August 6, 2014 7:38 pm

Saskatchewan Roughriders top sports brand, ahead of Blue Jays

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant passes the ball to Saskatchewan Roughriders running back Will Ford during the first quarter of CFL football action against the Toronto Argonauts in Regina, Sask., Saturday, July 26, 2014.

Matt Smith / The Canadian Press

REGINA – The Saskatchewan Roughriders are one of the country’s top sports brands, ranking higher than the Toronto Blue Jays in a new poll conducted by the Saskatchewan-based research firm, Insightrix.

Rider pride has always existed, but it used to be more subtle. In the early 90’s, the team even faced bankruptcy.

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However, as former Rider president John Lipp explained, there came a turning point: “About 8, 10 years ago. First we started to win a bit more, but we changed the structure of the team a bit, into a very corporate-like structure.”

“Let’s face it, success on the field helps, but there was a decision made to put our fans first. It’s one of the things that very few professional sports franchises do,” said Gregg Sauter, VP Business Development and Marketing.

The fan experience became the crux of the Rider’s marketing strategy and the new Insightrix poll reveals its success. The Roughriders are the third strongest sports brand in Canada, after the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs and the team ranks second when it comes to fan loyalty.

“It will be interesting to see if it grows and evolves in that direction,” said U of R marketing instructor, Dwight Heinrichs.

Like Harley and Apple, there is one thing the Riders have going for their brand, said Heinrichs: “Their clients do so much promotion for them and they are largely promoted by their customers.”

The Rider brand may become cemented as a national symbol only if the team can manage to stay in the playoffs, but Sauter says his biggest objective is extending the fan base across the country: “When we go into BC or when we’re in Ottawa, we love the Ottawa fans. If we’re not their favourite team, we hope we’re their second favourite team, so that’s really our goal.”

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