Marketing for a sports team is a very different animal than marketing many more conventional products. Sports marketers still use media like radio, TV and social media to reach their target audiences, but their goals and messaging is rarely what would be considered a direct sale or ‘buy it now’ approach. Instead, their focus is on building relationships to foster fan loyalty and manage different fan experiences. While there certainly is a degree of selling branded products and navigating sponsorships, for the purposes of this blog we will focus on the fan relationship.
- It’s Not All About Product Sales
Of course sports marketers want to encourage more people to watch games and attend team related events, but most sports marketers aren’t focusing the bulk of their efforts promoting game night. A good example of this is the approach the Brewers took. They made a point of positioning themselves as the team of all Milwaukee residents and their fans are the exclusive reason they play. The “we are your team, we are you” approach was part of a larger push to build fan investment in the team to people who aren’t necessarily avid sports fans, but still want to be connected to their community.
- Generational Connection Building
Another huge part of what sports marketers are doing is fostering connections with the new generation of fans. Younger fans are less likely to find the hometown connection compelling. Many people who feel they are sports fans grew up with a family connection to a particular sport or team. Tapping into that youthful “Wow” factor and creating an engaging experience for a younger fan is a sure-fire way to foster a life-long love of the team. Growth of long-term relationships and hero building within younger demographic groups is like banking positive social capital to build a community around the team.
- The Party Goers and Families
Along with younger fans and family groups who go to a game day for a fun outing, are the party goers. These folks are primarily looking to have a good time, often involving alcohol. Offering a combined experience for these two groups is a balancing act with thin margins as family groups are less likely to be tolerant of rowdy behavior. Family oriented experiences like mascot races are a great opportunity to cater specifically to younger fans interests while giving more excitable fans a chance to stretch and grab another beer.
- Big Spenders
While most of us will be satisfied with some nice bowl seats, there are always the ever coveted box seats. This is an entirely different experience than the groups we have previously mentioned. While there are most certainly avid sports fans among the corporate seat and box seat owners, these VIP sections are geared towards those who want to see and be seen. These high end experiences are often carefully choreographed to ensure the best experience for the highest spenders. Much like first class on a plane, there are often exclusive perks related to having such seats like better food amenities and personalized service.
At its core, sports marketing is the business of relationship management and experience building. Unlike most product driven industries, sports marketers do not have direct control over their ‘products’ as injuries and play controversy can arise within a moment’s notice. Emotional and experiential memories last for a long time and can be difficult to reverse if negative. Mastering the promotion of ancillary experiences and community management creates and grows fan bases across generations.