Sports and Country Branding: the Spanish case

Sonia Perez

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Traditionally, the reputation spread by the media around the world about Spain is that they are “a lazy nation which prefer to have ‘siesta’ rather than working”, “gross who waste other people’s money”; “wasteful, lazy and irresponsible people”, or “a country dedicated to spend his life happily and effortlessly”. In other words, thanks to the international press Spain is appreciate around the world as beautiful touristic destination culturally interesting, but with a scarce value in the economic, social, political or educational frames. However, according to a study developed by the Observatory of the Spain’s Image, during the last years, the overall international coverage and the Spain’s image has taken a very positive turn. And, as it has coincided with the high competitive level reached by the country on the sports field, could we assert that Sports is a way to build value and generate wealth in the country brand?

Graphical summary of the positive impact of Euro by representing the share of news that it represents in German media.

Sports can help as an indirect way of exerting power where a country can obtain the results it seeks so that other countries can follow suit, admitting its values, following its example, and aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness: in other words, improving its reputation acting as a clear indication of a nation’s power strength, which will reflect and affect the country’s standing in the global arena. From friendly games between nations to mass events broadcast live throughout the world (e.g., the Olympics or the World Cup), the excitement of international competition always stems from the fact that nations are competing with each other on a safe level and playing field.. And, as in every competition happens, the winner will be laureate and respected for everyone, so the victorious country will build improve its reputation among the other countries which also participate in the championship.

The popularity of the sports events have grown tremendously over the last several decades, acquiring the potential for enormous impact in a wide range of areas: economic growth, infrastructure legacies and image promotion. Due to the nature of image that enables it to be transferred from one object to another, thorough these events impressions are then transferred, shaping perceptions of the countries which participate in them. This happens because the images of a country’s products are transferred to the country’s overall image, and vice versa; so sports successes (understanding sports as one of the main of this countries’ products) in the international scene, will be identified as countries’ achievements, which will have ultimately a positive influence on the reputation of the country because sports does not merely mirror the state, but it is often an extension of it.

Olympics Opening Parade. Source: Daily Mail

So major international sporting events can serve as a showcase for countries in where they can show to the world the image that they want to have in the international scene by variables such as meeting expectations, identification and projection of values, or management of groups. In addition, these events are not only important themselves, but that their impact on the international media is the perfect tool for many countries to spread the good image built through success in elite sport, in order to improve their national reputation. A reputation which, on the other hand, is not always good and sometimes has also been damaged by the media themselves. Therefore, it is vitally important function of international sports press in improving a nation’s reputation internationally, as it takes care to emphasize the collective achievements of countries rather than focusing only on his faults in other issues.

We can find a good example of this process in the case of Spain. According to a study of the Reputation Institute, what foreign people thinks about this country is that “Spain a beautiful land with an attractive natural environment and which offers a variety of engaging experiences as culture, gastronomy and entertainment. People enjoy living there; but in contrast, other important aspects to assess the quality of life of a country — such as education, technological development, political and legal institutions or employment and business environment, are negatively valued. But luckily, since some years ago this perception is changing.

Lately, Spanish national teams of football, basketball, or handball; and Spanish sportmen in cycling, motorsports or tennis, to name some of the most popular, stand among the elite and even dominate the top of the ladder. Since the Olympic Games in 1992, the Spanish Olympic medal tally shows evidences of a major change, with a last good participation of Spain in the London Olympics 2012 in which some spanish names (as the swimmer Mireia Belmonte; the taekwondoin Joel Gonzalez; the piragüist David Cal; or the female teams of sailing, waterpolo or synchronized swimming)have shined.


Spanish Victory on 2010. Source: News CN

Spain has also achieved international renown for his success in football, with the European Championships in 2008, the South Africa World Cup in 2010 and again in the EURO 2012, which made it be in the news during weeks and achieve a very positive view of the “Spain brand” all over the world which greatly increased his prestige. In the same way, the winning of the Basketball world championship 2006 and of the Eurobasket 2009 and 2011, as well as the good results in the Olympics or the fact that in the NBA play several Spaniards (as the Brothers Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka or Jose Calderon) has also helped to improve the image of Spanish sport and of the country in general.

After five wins in the Davis Cup (2000, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011), and with the singles wins especially from Rafael Nadal, tennis is not far behind of football or basketball. In addition, other sports athletes as Fernando Alonso, with two world championships of Formula 1; Alberto Contador, winner of the Tour of France; or Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, leaders in MotoGP, are just some more examples of success that supposed for Spain the appearing on newspaper covers and television news around the world as well as videos and comments of praise on the major social networks, which all help to raise the value of the Spanish image in the international panorama.

Thus, the Spanish sports are the main representative power in the world for Spain to the extent that the image of a country abroad is linked to how its products are perceived. The Spanish sport is the best-know institution all over the world and, from a branding standpoint, football is the most and best brand of them all Spanish football is without a doubt the best-known product abroad, both the national and the individual teams. The numerous victories of Real Madrid and FC. Barcelona in the European Champions League throughout history have made of both teams the most important “informal ambassadors” of the country, as much that in many parts of the world they are the most known thing about Spain -and sometimes the only one-.

Asian Real Madrid’s Supporters. Source: La Voz Libre

So, although there are still those who seem sports and its spread as a “subculture of mass” or “opium of the people”, whenever are more those who emerging strongly to emphasize the importance of the attributes and values projected by sports (leadership , excellence , commitment , effort) to counter-rest the failure of governments in meeting the expectations or inability to solve internal problems. Therefore, we should not underestimate the enormous impact of sport in the construction of branding strategies and country reputation. Because reputation, in the end, is admiration , confidence, and respect… And there are few things in the world that can generate those feelings with the same intensity as much as sport does.

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Sonia Perez

"To those who ask me the reason of my travels, I tell them that I do know of what I'm running away, but not what I'm looking for". Spaniard. Nomad. Media lover. Double BA in Journalism & Law. Widening horizons in Dublin... For the time being.