SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/From The Field Of

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  • Help sports fans feel their way to memorable experiences

    As I was preparing to teach my graduate sales management class, I was rereading P.T. Barnum’s autobiography, “Struggles and Triumphs,” in which he offers details of his hoaxes as well as his marketing successes.

    Sports can deliver the feelings fans are hoping
    for when they seek that ‘priceless’ moment.
    I came to the same conclusion as Barnum: Consumers make purchasing decisions based upon feelings they anticipate from their purchases.

    People attended Barnum’s American Museum because they were skeptical of his claims or they wanted to satisfy a curiosity. They came to see if Joyce Heth, purported to be the 161-year-old nanny of George Washington, was the real thing. They came to see Tom Thumb, the Fiji Mermaid and Jenny Lind.

    Some of the attractions were fakes; others were real. For the most part, the citizens of the day had opinions about what they would see and they wanted those feelings validated.

    Today, Disneyland and Walt Disney World deliver magical moments that are so rewarding and consistent that they translate into any language. Starbucks is successful not just because it has great coffee but also because it has created an experience that provides social interaction, intimacy, relaxation, enjoyment.

    Sound overly simple? Think about it.

    We go to horror movies or haunted houses at amusement parks because we hope or expect to be frightened.

    We participate in adventure sports for the thrills in taking risks.

    We plan vacations because we want to relax, to discover new things or perhaps to express our love for our families and feel loved in return.

    Some fans travel to every baseball park on a pilgrimage that not only promises fun but also conveys a feeling of accomplishment when the journey has been completed.

    Great expectations
    When we offer our sport and entertainment products, are we considering how to generate the feelings that our audiences expect? Let’s examine an array of sentiments different patrons could anticipate at a baseball game:

    • A baby boomer taking his child to his/her first game might evoke the sense of being a good father and building a relationship. This feeling could relate to his experiences with his own father.
    • A non-baseball fan attending a game with a group from work might hope to have a good time and fit in better with his/her office mates.
    • A Little Leaguer attending the game in uniform and with glove might hope to catch a foul ball and bring it home, dreaming that this is the first step in his own baseball career.
    • A single mom attending the game with her son might be seeking quality time together.
    • A Barry Bonds basher might express how he feels about the legitimacy of the slugger’s accomplishments.
    • A visitor from another country might feel that he/she is doing something truly “American.”
    • A fan might enjoy the feeling that comes with having a ticket to a sold-out event, of being part of the sport’s history when a meaningful record is broken, of seeing his/her hero in action or the satisfaction of getting a deal: a discounted ticket, a giveaway item or fireworks night.
    • A collector might expect to be one of the first 5,000 fans to receive a limited-edition bobblehead doll.
    • A fan at Fenway Park might relish a victory by the Red Sox over the hated Yankees.
    • A White Sox fan might feel a sense of identification and accomplishment after the 2005 World Series.

    These are all expected or hopeful outcomes that are associated with personal feelings. As we plan our marketing campaigns and promotional activities, are we thinking about all of the consequences?

    Surely if the desired outcomes occur for the fans, and the feelings associated with them are realized, then whenever they seek that feeling they will return. The key is letting the public know that sports can deliver these feelings.

    Powerful emotions
    Imagine the feelings that could be derived from:

    • Hanging the numbers on the Wrigley Field scoreboard.
    • Sitting with your child on the Yankee bench during batting practice.
    • Attending a fantasy camp for your favorite team and meeting your childhood hero.
    • Walking Amen Corner at Augusta after the day’s round has concluded.
    • Having a professional athlete autograph your replica jersey and thank you for your support.
    • Having an usher recognize you by name as he takes you and your business clients to your seats.
    • Having the mascot deliver a birthday card to your daughter in her seat.
    • Getting change for a $10 bill at the concession stand.

    Not everything has to be a significant or unique experience. It can be just a simple action that becomes, as MasterCard says, a “priceless” moment.

    Bill Sutton ( is a professor at the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida.


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