SBD/March 28, 2011/Franchises

Sporting KC Uses Innovative Promotion To Stay In The Headlines

Ochocinco's trial brought four times normal amount of reporters to camp
MLS Sporting KC is "in little danger of being overlooked," despite its "location in one of the league's smallest media markets," according to Seth Vertelney of It has been a "whirlwind two weeks" for the club, which has become the "first professional sports franchise to name its stadium after a nonprofit organization" and brought in Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco for a tryout. Sporting KC VP/Communications Rob Thomson said, "We call it innovative. That's a word we use a lot, and that’s how we operate every day." Ochocinco's tryout may be the "most recent and high-profile example of Sporting’s experimental nous, but by no means is it the first." In trying to "break through the overloaded American sports market," Sporting KC has shown it is the "archetypical franchise when it comes to guerilla marketing tactics." The team's rebranding from the K.C. Wizards to Sporting KC "unquestionably got people talking," and the naming-rights agreement for Livestrong Sporting Park "received publicity that rarely accompanies a stadium-naming announcement." Thomson said, "Each year four or five teams sell stadium naming rights, so it’s not a new story. Ours was just different." Most recently, Ochocinco's trial -- already extended from four days to a week -- has "generated massive amounts of attention." There were "40 media members in attendance at Ochocinco’s first training session Wednesday -- four times the normal amount" (, 3/25). In Miami, Michelle Kaufman wrote under the header, "Ochocinco-MLS Becomes A Win-Win Relationship." Sporting KC is "making national sports headlines, getting airtime on ESPN, and that's a good thing for the sport." It is "hard to blame" the team for granting Ochocinco a tryout (MIAMI HERALD, 3/27). 

JUST FOR KICKS: ESPN followed Ochocinco as he trained with Sporting KC last week. Footage was shown of Ochocinco working out, running drills and scrimmaging over three days, with his time extended to play in a reserve game. Sporting KC President Robb Heineman: "It's not every day you get a world-class athlete like Chad Ochocinco coming into the game of soccer. To have Chad in here and work him out and see if over time he can progress and be a guy that can show up on the field, that's worth the investment." ESPN's Bob Ley said, "Sporting Kansas City has already gotten more international publicity than it could have otherwise purchased" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/27). MLS Chicago Fire Technical Dir Frank Klopas said, "I know he's a great athlete, but if Ochocinco goes there, maybe we have (Bears WR Devin) Hester come to our team for a tryout. I'll take Hester over Ochocinco. … It's like me saying I'm going to call up (Bears coach) Lovie Smith and say, 'I'm coming for a tryout next week'" ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportNet Chicago, 3/25).

YOUTH OF A NATION: In Portland, Allan Brettman noted about five years ago, MLS "started to take aim at one of the most coveted demographics, the 18-34 age group," and "perhaps few MLS campaigns have reflected the 18-34 target with more resonance than the Timbers'." The expansion club's promotional effort "seems to have worked: The season ticket supply is gone and six games are sold out or very close to it while Timbers management is confident that every game will sell out." After MLS "awarded a franchise to Portland, the Timbers' marketing staff began discussing strategies to promote the team." Timbers VP/Business Operations & Marketing Cory Dolich and his staff "pondered the qualities people linked with the Timbers brand that had existed in Portland." Dolich said, "Extremely passionate, electric -- a great in-game atmosphere. When we put that all together we decided we really need to showcase our fans." To Jelly Helm, whose self-titled agency handles the Timbers' advertising, Dolich's message "meant soaking in the chants, the bouncing, the singing, the sense [of the] raucous community that comprise the 90 minutes inside a stadium with the Timbers Army." Helm said, "What we really focused on was the most exciting, energetic part of the Timbers" (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/26).
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