don’t sugar coat stuff, don’t embellish anything. State your next steps and move onwards, and upwards.

When people know that you have a plan to keep moving forward, it’s like a theoretical bear hug.

They feel safer knowing that your brand is going to take actionable steps.

(Your brand will feel safer, too).

3. Lead with your values.

If you always lead with your values, then you’re already a success, no matter what happens.

Your organizational values are what people make of you. So make sure they’re visible AND tangible.

What do you mean by tangible? We mean don’t just write them in pretty calligraphy on a chalk wall somewhere. Live them. Act on them.

In the case of Toronto FC that included integrity, honesty and teamwork.  

Jozy Altidore complimented Seattle on lasting so long and having such a spectacular end.

He also openly praised former Toronto FC player Stefan Frei (now on the Sounders) on the save that kept Seattle in the game.  

Defender Eriq Zavaleta expressed just how close his team is and how much they prioritize stability with one another.

There were no bad words passed around about Seattle, nor was anything said about anyone not pulling their weight for Toronto FC.

Instead, the comments were rooted in their love for the sport and their dedication to being a united team. Toronto FC truly dug deep on what they believed in and let that shine in their moment of loss.

It’s hard to own up to things. It’s even harder not to try and pass the blame around to others.

But it’s just gotta be done. Responsibility can be taken in a way that isn’t self-deprecating. It can always be swung in an upbeat way.

A brand’s values should always come from a place where said brand can exist.

Otherwise, why bother?

So make them your own. But once they’re made, make sure you lead by example.

Toronto sports fans and teams know what loss means, no jab intended. But the greatest thing about it is how deep their loyalty and commitment run. It’s about time people stopped making fun of it and instead, starting learning from it.

This is by no means a lesson in crisis management. But it is a lesson on how to keep your fans coming back, time after time. 

At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.

What will win this week?

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