SBJ/October 8 - 14, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Cultivating fans is a contact sport in Celtics’ one-on-one sales drive

The best game of one-on-one played by the Boston Celtics this year won't be on the basketball court. Rather, it will be played on the streets of Boston suburbs by an unlikely competitor.

Chris Wallace, the team's general manager, is making a habit of going door-to-door in the Boston area to hand out green-and-white basketball nets, talk basketball with fans and possibly sell a few tickets or at least get people to tune in to a Celtics game this season.

That's not the kind of activity most GMs would find appealing. Dealing with salary cap issues and player contracts seem to be far more pressing needs than a bit of grassroots marketing. Anyway, as most GMs would deduce, isn't that what marketing people are paid to do?

It's a progressive move by Wallace and, apparently, an initiative that was not part of the team's marketing campaign. Just a dedicated employee doing what he thinks is necessary to build some enthusiasm for the coming season.

While the one-on-one marketing undertaken by Wallace might seem quaint and even a bit old-fashioned, it adds an important element that can't be offered by a multimedia promotional campaign: a human connection. That's especially important when most athletes are inaccessible to the public and high ticket prices keep a sizable portion of the fan base away from sports arenas.

It can't be forgotten that people become fans (and perhaps ticket buyers) because they identify with a sports team or a player. Often, that's a one-way street of affection, so when an athlete or sports property recognizes a fan, it's a source of endless goodwill.

Most properties understand, to some extent, the need of customers to have a personal contact with the organization or its players. That's why account people are assigned to establish a rapport with key customers like season-ticket buyers and suite holders. That's a valuable investment and one that provides a meaningful benefit to the ticket buyer. Even for the most jaded person, receiving a phone call or a letter (especially if it isn't a bill) from a representative of a sports property is a good ego stroke.

Access to e-mail has opened a new line of communication and even made a few team owners reachable. However, this cannot — and should not — take the place of more substantial contact with fans.

It's not realistic that sports properties start sending out their top executives to ring doorbells, but many teams have taken an excellent step by hosting in-season or postseason meetings between fans and front-office executives and players.

A bunch of people sitting in a large meeting room might not provide the same intimacy as having the team's GM in your living room, but it provides the same message. It's an unmistakable effort to make contact with fans and demonstrate a sincere interest in listening. This also is called building goodwill, and that's an asset no sports property can have too much of.

Alan Friedman (alanf100@earthlink.net) is founder of Team Marketing Report.

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