SBD/Issue 90/Franchises

Welcome To The Neighborhood: Utah, K.C. Teams Join The AFL

By Rick Ellington, Staff Writer

AFL Kicks Off 20th Season Today
As the AFL prepares to begin its 20th season, the league is welcoming two expansion franchises. The Utah Blaze will begin their inaugural season Saturday night against the SaberCats in San Jose, while the K.C. Brigade will debut the following afternoon in Dallas against the Desperados. The two teams have faced different challenges in figuring out how to carve a niche into the local market’s public consciousness, but both have been successful in their own ways.

HELLO, MY NAME IS: Before the Ken Garff Automotive Group was granted an AFL expansion franchise for Salt Lake City in September ’04, the only indoor football the market had previously seen was the NIFL’s Utah Warriors. Blaze President Jason Jones said, “It took a little bit of educating for the population here, and even the media, but seeing the ticket sales and sponsorship sales and the amount of interest, they’ve really come on board.” The team has sold 7,700 season-ticket packages, and sponsors ranging from the Newspaper Agency Corporation to the local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates are lining up to be part of the Blaze’s inaugural season. Jones: “We not only have a corporate title sponsor of the game, we’ve got a supporting sponsor, we’ve got a television title sponsor, a radio title sponsor, and then we’ve got the local newspapers. ... With any one of our eight games, we will have three to four title sponsors with their own areas. What we’ve asked for them ... is to take accountability to promote that game via trade back in [commercial] spots and advertising.” Jones said that strategy has resulted in “three or four” beat writers, including ones from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and TV stations traveling to San Jose to cover Saturday’s game. Jones said, “We’re getting more coverage than any other [AFL] team out there.”

YOUTH OF THE NATION: The influence of the Mormon church over the Salt Lake region and the large numbers of families that live there have presented the Blaze with unique marketing challenges and opportunities. Jones said, “Getting involved with these youth (sports) programs has just been paramount.” To that end, the Blaze, in advance of ever playing a game, partnered with the Ute Conference youth football league, the only non-county-run youth organization in Salt Lake City. Each of the 8,000 participants in the Ute Conference received a membership card into the Junior Blaze fan club, which Jones said gives them “discount benefits on single-game tickets and gives them a merchandise package if they buy into season tickets.” The team has become hands-on with the arrangement, as Blaze coach Danny White spoke at the league’s year-end awards banquet. Jones also said, “We’ve even thought of going down the road of having the Ute Conference jersey sporting a patch supporting the [Blaze], like we do in the AFL.” Meanwhile, each high school in the Salt Lake Valley will be represented at games by a sponsor that subsidizes tickets for the students.

Brigade Starting Year Early
Due To Hurricane Katrina
RUSH HOUR: Whereas the Blaze had well over a year to prepare for the birth of their franchise, the Brigade did not have that sort of lead time. Originally slated to debut in ’07, the AFL asked the club in October to play this year after Hurricane Katrina caused the VooDoo to suspend operations for a season. However, Brigade Managing Partner Tyler Prochnow said the schedule change did not alter too many of their plans in growing the franchise. Prochnow: “It didn’t change dollar values or our approach too much, because we thought we had a pretty good game plan, but we just now put it into a much shorter time frame.” The team has signed a radio deal with Union Broadcasting’s KCXM-FM and TV deals with KSMO-WB and Time Warner’s Metro Sports. Prochnow said, “We’re ahead of schedule from where we anticipated being at this point. ... We have exceeded our 12-month projection, so we have greatly exceeded what we would anticipate with a four -month selling cycle.”

SEASONS GREETINGS: The mid-fall announcement of the creation of the franchise provided a natural boost for the Brigade. Prochnow said, “We got the launch date right in early October, right in the middle of when people are paying attention to football. We didn’t have to work so hard initially to generate interest like we did when we thought we’d be launching this team in the middle of baseball season.” The team ran a “name the team” contest that drew the immediate attention of the K.C. market. Prochnow said due to the contest, the club had “a fairly sizable database that we started with. ... We asked people to indicate whether they were interested in purchasing season tickets and finding out more information about the team from that.” The team launched a marketing campaign that involved every media source –- print, TV, radio and e-mail messages — as well as a grass-roots component. That jump start, combined with the ambitious ad strategy, has helped the team sell 7,800 season-ticket packages in advance of its home-opener February 12.

MORE AFL: For AFL fan demographics, please see Back Of The Book. This concludes THE DAILY’s week-long look at the AFL, including a Q&A with Avengers Owner Casey Wasserman, an AFL Spons-o-Meter, a Turnkey Sports Poll about the league and an examination of league marketing efforts. In addition, see this week’s issue of SportsBusiness Journal for an in-depth on the AFL.

Return to top
Video Powered By - Castfire CMS Powered By - Sitecore

Report a Bug