Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ryerson University Master Plan and Purchasing Maple Leaf Gardens

It has been announced that Ryerson University (alma matter of yours truly) has partnered with Loblaw Inc. and unveiled a new 60 million dollar plan that will retrofit Maple Leaf Gardens and turn it into a state of the art recreation facility for Ryerson students as well as retail space for a "Joe Fresh Style Loblaws".

Included in the plan is:

-A NHL-sized rink
-A four-lane, 200-metre running track
-Basketball and volleyball courts
-1,200-capacity bleachers
-A fitness centre
-A high-performance gym
-Food concessions

Loblaw Inc. is the current owner of the vacant building. As a result, this deal could not have gotten done without their involvement and a store being featured on its main floor. This is more than a victory for Ryerson University--it is a victory for Toronto as a landmark of this city and the surrounding area will be restored and brought back to life. This is better than a retrofitted condominium, a boutique hotel, or a Wal-Mart. This space will be used for students to maintain healthy active lifestyles, improve school spirit and be a place of learning. Anytime you can turn a vacant, dilapadated building and turn it into a place of learning is a win for the good guys.

For Ryerson University, the benefits are huge. Here's a plan which outlines what I encourage Ryerson University to from this point forward and what this announcement could mean for Ryerson in the years ahead:


Athletics departments do not turn around over night and unlike the NCAA, Canadian universities cannot give out scholarships for top high school athletes. As a result, there is extra importance placed on facilities and personnel. Adding a state-of-the-art facility to Ryerson's resume will make it that much more of a destination for high school athletes and Ryerson is encouraged to ensure that coaching staffs, trainers and management are well experienced, respected executives of interuniversity sport. This began with the hiring of coach Roy Rana for the varsity men's basketball teams and must continue to make Ryerson an ideal destination for athletic talent. Broadening recruitment staff will only help reach the best athletes available and help make sure every pitch is customized to the student's needs.


With a hockey arena on campus with seating structures designed to seat (I estimate) a couple thousand spectators, Ryerson must acknowledge a potential to capitalize on the novelty of a new arena and keep students interested in interuniversity sports. This involves making available full-time positions with the goal of generating revenue for varsity athletic events through ticket sales, concessions, and sponsorships and partnerships.

The new facility must:

-feature individual seats
-concession options as well as a liqour license
-offer an entertaining in-game experience
-be comfortable, inviting and professional
-simulate comparable sporting entertainment
-have competitively priced tickets

If they can manage to accomplish these requirements in designing both the basketball and hockey arena, they will be able to maximize revenue and attract the student population to games. An average attendance of 800 fans per game could generate significant revenue. If tickets are competitively priced at $3 and the average fan spends $5 on concessions, $6400 per game is not unrealistic. The money could then be added towards broadening sports programs. Combined with an added increased in student enthusiasm towards athletics, there could be strong support to fund other interuniversity athletics. Ryerson students voting in support of an increase in tuition to fund this facility is proof of a desire for improved athletic spirit.

Local Area

Maple Leaf Gardens is located on the Northwest corner of Carlton Street and Church Street, two city blocks from the north end of Ryerson University's main campus. While the recreation facilities will promote student traffic between the two locations, Ryerson's next step must be to connect the main campus to Maple Leaf Gardens with further university infrastructure. This will encourage traffic of the new facility and make the in between area controllable, nevermind the potential university buildings that could occupy this space.

On the space is three private residential highrise buildings (yellow) which are used by many students and a series of early 19th century homes (green). The blue indicates Ryerson buildings and the Red is Maple Leaf Gardens. It should be noted that the block is generally unpleasing to the eye.

Ryerson does not own this land, so they would need to acquire it house by house by highrise which is an expensive option. This is probably unavoidable but obtaining the land is crucial to create more space for students, improve the surrounding area (which Ryerson must see as a responsibility), and connect it to the athletics centre.

The best way that Ryerson University can leverage this space is through student housing. It represents an extraordinary potential to increase varisity athletics attendance and general use of the facility. Western University in London, Ontario accomodates just over 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students on campus while having less students enrolled than RU, which features living space for just over 800 students. And while Ryerson attracts a significant ratio of commuting students within the Greater Toronto Area, perhaps this is a function of its lack of living quarters. In any case, Ryerson needs more student housing for an ever increasing undergraduate and graduate student population. Retrofitting these high rise residential towers and 19th century homes could be an option to consider without having to build entirely new buildings.

A student housing population of 2,000 individuals makes a 10% success rate of varsity sports attendance at key home games a likely possibility with a giant coordinated effort (such as a one or two-off residence night) resulting in solid attendance numbers and increased revenue per game.

Jeff's Plan

Trying to be as detailed as possible, here is what I suggest for Ryerson University's north expansion.

-Expanding marketing/sales staff with full-time employees with goals to generate revenue through ticket sales and sponsorships
-Expanding recruitment staff, hiring well respected CIS coaches
-New Recreation Facility to feature 2,000 individual seats for hockey, 1,200 for basketball
-Several concessions available
-Expansion of a second campus pub within recreation facility
-Purchasing buildings in adjoining area
-Buildings to be retrofitted for 2,000 new beds for undergraduate students including living spaces for 500 graduate students
-Improvements to surrounding infrastructure to continue university culture (greenspace, university banners, signage, etc)
-Explore opportunities to broaden interuniversity athletics (football, baseball)

Ryerson has a long way to go just to keep up with the pace of enrollment, but this is a golden opportunity to capitalize on the novelty of a new athletics facility and to build a sustainable spirited student culture proud of both their in class achievements and on field achievements. The university has been very agressive in their expansion and there is every reason to believe that this will continue in the future.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What is a Classy Organization?

I've been thinking. I always hear someone say something like "Oh the Angels, what a classy organization". Or "Angels always take the classy route".

Likewise you also hear "The Isotopes, what a classless organization".

1)What does that mean?

2)What does classy mean to people, and why do people call some organizations classy and others not?

3)Does being classy translate into money?

I really don't know the answers to these questions but I think I will speculate a bit.

One, I think what people perceive about an organizations class rating depends alot on their own personal touchpoints with the organization and if there have been limited touch points (Let's say I'm a Manchester United fan living in Alaska) then it depends on what they've heard from other people (and if you're a Man U fan in Alaska chances are your no one you know in person has had all that many touchpoints either). After that, how the team does and the situation surrounding the team probably also have implications. By situation, I mean things like, is the organization corporately owned? Do they make a lot of money? Is the team any good? Are fans generally optimistic on the state of the team?

Ideally, I think your best situation is a privately owned team with visible ownership showing an interest to win and do win, and have stayed out of controversy. I think that this description more or less fits teams like the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Red Wings, Patriots, Celtics, and Manchester United. There's no doubt that the Yankees and Red Sox print money, but they really fit all other categories. Nobody [unbiased] says the Yankees don't have class. And by controversy, I'm not talking about steroids. I don't think individual player ethics factor into the organizations class ratings. I do think signing convicted criminals factors into an organization's perceived class.

But factors such as time are part of the equation. I thought about whether or not any NHL team would fit into this category. Eventually I realized that the Red Wings were the best bet but other than them, no other team is always really good, no team continually pleases their fans (like the Red Wings do anyways). So you have to build a track record of transparency, good ownership, winning, optimism. A positive space around the team.

Then once all of this has been accomplished, there may be one specific incident that can realyl take your organization from having class to being classy. A large scale tribute to someone who died aways seems to qualify. Not acknowledging appropriately someone who died could be class-rating suicide. A player leaving the team on a sour note might not turn a team around overnight but certainly contributes.

Lastly, I think that to be considered classy, you go through a whole bunch of steps that would cause you to make a lot of money to begin with. That having visible management would make you competitive and that winning makes you money in so many ways anyways. That said, if someone can find me an organization that is usually bad but is considered classy, I'm really all ears.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Making Your Product Available: Radio

A couple of days ago, Chuck Swirsky, radio play-by-play for the Chicago Bulls and ex-Toronto media personality commented on how great it was that the Bulls embraced their sports content in radio form. I must agree.

See the goal of any sports team, and company for that matter is to increase the distribution of a product as much as possible. This allows more people to have your product and more people to grow attached to it, use it. Radio is just as important as television (maybe more) because it is much more versatile. It can reach out to all sorts of people and isn't exclusive to location, income, or even time. Radios are welcome at workplaces, they're installed in cars and most personal listening devices are capable of tuning into stations. Radios are cheap, and radio feeds can be picked up through the internet anywhere in the world. The same cannot be said for television or live video feeds.

On top of this, financially, being able to claim that your radio network can reach an unlimited amount of people worldwide has significant implication on sponsorship/ad revenue on radio stations. Radio play-by-play also invited people to tune into pre and post game shows, daytime talk shows and other relevant discussion about the team being covered. Again, television does not always allow the type of coverage for a sports team that radio can provide.

In conclusion, when teams are committing to radio, they are committing to making their product as widely distributed and available as possible. They are allowing people to invest a small amount of time or commitment in the team and in a grassroots method allowing them to build on that commitment. The wide distribution creates fans and gives a competitive advantage over the competition.

In about 140 characters, I communicated my agreement at Chuck, who responded:

Thanks, Chuck!

You can read Chuck's blog at http://blogs.bulls.com/ or find him on twitter @swirsk054. He continues to one of the most fresh and entertaining personalities in the world of sports and Chicago is lucky to have him.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Washington Redskins Sue Season Ticket Holders

Hi all, I've had some time off but am getting back into the swing of things with some news and ideas I figured I should comment and talk about.

Washington Redskins sue season ticket holders.

On Oct. 8, the Redskins sued Hill in Prince George's County Circuit Court for backing out of a 10-year ticket-renewal agreement after the first year. The team sought payment for every season through 2017, plus interest, attorneys' fees and court costs.

In response:

"The Washington Redskins routinely works out payment plans and alternate arrangements with hundreds of ticket holders every year," Donovan [general counsel] said. "For every one we sue, I would guess we work out a deal with half a dozen."

The total judgement was for $66,000 or .00066% of star defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth's record contract of 100 million dollars over seven years. Clearly the organization is looking to stay afloat and hopefully break-even. I wonder if they're paying someone $60,000 a year to just look up all the unpaid season ticket accounts.

I won't even get into the morality of suing your own fans, but financially the move makes little sense. What are the chances that a 72 year old season ticket holder has grandchildren in the Washington area? And what are the chances that they are also Redskins fans (because of her!)and might want to take over the season tickets one day for their grandmother's beloved Redskins? What exactly are the chances that anyone in this lady's family wants to spend a dime on this team? Her friends? Anyone who reads this article?

The negative press was entirely forseeable and I would not be surprised to see the costs of suing your fans exceeding the money recovered from unpaid season subscriptions, and the complete loss of goodwill that the team had. I would encourage the Redskins front office to take a lesson in ethics, customer service, and public relations. Never take your fans for granted, nevermind bankrupting them.

The justification for suing these fans seems to be that they only sue one for every six. How about not suing them at all, cancelling their subscription or maybe relocating them to a less expensive seat and forgoing the cost due to the hard times? Why not appreciate the fan's dedication for years of time and money spent and pick them up for a season? I understand that giving tickets away for free is generally a bad idea but in this situation, there is a heckuvalot of good will to be gained from a program designed to help fans keep their seats, or keep them in the game.

Low employment rates and bad credit don't necessarily last forever. Good times happen again, and the Redskins will regret the day that they decided to take to court, the several hundred people who supported them through thick and thin.

It just reeks of coldness and greed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Maximizing Fan Value at Minimal Cost

Account Executives and Ticket Representatives continually look for ways to maximize value for the fan: and why not? The economy has caused people to rethink their disposable income spending habits and sports have taken a major hit. The time is now for these executives to sink or swim: they must find ways to increase their value on their product while maintaining or even lowering price.

Recessions don't last forever. The economy is an endless cycle of peaks and valleys, and with those, come people's buying habits. In tough times, customer retention is more important than the average amount of money spent per client. They will remember your willingness to negotiate, or for finding them a cheaper ticket package, or giving them a good deal. I believe that this goodwill will be remembered during the good times, and will make a very loyal customer out of them. And after all, people have some fairly jaded views on sports as entertainment--overpaid athletes, poor in stadium service, cold hot dogs, warm beers. A good deed goes a long way in a weary world. It's a very attainable competitive advantage.

So in searching for ways to generate value while maintaining price structures, look for ways to eliminate costs in going to the game without devaluing the product (the ticket, the game itself). Executives may want to try food voucher campaigns, giving season ticket holders a voucher for a hot dog and a drink for every game. If it costs $0.20 (if that) to prepare a hot dog, and a drink, then the maximum expense to the team is $16. In exchange, they have retained a customer which could be worth $1,500 in season tickets in tough times, and $5,000 in season tickets during good times. And for those 81 nights each season, they won't have to cook dinner, which saves them some money as well. Customized jersey giveaways help as well, though not as directly related to basic expenses of everyday life that you try and eliminate.

You may even want to include a partnership with a local hotel in the area. Hotels are similiar to sports entertainment in that they rise and fall with the economy, and very often they give up empty hotel rooms for bottom basement prices which can be found on places like hotwire.com and priceline.com. If you incude the price of a one night stay ($40, as comparable to priceline.com) in the season seat package of $1,000, the added cost is almost meaningless compared to the overall seat price, and you can offer them a complete weekend vacation to watch their team. Include a special meet-and-greet with a player before one of those games, and you've created an incredibly amount of value for only $40.

Whether teams adopt this particular idea isn't the complete point. It's about making the value perception to the fan as big as possible in comparison to the cost of the organization.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tough Times: Opportunity for Creativity

In these tough economic times, companies are finding themselves scrambling when it comes to revenue they were always able to rely upon. Previously reliable corporate sponsors have had to pull out of lifelong partnerships causing teams to scramble to find alternate sources of revenue. This can burden an organization or become a major opportunity to think outside of the box for a change and rid themselves of axioms that hindered their growth as a business.

Take the Milwaukee Brewers and their "Drive In Ballpark" as an example. For two nights in June, they held a Drive In Double Feature outside Miller Park, showing popular movies for family fun seeking crowds. The venture was a big success, averaging 300 cars a night.

While the team's primary business goals are to sell tickets, sell sponsorships, and fill luxury suites, money is certainly money, and people still need to be entertained. Not only are they receiving revenue from cars parking, but they were able to expose over 1,000 people their advertisements, promoting their core business: baseball. If they were able to cover their expenses with sponsors (Mini International sponsored the event), they basically got 1,000 people to watch their advertisements before, in between, and at the end of the event. While there are no other details, they would have been wise to have sales reps, visiting patrons before the show, and have ticket and merchandise booths set up. If they were able to make the show free, and maybe even have it inside the stadium they may have been able to make more revenue in tickets, merchandise and concessions sold than if they had charged for viewing. Assuming the costs are minimal and could even be covered through a partnership with a local business, it's at the very least worthwhile.

Unfortunately Milwaukee winters are cold and harsh, but this concept of drawing people out could certainly be applied to southern teams, or those with Domed stadiums to keep them interested and in tune with their team during the winter. Or have the Drive In night kickstart the individual ticket purchasing season. What a bang that would be to start with, if you had 1,000 cars lined up to buy tickets and watch a baseball movie in the dead of winter!

As for me, the job search continues. Looking forward to the next post!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Home Field/Ice/Court Advantage for Sports Marketers

In my opinion, the home stadium of a team can act as the largest advertising tool for an organization. The key is for it to be as interactive with the local community as much as possible.

Billboard and transit advertising can both be pricey and ineffective. No marketing strategy should ever solely rely on this form, but as been said in previous posts, branding a team in a town is a multi-pronged effort and advertising certainly has its place in the marketing landscape. A stadium gives teams the means and place for advertising with maximum control and minimal costs. They can use the entire physical structure as a marketing tool, and the land it sits on as well.

Outdoor baseball, soccer, and football teams present an ideal environment for advertising. With placement near large traffic areas, near highways and major routes, nearby motorists are able to peer into the stadium and take in a few seconds of the action within. It's probably fair to say that people in general enjoy doing things that other people are doing, so if they pass by and see 30,000 flag waving, yelling fans, they'll probably find some way to inquire about what they saw, whether by visiting the teams website, or looking them up. If they are already fans, this may merely serve as a reminder that they better go catch a game. Even when nothing is going on, people are naturally drawn to the decks of seats, the green field, the scoreboard. It's an unusual sight in a city of concrete buildings. The stadium in its own way brands the team as part of the city. All of these commercial outlets add to the amount of people traffic as well, giving the area a very lively vibe on game days and not.

The local areas is also important as well. Stadiums naturally draw larger than normal crowds. Even a team that averages 10,000 fans a game is still quite a feat compared to other entertainment (cinemas, amusement parks). As a result, team officials should be concerned with the procurement of commercial outlets surrounding their home stadium. Restaurants, bars, memorabilia shops, merchandise shops, cafes, hotels, sport-related parks can all act to tie the team culture of the nearby stadium with the surrounding neighbourhood. And these neighbourhoods reinforce the image of the stadium as an advertising tool. If one walks on Yawkey Way in Boston and sees sports bar after sports bar, all handing Red Sox flags outside their window, that tells me that this neighbourhood is really an extension of the baseball stadium across the street--that I am in a Red Sox neighbourhood, and this may encourage my involvement in supporting the Red Sox.

The Air Canada Centre will feature a enormous video screen which will face down Bremnar Boulevard starting for the 2009/10 season. The screen may provide statistics for fans, gamescores, and highlights as well as live broadcasts for fans who weren't able to purchase tickets for the game. Near the ACC is a collection of many high rise condominiums with balconies that face this screen. Needless to say, this will be a major advertising tool for MLSE related teams and entertainment. Since hockey arenas cannot be seen from outside (though I think the proper architecture could make hockey arenas do this), a major video screen showing whats going on inside is the next best thing. And should the Raptors, Rock, or Leafs make the playoffs, fans can pull up a folding chair outside and live out the experience going on inside, outside.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Logo Visibility: Creating Impressions of Mass Movements and City-wide Branding

Fads basically occur when a small group of respected people go out on a bit of a ledge to support something (a team, a stance, a piece of clothing) and in a very short amount of time, that thing, whatever it is becomes immensely popular, not necessarily because the clothing is so ergonomical or that the stance makes sense, or that the team is really any good. But they follow it because as humans, we want to be part of a mass movement. We want to be accepted by mainstream audiences.

This is sort of what happened with TFC, except that (warning: oxymoron) the fad lasted for at least 3 years and will continue if the team is good because they were able to convert people in it for the wrong reasons (local party scene!) into actual soccer fans and specifically TFC fans. And like I covered before, the stadium is so small, it will always either be sold out, or look sold out. It would take overpriced seats and a few years of a bad team to make it less trendy.

Anyways, part of this mass movement creation is the overall visibility that the team has in its city, or wherever the largest population of people in the team's region resides. Teams whose cities don't care about them are hidden-nobody is wearing merchandise, there are no billboards, or advertising. They remain anonymous in a city thinking about other things. You can tell by walking in a city's downtown what teams the people are supporting just by being observant. I went to Chicago in 2005, didn't see a single Blackhawks hat, jersey, no billboards, no newspaper coverage. They may as well have not existed. But if you walk through Boston, everybody you see either has a Pats, Sox, or Celtics shirt. You know those teams have outpouring of support without even going to a game. It's part of their mainstream culture.

That's an ideal situation. But sometimes you can't have that advertising support from fans wearing merchandise. Instead you have to brand the logo around the city through partnership endeavours and regular advertising, and that's fine too. Locate highest areas of people traffic, and invade their senses with your logo and slogan. "Wamco is the #1 fan of the Blue County Road Hounds". Include players--put a face to the organization and pique their interest. People don't know what they like until they see other people liking it. This at the very leasts gives an impression of presence, that's valuable. Have street vendors display your teams flag--pay them for it! Strike deals for local bars to broadcast your team's games with sound for patrons attending. People naturally gravitate to whatever the TV is on...it makes for good conversation. These things are crucial. If I'm new to the area and I walk in a bar and people are watching whatever game is on tv, to me, that looks like they're interested in it. And I want to watch what other people here are interested in. This goes especially for places with high immigration--you have the opportunity to shape these people because they want to belong in YOUR society. Make sure that you get to them first, and win them over immediately.

This isn't the only way to create fans and win over their time and money, but it's just part of a multi-pronged effort to get people to reecognize and experiment with your brand and product. Every successful off-field team has excellent city-wide branding.

Poll Update!

The latest from the poll to your right indicates that everybody thinks 'Twitter is a good for the NFL'.

Case closed.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Twitter: Blessing in Disguise

I wanted to make this next post about the positive effects Twitter has had on sports marketing, but then I was linked to an article titled "Twitter is a Threat to NFL".

The article shows the caution that the NFL takes towards players using twitter, the uncessary hoopla that can surround twitter updates and the potential for controversy to arise. Twitter is simply a much safer way of communicating information to fans and the media than in person interviews. Very often can sports personalities slip up in interviews, divuldging information that they shouldn't have, or being misquoted by a jaded sports writer. Twitter allows the individual to sit in front of a computer or phone, away from people, and think about what they're going to write. As long as you indicate the necessary rules and precautions that one would take with any sort of team to fan/media communication, I don't understand the reluctancy to employ twitter as a serious mode of communication. The NFL is no stranger to controversy, yet stories like Brett Favre, Terrell Owens and Michael Vick all bring attention and publicity to the league. And those three characters, like baseball with Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are perceived to the fans as acting individuals. The NFL in this case really gets a free ride of publicity without negative feelings towards themselves as a league or sport. Michael Vick has undoubtedly made them money through his generated publicity. Twitter at the very least is capable of that.

However, Twitter is more than capable of that. There is value in cutting out the middle man (sports writers) between athletes/management and fans. Fans appreciate the fact that they can reply to one of their favorite athletes, regardless of whether or not they do. And if that athlete does, all the better. Armchair GMs, and there are millions, like nothing but to offer their opinions and thoughts on the team: twitter is the means at which they can. And the time spent in this communication venue is time spent thinking about the team--it heightens their commitment level. That's money because fans who elevate their commitment levels, buy merchandise, expose themselves to advertisements, and become very attentive to the day-to-day operations will spend more money throughout the course of a season.

The NFL has an overall problem which is controlling player's ego and behaviour. But Twitter is not to blame for a sports culture gone awry. It may be the only device capable of mending relationships between players and fans.

When Everything You Touch Turns to Gold

In every league there are several teams whose fan base is so rabid and widespread that all of their games sellout or come close, television ratings are through the roof, and merchandise sales are astronomical. Usually these teams have years of success, years of tradition, and that tradition has been carried out through generations within families. The Toronto Maple Leafs. The New York Yankees. The Dallas Cowboys. The Los Angeles Lakers.

But it's not enough just to sell all the tickets and put the games on television. Marketing departments of these teams should be working more than any other team. You can't rely on the game experience to captivate fans, so yo have to find other ways and be more creative to satisfy your fans around the world. That means scheduling off-season caravans: having players and management tour throughout the region of fans, meeting those that can't afford to come to games, but who watch every game despite being miles away. Making merchandise available to these people: if all of New England is Red Sox nation (and likely more than that), the Sox must have merchandise stores in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine. Have a presence in every mall across the region.

Team practices and skills competitions are great ways to get fans out to the stadium or arena without it costing them very much. Schedule game viewings in local movie theatres, charity events in local communities. Even a "greatest [team] town" where fans in the community rally to show that they are the best town's fans of their team. These are all ways that you keep fans active and engaged in the team without being able to come to the stadium and show their support that way. Locating minor league operations in adjoining towns are also fantastic, bigger scale ways of keeping fans involved.

Being able to do that, and finding alternate ways of keeping fans interest in the game will help the truly dark ages of a franchise. The Cubs and Leafs have both fielded unsuccessful teams for decades, yet their fan commitment remains some of the highest in professional sports. Marketers have been able to capitalize on the tradition of the team and maintained their off field success. Imagine the outpouring of support when one of those teams eventually wins a championship.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Explaining Phenomena: Toronto FC

Once in a while, something happens that is entirely unexpected and changes the environment completely. Toronto FC in its first three years has surpassed all expectationf of attendance and popularity and is well on its way to becoming one of Toronto's sports darlings.

Toronto FC has sold out all regular season MLS, tournament play, friendly, and exhibition games with vocal support never before seen by a Toronto crowd. That's what's so amazing about it: that in a city where fans are notoriously quiet and self-conscious that there is such atmosphere at these games. This can probably be attributed to fans organizing together for these initiatives. U-Sector, one of the most prominent supporters group dates back to the Toronto Lynx days in the United Soccer Leagues. Comprised of soccer die-hards and proud Torontonians and Canadians, they supported the Lynx just as they supported TFC, though the level of competition is less than MLS and their popularity plateaued.

Once MLS was brought to Toronto, season ticket sales were steady but not overwhelming until David Beckham signed with the LA Galaxy in the 2007 offseason. This immediately brought attention to the quality of play in the MLS and season tickets for TFC (as well as other teams) reached capacity. That set the stage for U-Sector, Red Patch Boys, and other support groups to start these TFC fan initiatives and start an atmosphere that would extend from the south end of the stadium to all other areas, making fans out of people who may have just purchased tickets to see Beckham. Today Beckham is no longer the reason that TFC gets the support it does, thanks to the fever that as carried out through Toronto.

The second more scientific reason that TFC is contrary to the idea of fans: that tickets and time require minimal commitment. Season tickets were initially $280 for the cheapest seat at BMO Field, and require time commitment of 19 games. This allows the most dedicated fans to attend their game, but not feel obligated to spend most of their summer evenings at the stadium. To put that in perspective, a similar seat at Rogers Centre for the Blue Jays would cost about $1700 for the season and require commitment of 81 games, which is difficult for many people to committ to. And even if they can, it requires a lot of energy to get *that* excited for every game. The specifications of MLS soccer work in this favour.

The relative lack of supply has worked in excellent favour of Toronto FC. 20,000 seats has kept the stadium packed, and has created fan interest in people who may not consider themselves to be soccer die-hards. People want what they can't have and even if tickets are cheap, most people who want TFC tickets can't get them. The worst thing that they could do is to expand their stadium by more than 5,000 seats. The waitlist for season tickets exceeds 14,000, however if capacity of the field was expanded to 35,000 there is substantial risk that some games would not sellout. The second that a non-sellout is recorded, fan intrigue declines as well. In the meantime, they are encouraged to make select tickets available to people on the waitlist, just to keep their interests in the team.

Toronto FC is not without its challenges as television ratings do not approach baseball and hockey ratings Canada wide, but with success on the field, they have the power to captivate the city and build the sport through Toronto and Canada.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dealing with Public Relation Trainwrecks

The Womens National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are both suffering through extensive PR crises at the moment. The WBNA does not have a widespread appeal and in a tough economic recession has had to sell uniform sponsorship just to keep themselves around. Major League Baseball for the last decade has dealt with a ever increasing problem of players using performance enhancing drugs. Even though attendance and television ratings continue to rise and their place next to the NFL in Tier 1 professional sports is certainly not at risk, the public perception among fans, media, and non-fans is negative because of this situation. The WNBA and MLB both have unique situations.

Professional women's basketball has declined in popularity. Attendance is down throughout the league and stable organizations have lost their footing. The NBA, the mecca of sports promotion is not a team promoting league: they promote their individual stars which has proven to be successful. On top of this, the showboat nature of the NBA has made it appealing to television and live audiences. For the WNBA, unfortunately there are fewer thrilling slam dunks, a staple of the NBA's popularity in their games. My recommendation is that they consider altering the specifications of the playing surface. Not in a trampoline installing sense, but by bringing the nets lower, and closer together, they can maintain the look of the game while significantly increasing the entertainment value. Sports Centre highlight reels drive popularity in individual players, and by making the surface alterations can highlight the performances of these extremely athletic basketball players.

The PED issue is much more complex. This has been a runaway train for nearly a decade. It must be understood that while the players as a whole are not entirely responsible for what has happened, they will undoubtedly take the fall. The list of 103 players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003, when there were no consequences for failing tests has slowly been trickling through anonymous sources. Also, recall that rules concerning PEDs were never passed by the MLBPA--this was Selig on his own. So they never agreed to rules that have no consequence, which is really a recipe for something to go wrong. So while taking steroids are poor life choices, they weren't doing anything outrageous, illegal, or anything that has consequence. It's difficult to feel sorry for these players but there's context in what happened. In any event, if Selig opts for the Do Nothing approach, he will have this list of names trickle down through the media, for probably another decade, which is enough time to induct someone into the Hall of Fame who did PEDs. If they want this situation to go away, they will undoubtedly have release the 103 names (I think that we probably know ten), make a settledment with the players union, not an easy task, and induct a new set of punishments for PED use: such as lifetime banishment. That sends the message to the fans that they've woken up to what the issue is and that they will do what is necessary to make sure it doesn't repeat.

Unlike the WNBA, who can turn this around before it's too late, fan perception of PEDs in baseball has been completely tarnished for at least the next two decades. Then we'll either all forgive the players who did them, or acknowledge that like crack cocaine, it is just part of society.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Death by Free Ticket Giveaways

Watching Larry Smith's presentation on the Montreal Alouettes at the John Molson Sports Marketing Conference at Concordia University in Montreal last summer reminded me of some of the most important rules that can never be stressed in the business of sports. The biggest rule is to never, ever give your product away. Unfortunately, it's one of the most common rules, a rule so abused that it has contributed to the collapse of major sports brands.

Advocates of free ticket giveaways will argue that it puts people in the seats, giving the impression that there is a demand. That the people who have free tickets will spend money on food, programs, and merchandise. This is all true, but there are long term consequences for these irresponsible, short sighted decisions.

If people are given enough tickets, their value perception of those seats will be zero. Even if the team is doing well and competing for a playoff spot, these people will be sitting at home, waiting for their annual or monthly pair to arrive in the mail. If the team is doing poorly, they will apathetically make decisions about whether or not to attend the game at all, causing their value perception of the game to be negative--that their time at the game is not worth their time doing everything else. And when people get things for free, or believe that something is worth it, they don't keep it within themselves: they tell everybody about it. They tell them about how they always get free Wizards, Rays, or Blue Jackets tickets. And the next time that friend considers going to a game, they will also wait, because they might get those tickets for free. Or worse, they'll feel stupid that they ever paid money for their ticket when their neighbour got them for free, and will resent the team entirely.

When the Steelers and Dolphins visited Rogers Centre last winter to play the Buffalo Bills in the first year of a 5 year, 7 game Bills in Toronto series, officials priced themselves way beyond what the market was willing to pay for the tickets. With the least expensive seat well over $100, officials realized in the days before the game that attendance would not reach anywhere close to capacity. In doing so, they gave free tickets away: 15,000 free tickets for the Steelers game alone. Tickets went to promoters, who handed them right to their clients. In one case, my friend Jason was given a pair of upper bowl seats for purchasing a pizza. At the game, the guy sitting next to him was lamenting his purchase of $200. Then Jason told him how much he paid for his ticket. You think that fan will ever come back? Not a chance. It didn't help that the papers ran this free ticket giveaway story on their sports section front pages the very next day.

Giving away free tickets is the drug of sport marketers. Short term high, long term consequences and enough abuse will put your brand at risk of losing all its value.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jays @ Seattle: Unchartered Waters of Revenue

When the Jays take on the Seattle Mariners this weekend, officials expect around 10,000 fans from the north side of the border to travel down to Safeco Field and watch their Jays play. That's 10,000 fans buying tickets, 10,000 fans buying merchandise, and 10,000 fans whose trips would be elevated to a euphoric feeling level if they actually got the chance to meet the members of their favorite team. So it would seem like a natural decision for the Jays to capitalize on this west coast passion, financially, if only to help solidify the Jays relationship with their fans.

In a year where attendance is down and several major sponsorship deals have fallen through, it is prudent for sports teams to discover alternate sources of revenue, to help minimize the impact felt by their losses. For the Jays, they have been offered a gift by the fans of the west: they must capitalize on their passionate fan base.

Paul Beeston's philosophy on the Blue Jays has always been to brand them as Canada's Team, and with the Expos gone, can truly market themselves all over Canada. In terms of British Colombia, the Jays could very easily start up a Blue Jays Tour division, that organizes and schedules Blue Jays related trips to Seattle and maybe even other places, depending on demand. BC Place has previously held baseball games and could very easily book a Exhibition Series against the Mariners before the regular season begins. If the average ticket price is $20, and attendance for a two game series is 70,000, gate revenues alone would be 1.4 million and could easily top 2 million dollars once box sales, merchandise sales, VIP packages with player signings, and other areas of revenue are factored in. A three game series could increase this number to 2.5 million. For an organization that has lost key sponsors in the past year, that money is not chump change.

Lost in the finances is also the goodwill gained from providing fans with an opportunity to exclusively watch their team in an unusual place at an unusual time, and the positive relationships made with fans and the brand during that series. After the series, installing a Jays Shop in a popular centrally located Vancouver mall will help gauge interest in the team over the season but provide additional revenue, now and for the future.

These ideas are not exclusive to British Colombia either. Winnipeg is in fair proximity to Minnesota. There are currently bus trips that run to Minnesota designed for Jays fans in Winnipeg to take. Since the organization itself is scheduling these trips, there is potential to include special rallies, signings, or player meet-and-greets that not only build relatinoships with the fans who participate but act as a competitive device over alternate bus tour groups. Admittedly, this is a different, unsusual business for a sports organization to be in, but is something that the Red Sox do with DestiNations, who are blessed with an endless road of money have started and continue to do.


Welcome to Sport Marketing Discussion Blog. I have previously started several other blogs, and in a short time discontinued them. I have found the blogging universe to be incredibly saturated nowadays, specifically the sports blogosphere, so I knew that if I was going to blog about something, it would have to be about something that isn't overly discussed online. That is not to diminish the vastly popular industry of sports marketing, but just to satisfy my own needs to discuss marketing as it pertains to sports, my ideas, and to collect my thoughts. I plan on getting into this business, so I may as well write down my ideas, opinions, and spins on current events in this industry.

Anything that affects the sport marketing, I would like to discuss here, from player personnal transactions to stadium construction plans. Next to the players on the field, ice rink, or court, marketers have just as much responsibility in making sure that there are people in the stands, watching on tv, wearing merchandise, and seeing value in all of that.