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Imagine enduring your 18th consecutive losing season and having the worst record in Major League Baseball with a good chance of losing 100 games this season. Now take that same scenario with advance individual game ticket sales up almost 3.6 percent, Internet sales up 4.2 percent and overall attendance up 3.1 percent.
Impossible? Welcome to Lou DePaoli’s 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates.
As a Pirates fan and through DirecTV’s Extra Innings package, I watch 100 or more Pirates games each year. This year, however, I found myself drawn to the infomercial type drop-ins promoting coming games in every Pirates telecast. I have always felt that edu-selling, explaining to people what they should buy and why, is one of the keys to effective selling and customer satisfaction. Infomercials are generally more accepted today as a method of promoting and selling legitimate products and have proved to be very successful retail drivers. If you have any doubts check with Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco.
So I called DePaoli, a good friend from our days at the NBA and who is now executive vice president and CMO with the Pirates, and asked him why this approach has been so effective.
According to DePaoli, the original concept was to run a 30-minute ticket sales infomercial on the team rights holder’s network (FSN Pittsburgh) during late 2008 and early 2009 before the 2009 season, but the team realized that 30 minutes was a lot of time to fill. So it decided to launch the concept as a series of 30-second spots designed to push some of the seasonlong offers and targeted promotional nights.
The first version of the infomercials was based upon the ShamWow infomercial. The host was featured behind a table with a Pirates backdrop behind him while he wore various Pirates logoed golf shirts. The host had the item(s) in front of him and he spoke quickly and/or humorously about the product while having a strong call to action verbally at the end, followed by an old-style graphic to close the spot saying “Operators are standing by, call now!” The first subjects of the infomercials were promotions for the all-you-can-eat seats and $1 hot dog nights.
DePaoli said the team thought about holding a casting call to determine the host, but realized that in-ballpark host Joe Klimchak would be ideal even though he had no experience. Klimchak proved to be excellent from the start. He was very enthusiastic about the opportunity and the concept, DePaoli said, and it shows in the spots. When looking for a co-host for 2010, the Pirates again thought about a casting call, but Klimchak recommended his wife, Jennifer. They work very well together on and off camera and often offer concepts and script ideas for the spots.
After the success of the spots in 2009, the Pirates decided to take the concept to the next level and created Pirates Shopping Network (aka PSN), complete with a studio, props, an additional host, and studio models to help demonstrate the items that were showcased in that specific spot.
“We are currently exploring concepts and ideas on how to further enhance our infomercial-style TV spots for 2011 so that the look and feel stays fresh for our fans,” DePaoli said.
Keys to success:
1. Targeted approach. Thirty-
second spots for each promotion
they want to highlight
2. Well-planned, creative
3. Benefits of the promotion
are clearly explained
4. Clear call to action and a simple
way to respond to the offer
Why an infomercial? DePaoli said it allows 30 seconds of very direct retail messaging to sell tickets, while having the website, phone number, and sponsor logo on screen for the full 30 seconds. Plus, he added, the Pirates are better able to explain the promotion and/or giveaway during the spot.
These infomercial-style spots represent about 75 percent of the team’s TV spots, while it has other traditional spots for certain promotions and events (postgame fireworks, SkyBlast, Kids Days on Sundays).
“Do they work? Yes! We have been tracking when and where these spots run and have seen our sales spike when the spots run,” DePaoli said. “Our attendance through the first 66 games in 2010 [through Sept. 1] is up 3.1 percent and we sold out six consecutive Saturday night games between June 3 and Aug. 7.”
The team ensures there is plenty of Pirates branding and messaging throughout the spots so there is no doubt about who the retailer is, DePaoli said, without going overboard so that it loses its credibility.
The team maintains consistency by having Klimchak be the common thread and focal point of the infomercial spots and the in-ballpark entertainment. “People always say that they have seen Joe on the TV spots while they are in park; he is becoming quite recognizable in our market, which is a good thing,” DePaoli said.
The production of each infomercial is done entirely by the team’s in-house marketing department. It comes up with the concepts, storyboards, scripts, props, talent, set, etc., in addition to shooting, editing, producing, scheduling and trafficking the spots.
This is a concept that will work in any sport for any team that has local broadcasts of their games.
Visit the Pirates’ website to view some of these infomercials. Decide what promotions you want to highlight, take the time to edu-sell those benefits and clearly illustrate the offer and what the purchaser will receive. This simple approach can bring out the Ron Popeil in all of us.
Bill Sutton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.