Sport teams that operate in an increasingly professionalized environment must keep adopting innovative branding techniques in order to maintain their brand image as both significant and unique from a consumer perspective and to differentiate it from competitors (Kaynak, Salman, & Tatoglu, 2008). Most professional sport teams now maintain an online presence on several social media platforms and increasingly expand to new ones.
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Social media practices for sport organizations have mostly attentive on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (Abeza, O’Reilly, Seguin, & Nzindukiyimana, 2015); while these platforms offer features for visual content interaction, they rely heavily on written content as the main communication medium for online users. Only recently have researchers started to explore the implications of tools that use visual content as their primary mode of communication. For instance, Hambrick andprofessional sport teams have established the extensive assumption of social media platforms (Filo, Lock, & Karg, 2015; Pegoraro & Jinnah, 2012), in an effort to nurture and maintain a way of interactive communication with their fan(Clavio &Walsh, 2014; Hambrick & Kang, 2015; Hambrick, Simmons,Greenhalgh, & Greenwell, 2010; Kassing & Sanderson, 2010; Parganas & Anagnostopoulos,2015; Pegoraro, 2010; Pronschinske, Groza, &Walker, 2012; Stavros, Meng, Westberg, & Farrelly, 2014; Williams & Chinn, 2010). Kang (2015) explored Pinterest (a media content sharing tool) under the lens of a relationship-marketing conceptual framework. Others have investigated how sport leagues can use Social media for agenda-setting purposes (Zimmerman, Clavio, & Lim, 2011).
However, less is known about the use of social media tools such as Instagram for building and communicating team brand associations. Some studies have examined the use of Facebook as a brand management tool in the context of US college athletics (Wallace,Wilson, & Miloch, 2011), the challenges in developing a social media branding strategy(McCarthy, Rowley, Ashworth, & Pioch, 2014), or the use of Twitter as a brand management tool (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick, 2015) in the context of professional football teams. Studies examining Recent studies have examined how Instagram can be used for engaging fans for sporting, business as well as social objectives (Kim & Hull, 2017); as a self-presentation tool by Olympic athletes specifically (Geurin-Eagleman & Burch, 2016), or by professional athletes more generally (Smith & Sanderson, 2015). More in relation to the present study, yet outside the professional teams’ context, Geurin-Eagleman and Burch (2016) found that sport brands that utilise user-generated content on their Instagram accounts elicit higher engagement from followers when posts have an overt focus on the product.
Further research is required, particularly from a professional sport team-branding perspective. In addition, the increased popularity of Instagram among sport teams, athletes and fans, combined with its potential marketing and branding implications as they mature (Geurin-Eagleman & Burch, 2016), merits further exploration of this tool in the sport context. Several scholars have called for additional empirical research across different social media platforms (cf., Frederick, Lim, Clavio, Pedersen, & Burch, 2014; Lebel & Danylchuk, 2014; Pedersen, 2014; Pronschinske et al., 2012; Rowe, 2014), particularly for marketing purposes and through longitudinal studies (Abeza et al., 2015), and crucially, investigations of social media consumer behaviour(Ratchford, 2015).The present study answers these calls. Drawing theoretical insights from widely Adopted sport team-branding models (e.g. Bauer, Stockburger-Sauer, & Exler, 2008; Gladden & Funk, 2002; Ross, James, & Vargas, 2006), we aim to analyze how two professional sport teams have used Instagram to communicate their brand image and its impact on the responses of their online following.
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