The role of sports brands in niche sport subcultures
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This research investigates the role of sports brands in niche sport subcultures, athletes’ perception of brands and the role of brands in building group identity. The dissertation examines theory on ‘subcultures of consumption’, ‘brand communities’ and ‘leisure activities’. The research is based on two contrasting cases and adopts an ethnographic approach. The researcher participated in two trail running events, the XTerra Trail Festival in Rotorua and the t42 Central Plateau event at National Park. Three data collection methods were employed: observation, photography and semi-structured interviews. Observations aimed at understanding participants’ brand use, the presence of sports brands and the quality of interaction between trail runners. Photographs visualised the overall presence of brands as well as the specifics of interviewees’ gear. The aim of semi-structured interviews was to investigate the trail runners’ perceptions of brands and the role of brands in building group identity. Interviewees were chosen through purposive sampling and the interviewing continued until theoretical saturation was reached. Data collected at both events was analysed separately. Observations, photographs and transcribed interviewees shed light on the participants’ involvement with trail running and their sociability. Thematic analysis of the transcribed interviews was conducted to identify themes that address the role of sports brands in the niche sport subculture. Participants in the first event were very individual runners who can be classified as road runners rather than dedicated trail runners. In regards to brands, participants either display high brand loyalty or high trust in retailers. Brands do not play a role in building group identity. Participants in the second event are dedicated trail runners. They consider a variety of factors when purchasing gear. Function and perceived quality of gear are more important than brand name. Brands play an indirect role in building group identity as they are often a starting point of conversation between participants. Participants in the first event are serious leisure participants whereas participants of the second event represent an emerging subculture of consumption. Therefore, marketing managers should target these two groups of runners differently as they differ in terms of involvement with the sport and the buying decision process.