SBJ/May 13 - 19, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

Seahawks corral e-mail addresses after giving the reins to their fans

The average e-mail address has a shelf life of 18 to 24 months, according to a report from E-Mail Knowledge, an Internet research firm. For team marketers trying to maintain an active e-mail database of about 50,000 people, it is next to impossible to keep the list up-to-date, let alone collect new addresses.

The Seattle Seahawks are discovering that some fan-friendly promotions and house cleaning will go a long way not only in maintaining active accounts but in collecting new e-mail addresses.

In August, Hawk Mail, the team's e-mail newsletter, had about 8,000 subscribers. Thanks to the team's increased efforts to promote the newsletter throughout the season, membership jumped to more than 30,000 by March.

While the increase was significant, no one would have predicted that the team's largest source of e-mail collection would occur later in the spring, almost six months before the start of the season. Throughout March and April, the team added more than 25,000 accounts to its database, for a total of more than 55,000 accounts.

In doing so, the Seahawks not only increased their database of customers and potential sales leads, but they also began the foundation of a change of philosophy that already has strengthened the connection between fans and the team.

"We're staying true to the fact that if you provide fans with something they can't get anywhere else, they will in fact respond," said Mike Flood, vice president of community outreach and facilities for the Seahawks. "We just never would have imagined they would respond in this great of numbers."

Fans picked blue helmets over gray for the Seattle Seahawks and perked up the team's e-mail database in the process.

The team's success in attracting online fans is due largely to two simple but effective promotions.

First, the team announced its players would wear a new helmet in 2002, but said it was not sure which of two models it would be. One was similar to the gray-colored helmet the Seahawks have worn for years. The other was metallic blue.

The Seahawks decided to let their fans decide. Primarily through press releases, local news coverage and heavy promotions on the site, the team got the word out about the vote for the new helmet. Fans could place a vote online only if they were subscribers to Hawk Mail. Registration for the newsletter required them to enter some basic personal information, including an e-mail address.

In one week's time, more than 60,000 online votes were collected, accounting for more than 25,000 new subscribers. Fans who didn't want to share their e-mail address had the option of voting through an automated telephone line. Approximately 3,600 votes were tallied by phone. The team also rewarded one randomly selected fan with the opportunity to attend the press conference announcing the winning selection.

"The decision for a new helmet is a major change for any football team, and it's an important one to make," Flood said. "Why not let our fans have a say in how we're going to look on the field?"

The second promotion generated additional e-mail addresses. The Seahawks' cheerleading squad, the SeaGals, had two openings on the roster. After narrowing down qualified applicants, the team again turned to its fans to decide who the two new members would be.

The result, in terms of numbers, was not as successful as the helmet vote, but the impact was just as substantial in the eyes of many fans wanting to be part of the decision-making process of their favorite team. In one week, nearly 7,500 fans cast their votes, accounting for more than 2,500 new e-mail subscriptions. One randomly selected fan was chosen to call the winning women to tell them they were now SeaGals.

"Once you break it down, there are so many opportunities to look to our fans to help us make decisions on things that we normally don't share outside our office," Flood said. "We want to find more opportunities to let our fans get involved in the decision-making process."

The Seahawks are planning a series of similar promotions that will go as far as to encourage current subscribers to forward messages to their friends and families.

The team's success has opened the eyes of others in the industry. Since the Seahawks' program was announced, the Houston Rockets launched a Web-based vote to give fans a say in the team's new uniforms.

Dan Migala (dmigala@teammarketing.com) is the author of "Interactive Sports Strategies."

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