Do you know the way to San Jose?

Dr Nnamdi O. Madichie

Posted: June 29, 2014

Prior to the game between Italy and Costa Rica, the Italian ace Mario Balotelli was reportedly asked whether he knew any players from Costa Rica. Your guess is as good as mine, he didn’t! That’s not quite surprising per se, as Costa Rica was considered an outlier in what was described as the Group of Death (with England and Uruguay completing the quartet).

But that was before the humiliation at the hands of the hard done by Costa Rican side, having been denied a penalty (when Joel Campbell was felled by Giorgio Chiellini) prior to captain, Bryan Ruiz’s superb header – thanks to goal line technology.

What’s interesting was the commentator’s question for viewers and spectators alike, drawing upon the lines of Dionne Warwick’s 1968 Grammy winning song “Do you know the way to San Jose?”

I must admit, I didn’t personally, but now the world, and especially Balotelli, knows San Jose as the capital of Costa Rica. In the case of Balotelli he must now know more than San Jose, but also Costa Rican football players – notably Balabanos whom he swapped shirts with.

I think its only fair to put the place branding in its theoretical context.

According to Madichie (2011: 176) the term “place marketing” may either be used to mean “place branding” or other aspects of marketing places wider than branding. In its wider sense a place can be considered as a location having a single identity with multiple facets, a history, and cultural heritage, and pre-existing perceptions, and be managed as akin to a corporation, market getting, from an outside-in approach by its multiple stakeholders, in partnership.

The physical part of place attraction is not enough to make a brand. Physically focused thinking has been easier for places to adapt, because much focus has been placed on buildings, architecture and landscape. Consequently, soft attraction factors, like entrepreneurial climate and knowledge have become more valuable with the sophistication of the place package and its offering (Anholt, 2005; 2006; Madichie, 2011). The general consensus seemed to be that although many places can showcase great buildings and infrastructure, these were more easily imitated than soft factors such as football.

Extending this to football, the world knows Brazil as the spiritual capital of football from the days of Pele, Zico, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and now Neymar. Other south American countries – notably Argentina and Mexico are also reasonably well branded, with the former boasting high profile names from Diego Maradona (currently sport ambassador for the United Arab Emirates) to Lionel Messi.

In Europe, the football leagues of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are well known – be it teams like Manchester United and now Manchester City, PSG, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Real Madrid respectively.

Costa Rica (sharing borders with Ecuador, Nicaragua and Panama) might just be on the verge of putting Central America in the spotlight as it marches on into the group of sixteen having humbled household names (Luiz Suarez’s Uruguay and Balotelli’s Italy) enroute its rite-of-passage.

Needless to add that Costa Rica has the highest literacy rate in the whole of Latin America at 95 percent.

As I write this piece, Jorge Luis Pinto, the Costa Rican coach, is already planning his strategy against Colombia or Cote D’Ivoire, in the group of 16 having already qualified with a game to spare against, you know who, England.

IAndersson, M. and Ekman, P. (2009) Ambassador networks and place branding, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 41-51.

IIAnholt, S. (2005) Editorial: some important distinctions in place branding, Place Branding, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 116-21.

IIIAnholt, S. (2006) Editorial: why brand? Some practical considerations for nation branding, Place Branding, Vol. 2 No. 2, pp. 97-107.

IVMadichie, N. (2011) Marketing Senegal through hip-hop – a discourse analysis of Akon's music and lyrics. Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 169-197

About Dr Nnamdi O. Madichie

Nnamdi O. Madichie, is Associate Professor of Marketing and International Business at Graduate Studies Division, School of Business Administration, Canadian University of Dubai. He has published extensively in the area of sports marketing and management covering topics from the English Premier League, to Middle East Investments in Sports, and Leadership lessons from Sports, especially football. His paper “Management Implications of foreign players in the English Premiership League football” has received 18 citations on GoogleScholar since it was published in 2009. He can be contacted at: