Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Sports Marketing: Creating A Premium Experience



Sports Marketing: Creating A Premium Experience

I enjoy watching sports on weekends, especially this time of year. Baseball is in full swing, college and NFL football is getting underway, and the start of NBA training camp is just a month away.

On my DirecTV package I can see the “local” broadcasts of teams, and I pay particular attention to the advertising the teams play on their own broadcasts to promote themselves. I see a lot of ads that are created to show a family at a game or the fun of the ballpark – quasi branding ads – but that is not what today’s fans want. They don’t want just an experience. They want a PREMIUM experience.

In sports, the brand of the team is developed over time and is entwined with the game experience and the team heritage. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, the brand is great players - Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Orel Hershiser and others; great managers – Walter Alston & Tommy Lasorda, the O’Malley family, Branch Rickey, Brooklyn, and Dodger Stadium. It’s Vin Scully. It’s the home white and road grey uniforms that are the same today as in 1957. It’s Dodger Dogs, Helen Dell and Nancy Bea Hefley on the Dodger Stadium Hammond organ, and John Ramsey at the Dodger Stadium microphone. It’s that consistency of experience. It is that the Dodger game my dad took me to in 1963 isn’t much different than the experience I can provide to my sons when I take them to a game in 2012.

The expectation of the typical sports fan has changed however. When ticket prices were $10, the expectation was for a “normal” experience. With prices for many sports events now $100 or more per ticket, the expectation has risen along with it. Now, sports marketers need to pay homage to the brand heritage and they also need to figure out a way to offer a PREMIUM experience to their fans. With their primary task of filling the seats with fans, that is a very different skill set from a typical marketing manager who cut their teeth in consumer packaged goods and spent the majority of time on branding and not promotion. In sports, it’s all about selling season tickets and creating great promotions for single-game ticket sales.

In college sports, particularly football, many schools don’t have a strong brand heritage from which to draw. Utah State University for example really only has one bona-fide All-American – the late Merlin Olsen – and much of its football heritage is forgettable. So what can a school or team like this do to put butts-in-seats?

Create a premium pre-game dining and socializing experience that fans and alumni WANT to be a part of! Copy what other successful teams / schools do and make it your own. Right now, a USU football game experience is not much different than going to a high school game. You show up 20 minutes before game time, the band is playing while you walk up to your seats, grab a $3.00 hot dog and a Coke, and the game begins.

Why do fans pay $100-$200 per game to attend a Jazz game? What do BYU and the U of U offer fans to create a “premium” pre-game experience? FOOD & socializing /networking opportunities – that’s what. USU needs to create premium experiences available to alumni so they can rub shoulders with important alumni, business leaders, and University leaders at Aggie home games.

At Utah Ute games, the pre-game suite dinner area is a who’s-who of CEO’s, politicians, and Salt Lake elite; at BYU, the suite dinner area has LDS leaders, CEO’s and important alumni, and in the “Sponsor Tent” is a giant buffet for 1,000 important sponsors and alumni where the band marches through, the cheerleaders and Cosmo come to visit, and the University President stops by to shake hands. When you enter the tent, you are always given a premium – a hat, a pom-pom, a pin, a poster – and a game program. Fans, eat, socialize, and THEN go out to watch the football game. And at halftime, they go back into the tent for some dessert. Food is the key. Fans want a premium eating experience, not a half-warmed hot dog for $3.00. Wrap the price of the buffet into my ticket price, give me the opportunity to hob-nob with the USU elite.

Create this experience, and season ticket sales will follow. Then, all you need to worry about is figuring out a plan for single-game sales. More on that subject next time.

For more information on effective marketing, check out my new book “The Smart Marketer’s Toolbox”, available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle - http://amzn.to/QPj5MV.

Eric Schulz

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