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 and If you incude the price of a one night stay ($40, as comparable to 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 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.