In this economy, teams need to give fans a little push to come to the ballpark. Those nudges — big or small — fall under the rubric of marketing. How teams present their image and branding to fans is a critical piece of their continuing success. In our annual Ballpark Digest Award for the Best Marketing Campaign, we present three different visions for marketing. They’re all different, but they’re all successful — and we suspect more than a few operators will want to borrow from their approaches.
In this economy, teams need to give fans a little push to come to the ballpark. Those nudges — big or small — fall under the rubric of marketing. How teams present their image and branding to fans is a critical piece of their continuing success. In our annual Ballpark Digest Award for the Best Marketing Campaign, we present three different visions for marketing. They’re all dramatically different, but they’re all successful — and we suspect more than a few operators will want to borrow from their approaches.
There’s no biggest success story in the minors than the Dayton Dragons (Low Class A; Midwest League): the team managed to extend its sellout streak through the entire 2009 season — an amazing feat given the general bad economy and the poor local economy (12 percent unemployment rate) in Dayton.
Of special note is the marketing Bob Murphy, Eric Deutsch and crew put in place for season-ticket buyers and sponsors. In 2009 the Dragons devised flexible payment plan options that accommodated the needs of many season ticket holders as evidenced by the 95 percent renewal rate. Furthermore, rather than reducing prices on group outing packages, a plan was created to add value for the fans by including catering options in many group packages. The plan was cost effective for the organization and proved to be successful as the renewal rate for group accounts in 2009 was 90 percent. And despite the economy the team managed to keep its sponsorship base intact at a time when many teams were down by 30 percent or more.
The marketing approach for the Dragons: a high-touch approach that combines targeted marketing outreach with a personal touch. The goal was to extend the team’s sellout record by 70 games, and the cornerstone of that was the team’s renewal notice.
Not just any renewal notice, mind you: the Dragons sent out a direct-mail piece featuring a 9×12 booklet of photos and materials designed to remind customers of the good times they had at a Dragons game in Fifth Third Field. The Dragons were kind enough to send us a copy: it’s a stunner and will certainly grab the attention of any recipient — it’s a mailing with heft and substance. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s not a bill. In case the customer has any questions, the name and number of the customer’s personal sales rep is included. The capper: a marketing letter from Murphy, outlining what fans can expect in the coming year.
The package — and the accompanying customer-service support — worked, as the Dragon experienced a 95 percent renewal in season tickets for 2009.
In Indiana, the management of the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low Class A; Midwest League) took on many challenges entering the 2009 season: opening a new ballpark with a new name and new branding. While many fans were eager for the changes, there was a hardcore set who were apprehensive about attending games in a new downtown ballpark; they needed to be persuaded that the new ballpark would be a fun experience. And many fans were confused about the choice of TinCaps as a team name.
The first part of the team’s branding experience was to assure fans the new name worked while making sure the new branding message was consistent in anything relating to the team. We’ve already awarded the TinCaps an award for the new name and logo, so we’re not going to repeat ourselves. The team’s use of branding as marketing was apparent in every corner of the ballpark as well as the team’s ads and commercials, all pushing the new brand and the new ballpark.
The second part of Fort Wayne’s marketing plan was the broadcast of all 70 home games, as well as six playoff games, on local cable, only the second team in the minors to take this step. In essence, these broadcasts were basically three-hour commercials for the team, showing fun at the ballpark and promoting future games as well. It also didn’t hurt that most of these broadcasts showed a lot of fans at the game, building up some demand.
In the Quad Cities, marketing is a multi-pronged affair. There’s nothing unusual about the marketing — the team utilizes partnerships with two daily newspapers, five TV stations and nine radio stations to get out the team’s message on a regular basis throughout the season. The team produced 12 radio spots throughout the regular season and a different print ad for each home series. In addition, new TV spots are produced throughout the season. Now, in and of themselves, none of these marketing tools are that unusual. But the award for the Bandit comes because the marketing message is so overwhelming and coordinated. The print ads reinforce the radio spots, which in turn are reinforced by the television spots. And raising things to a whole new level is the team’s use of email blasts — some 75 blasts per year to an email list of more than 10,000 — which serve to close the deal. We live in a mediacentric age, and consumers face a barrage of marketing messages daily. But the Bandits wisely use the media outlets in the Quad Cities to cut through the clutter with a clean, consistent message of affordable fun at the ballpark.
At the end of the day, the marketing really only serves one point: to put butts in the stands. All three are successful. Dayton continued its sellout streak throughout the 2009 season with a 95 percent season-ticket renewal, Fort Wayne attendance jumped 31 percent in the new ballpark, and over the last two years Quad Cities River Bandits attendance has climbed 64 percent.
Ballpark Digest Awards are chosen by the editors of the website following nominations from teams and fans alike.
Subscribers to the weekly Ballpark Digest newsletter see features before they’re posted to the site. You can sign up for a free subscription at the Newsletter Signup Page.