SBJ/November 12 - 18, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Why does Bulls’ straightforward new campaign work? Because

The Chicago Bulls, coming off another last-place finish, are the NBA's 29th-finest team, according to Sports Illustrated. The magazine ranks them dead last yet again in its preseason power ratings.

But by another measure, attendance, the Bulls are the league's No. 2 home draw. Last year, the Bulls averaged 21,674 at the gate, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs.

For Bulls fans during the team's championship dynasty (six NBA banners hang in the United Center rafters), getting game tickets was a phone-frenzied, arm-twisting, wallet-shrinking ordeal. And season tickets? Forget it. If you got on the waiting list for season tickets, you figured your grandchildren would get the seats, since you'd get to the front of the line as you reached senility.

Then, last season, after a couple of "rebuilding" years, the tone changed. Suddenly, that long season-ticket waiting list shrank. Contacting the Bulls got you right through to a friendly agent eager to sell you a season package.

Credit the Bulls for having the proper respect for the reality of their business. In the past couple of seasons, rather than pretending that all was well, they have used an advertising-driven full-court press to keep every seat sold.

The Bulls have been longtime believers in using ads to fill seats. Even as the dynasty drew to a close, the ads began — as a way to remind ticket-holding fans of the value of the seasons they owned.

Now, using television, radio, print, outdoor and direct-mail advertising, the Bulls' ticket-marketing machine is executing a straightforward, effective campaign that hits not one but pretty much every Bulls fan's hot button.

The strategy is to sell season tickets. And the advertising approach sets up the premise directly, asking the question "Why season tickets?" Each ad communicates the answer with the word "Because" adjacent to the globally known Bulls logo.

In a series of three television spots, the answers come in a reality TV-like rapid-attack format, with enthusiastic everyday fans in prototypical Chicago locations (el trains, parks and in front of the skyline) answering the "Why Bulls season tickets" question with a range of "Because" answers:

They don't quit.

They are the youngest team and are getting better.

To boo John Starks.

Because I never got off the bandwagon.

Because I remember how hard it used to be to get tickets.

Because I love the Bulls.

Because it's a great way to entertain clients.

Because I get to see stars like Shaq, Kobe, Carter and Iverson live.

Because what else are you going to do when it's 20 degrees below outside.

Because it's non-stop fun.

Because I believe.

Because it's only a matter of time ...

Ah, hope!

Print ads take the same approach but feature just one fan with one "reason why" quote per ad rather than the many featured in each TV commercial.

It's not flashy, expensive or particularly witty, but it does communicate. And judging by ticket sales (the only measure that really matters), it clearly resonates with fans.

Perhaps next year (or, if fans are lucky, later this season) the Bulls' marketing approach will echo the strategy of Jerry Reinsdorf's other team, the baseball White Sox, who in 2000 boldly proclaimed "The kids can play."

With first-rounders Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler expected to see lots of playing (and learning) time, you can bet that the Bulls await the day when they can sell tickets because fans expect them to win.

Until then, the "Because" campaign is a solid effort in a tough environment.

James H. Harris (jim@thoughtstep.com) is CEO of the Chicago-based strategic marketing consultancy ThoughtStep Inc.

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