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There is a lot of contingency planning going on at the NFL in case a work stoppage occurs next season.
Neil Glat, senior vice president for corporate development at the league, said NFL clubs have been sharing best practices in key areas, like maintaining relationships with ticket holders and sponsors, and he noted that while sharing these best practices, the key to teams’ learning to date has been their transparency.
Beneath the surface, the league also has been working with clubs to help maximize revenue, as what was a team-services unit has morphed into club-business development. Out of that group has come innovations like better packaging of tickets with concessions and merchandise, or the rebranding of seating areas that were once afterthoughts, like the Gridiron, Texas-labeled areas at Reliant Stadium.
Another intriguing area is an innovation group, in cooperation with other league and club officials, developing new retail concepts like the pop-up store for licensed products for women at this year’s NFL Kickoff in New Orleans and the location-based mobile-technology venture FanVision (formerly known as Kangaroo TV) that’s owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. The group is also working on a Wi-Fi solution that could be rolled out across NFL venues along with various other projects, some of which will require outside investment.
“We will look to attract equity investors and possibly do some spin-offs,” Glat said. “That premium on innovation is a directive that comes from the top here.”
MARATHON SUBWAY RIDE: With this year’s ING New York City Marathon now just days away, sponsors are starting to support their investment, none more broadly than Subway, the official training partner of the race. Since Jared Fogle, lead spokesman for the brand, is running in Sunday’s marathon, Subway is leveraging what has been largely a regional event with national TV buys on major sports media platforms, such as the NFL and MLB postseason, along with a radio campaign and Fogle point-of-sales advertising in all 23,000 of its U.S. stores.
“They are really looking at us from a national perspective,” said Ann Wells Crandall, senior vice president of business development and marketing for New York Road Runners, which stages the event.
While all the support isn’t in the market yet, there have been suggestions from more than one marketer that Subway is out-marketing ING, which has title-sponsored the NYC race since 2003. So far, that seems like a valid point from this perch.
Other noteworthy activation around this year’s race sees Dunkin’ Donuts, the marathon’s official coffee sponsor, supplying java to the 45,000 runners at the start of the race. DD also is distributing 10,000 branded beanies at their stores along the marathon route and an additional 15,000 to runners, but sadly, it is not reprising its dedicated marathon donut from last year.
New auto sponsor Nissan is touting its Leaf electric car with a showcase effort dubbed the Breathe Easy Tour across New York City’s five boroughs during which it will hand out marathon goodies. Asics has its usual collection of NYC Marathon apparel along with presence through bus wraps and a subway station takeover at New York’s Union Square stop.
Subway and Coors Light are combining to push the use of their products for Marathon Sunday tailgates at home, on the course, or at bars and restaurants. And in one of the largest uses of fruit we know of in a sports marketing effort, the New York Apple Association, a consortium of the 674 commercial apple growers in New York state, has a relatively large media buy to go with the 45,000 apples it supplies to the race annually.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BASKETBALL: There are licensed NBA and college basketball togs, basketball-specific apparel from Nike and most of the rest of the big footwear brands, and hoopswear from apparel-only brands like Russell Athletic and Champion. Now, some five years after basketball junkie brand And 1 was sold to American Sporting Goods, a number of basketball-specific brands are trying to elbow their way under the hoop — that is, onto the landscape of sports specialty retailers, a space largely dominated by Nike and Under Armour.
Mike Luscher, a former MLB and NFL marketer, is trying his hand at apparel with Point 3, an Atlanta-based apparel brand hanging its sneaks on the made-for-and-by-basketball-junkies positioning. It’s online imminently, and Walter’s in Atlanta has agreed to carry the entire line while Luscher dribbles across America seeking distribution in sports specialty retail for his startup.
“[Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association] tells us there are 32 million basketball players in America, and there are established specialty brands in baseball, running and soccer, so there’s definitely market capacity,” Luscher said. “The market has been focused on ankles-down [footwear]. We’re focusing on innovating from the ankles up, where there hasn’t been enough innovation.”
Meanwhile, Collective Licensing International, a company whose associated brands include Airwalk, Saucony, Keds and Sperry Top-Sider, is re-launching the 21-year-old Above The Rim brand it purchased from Reebok in January with some $65 signature shoes from Minnesota Timberwolves guard/forward Martell Webster.
On the apparel side, ATR is promising lightweight tops and shorts at $25 to $40.
“Without a doubt, it’s a competitive market, driven by two or three brands,” said Eric Dreyer, vice president of brand management. “But because it’s a youth-driven market, there’s always a demand for something new and different, so we’ll try to crack that code.”
ATR is currently without firm distribution plans but is aiming its spring launch at mall-based retailers.
If neither of those brands bounce your ball, you could look at footwear and apparel from another brand aiming at the hard-core baller: Ball’N, which is promising a new lightweight line of apparel and footwear for spring delivery. Of course, And 1 still contends that it is “All Things Ball,” but we note the parent also owns the Ryka and Avia footwear brands.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.
NEWSCOMCaps, like these plaid hats offered to Angels fans,
remain atop the giveaway list.
In their never-ending quest to lure fans to the ballpark, baseball marketers continue to aim for the head.
Caps and bobbleheads topped the list of items most frequently given to fans by MLB clubs for the second straight season, according to a SportsBusiness Journal analysis of teams’ 2010 promotional efforts. Along with free T-shirts, which ranked No. 3 on the list, these items have been the most popular giveaways since SportsBusiness Journal first started tracking MLB teams’ game-day promotions and handouts, in 2002.
But while the items at the top of the ranking have gone unchanged, the timing of and reason for the giveaways has shifted for many MLB clubs. The volatility of the nation’s economy has played a role in this change, but so too have pop-culture considerations as well as increased expectations of fans and sponsors for what a giveaway should accomplish.Most frequent 2010 MLB
giveaways and promotions
In short, the key is making a connection.
‘A part of baseball’
According to team executives, it was about a decade ago when MLB clubs began to move away from items such as bottle openers and pencils as giveaways to what they call instead “high perceived value” gifts, such as bobbleheads, limited-edition caps or, perhaps most notably back in the late 1990s, Beanie Babies.
That high perceived value for the fans, however, comes with a high actual cost for the teams and their game-day sponsors. A bobblehead costs a club about $3.50 a unit; a reversible floppy hat costs between $4 and $5. Pennants and magnets, on the other hand, cost pennies.
When the economy soured in recent years, it not surprisingly slowed ballpark turnstiles and forced budget-conscious teams and promotional sponsors to adapt. Order sizes were reduced, so instead of a free ball being given to the first 15,000 fans at a game, maybe the first 10,000 fans got one instead.
But beyond that, the recession’s impact on the promotions business in MLB appears to have been minimal. High-profile items are still deemed important, even at their higher relative cost.
“We actually had more giveaways this season, not less,” said Wally Hayward, Chicago Cubs executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. “And we continue to focus on unique items that have high perceived value.”
Executives at each of 10 MLB clubs contacted by SportsBusiness Journal said their clubs had decreased neither the number of promotional nights nor the budgets related to those dates over the past three seasons. Indeed, according to SportsBusiness Journal’s analysis of all 30 MLB teams’ promotional schedules, MLB clubs combined for 719 giveaway dates this season, a 16 percent increase over 2009 and a 25 percent jump compared with 2008.
“Promotions are as much a part of baseball as hot dogs and Cracker Jacks,” said Patrick Klinger, Minnesota Twins vice president of marketing. “We could have cut back this year, knowing we were going to draw well in the new ballpark [Target Field], but it has become an important part of our team’s culture.”
The Twins gave away nearly half a million items at the gate this season, slightly more than last year, including 5,000 of their eighth annual fishing lure, timed with the opening of the state’s fishing season, a quasi-state holiday, Klinger said.
Change in strategy
While the ultimate goal of every promotion is still to fill seats, the evolution from trinkets to high perceived value items has coincided with a change in scheduling strategy for MLB clubs. The “lift,” or the overall increase in attendance attributed to the promotion, is no longer just about trying to even out the attendance across seven nights of the week by making slow nights a little stronger. For both sponsors and teams, the activation element of the promotion is becoming more experiential.
“There’s more upside to taking a strong game and making it a sellout,” said Lou DePaoli, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “If you have a soft opponent on a Tuesday in May, you’re not going to do much, other than maybe a sponsor-driven ticket promotion.”
DePaoli developed a metric several years ago for measuring the effectiveness of promotions on ticket sales, a tool that helps sponsors maximize their activation plans. The Pirates stack all their premium giveaways on weekends. The club, for example, drew nearly 31,000 fans to PNC Park on Friday, Aug. 6, for the team’s lone bobblehead giveaway, an Andrew McCutchen doll, a 40 percent jump over the team’s other 12 Friday home dates and a 54 percent boost over the team’s other 80 home games overall.
Nearly every other club is now on a similar path, with bobbleheads providing the biggest boost. This past season, 66 of the 80 bobblehead nights across the league (or 82.5 percent) were held on weekends, double the percentage of just five seasons ago.
“Do you want to pack the house and have that fan experience, that buzz, of a sellout?” said Jay Deutsch, CEO and co-founder of Bensussen Deutsch & Associates, which produced more than 1 million MLB-licensed bobbleheads that were given away at major league ballparks this season. “You may already have 40,000 coming out on a Saturday night game and get a ‘lift’ of five or six thousand. And that whole connection gets extended long after they’ve left the game.”Twins fishing lure
Teams realize that they may be giving up a few extra tickets sold by not giving away a premium item for a weeknight game, but they hope the weekend fans are leaving with a feeling that their entire evening, which included the top-notch giveaway, had a high perceived value. Additionally, weekend visitors tend to stay at the game longer — not having the school and work considerations that Monday through Thursday night games bring — and they typically spend more on concessions.
In Washington, D.C., the Nationals have opted to schedule many of their promotions on weekends and holidays and for games against popular opponents. The intent with their promotions is as much about getting the team’s curly “W” logo out on the streets and ballfields of the nation’s capital as it is calculating any measurable increase in attendance. As a result, the majority of the Nationals’ giveaways are premium caps and T-shirts.
“The more we are able to get a participative action from our fans in the branding process, the better it is for everyone,” said Nationals’ COO Andrew Feffer. “The fan is getting a higher perceived value by participating rather than simply getting a free item.”
The team distributed more than 300,000 logoed items across 25 dates last season, including 60,000 T-shirts during the Nats’ four-season-old T-Shirt Tuesday campaign. Attendance for the Nationals three bobblehead nights, which were all Saturdays, was about 48 percent higher than the 10 Saturdays that did not have a bobblehead giveaway and 57 percent higher than the team’s other 78 home dates.
DENIS BANCROFT / FLORIDA MARLINSClubs are trying to plug their promotions
into pop culture, as the Marlins’ vuvuzela
But when it comes to incorporating experiential marketing into promotional schedules, few teams have been as active as the Florida Marlins. Florida this season introduced Fiesta Friday, which included a pregame party at the ballpark’s open-to-the-public Strike Zone plaza area, with live music, player autograph sessions, radio broadcasts and a giveaway tied to an additional promotional effort for that day’s game. Then, after the game, the fans could return to the Strike Zone to meet the team’s entertainment troupes: the Mermaids, Manatees and Maniacs.
The club follows a similar template for its Super Saturday and its Family Sunday efforts, with the Sunday plans featuring on-site entertainment with Radio Disney. Sean Flynn, vice president of marketing for the Marlins, said it’s all about extending the fans’ association with the team, not just at the ballpark but throughout the year.
“The redemption level is always high,” Flynn said. “Folks are coming early, then staying into the fourth or fifth hour of the night. It’s our way of eventizing the game, and the event becomes its own brand.”
Across the state, Captain Morgan, an MLB partner, this year sponsored the Tampa Bay Rays’ weekly Friday Fests, which included food and drink specials, postgame parties, a fireworks display after each game, and a feature known as the Center Field Shuffle in which all fans were permitted to walk across the field and exit through Tropicana Field’s center-field gate after the fireworks.
Planning starts earlier
Planning for a season’s promotional efforts begins well before the new year hits. The Pirates, for example, have already completed their 2011 promotional schedule and will release the lineup to the public this week. These early initiatives give potential mini-plan ticket buyers time to scope out their favorite packages and give the club’s sales staff time to match sponsors with specific promotions.
DePaoli said the 2011 schedule release is about 60 days earlier than last season and 90 days sooner than five years ago. A decade ago, most teams released their schedules just before spring training.
“[It] gives us time to get the items through customs and check for errors,” DePaoli said. “But it also gives season-ticket holders a longer period to pay.”Royals Silly Bandz
There are, however, risks involved with planning so far ahead, primarily the difficulty in predicting changes in player personnel. DePaoli recalls one incident that happened during his years with the Marlins in the 1990s. Midway through the 1999 season, the Marlins agreed to a trade that was to send Matt Mantei to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The deal’s oral agreement came on the afternoon of Matt Mantei Lapel Pin Night.
“The deal wasn’t ‘approved’ until the third inning,” DePaoli said, with a chuckle, “so by the end of the game, the fans had a collector’s item.”
Deutsch said examples like that are why clubs increasingly are content when giving a player-themed item on using the likeness of one of their retired stars.
Clubs banking on pop-culture fads — or trying to anticipate a fad — also run risks.
The Marlins, for example, in December scheduled Marlins Air Horn Night, courtesy of American Fasteners. The June 19 giveaway was scheduled to coincide with the FIFA World Cup, but by the time the game came around, the air horn, or vuvuzela, was being lambasted throughout the world as a stadium menace. The team had 15,000 of them, though, and Flynn said the team and the sponsor were happily committed to it — though as it played out, the ear-popping evening drew criticism from the players on the field.
“It was an idea that was planned in conjunction with a worldwide event,” Flynn said. “We’re an entertainment property. We monitor pop culture, and it’s our job to stay current. It was a Hispanic night theme, and we got more positive e-mails about this than any promotion I can remember. I consider it a success.”
In Kansas City, the Royals this season showed a nimbleness that allowed them to capitalize on the current Silly Bandz craze. The team reached out directly to Silly Bandz this spring, several months after the team’s promotional schedule had been released.
Mike Bucek, the Royals’ vice president of marketing and business development, said the club chose two featured designs — a Royals R and a Royals crown — because they were instantly recognized as part of the Royals’ brand and because they bounced back to their original shape fairly easily compared with more complex designs. Attendance for the giveaway Sunday, Sept. 19, with no other promotions taking place, was 17,803, well above the normal average for a late-season Sunday with the ballclub out of playoff contention.Most frequent 2010 promotion/
With a total expense of less than $2,000 for 16,000 bands, Bucek said the promotion was the club’s most cost-effective giveaway of the season. It also gave fans, particularly young fans, an item to keep them connected to the club after they left the ballpark.
To that end, several clubs now offer season-ticket holders the opportunity to upgrade their status to include, for a price, items the club gave away during the season. The Seattle Mariners, for example, will deliver the season’s entire collection of promotional items to your door for $90. The Twins have had more than 2,400 season-ticket holders pay $50 for a box of seven items, including the popular Minnie & Paul bobblehead — the hand-shaking characters representing Minneapolis and St. Paul across the Mississippi River — that was given out July 4. The Nationals provide one voucher per season-ticket holder that can be redeemed at the end of the season for any available giveaway item.
Said Deutsch, “Why do otherwise ‘normal’ parents freak out when they can’t get an extra bobblehead for their kid who couldn’t make it to the game? It’s because the items give you a connection to the team beyond the game itself.”
The number of health awareness dates has more than tripled since 2008. The New York Mets led the way this year, with 15 such dates.
Meijer’s increase in activation dates (to 18, up from two last year) came largely through adding Cincinnati as a partner and sponsoring all Reds Sunday home games.
The Boston Red Sox is the only club that didn’t give away either a bobblehead or a cap.
More teams held a Bring Your Pet day (11) than a Little League day (9).
The Florida Marlins averaged nearly 1,500 pet tickets, at $12 each, for their two pet-themed dates. Those tickets counted toward the turnstile count, and for the two games, the club posted an average attendance 17 percent higher than what it reported for the team’s humans-only games. Proceeds from the animal tickets went to the Humane Society.
Seattle Mariners fans began lining up six hours before the team distributed 30,000 of the “Cooperstown Bound” bobblehead featuring both Ichiro Suzuki and Ken Griffey Jr.
The Atlanta Braves hosted a NASCAR Night for a Thursday game ahead of that same weekend’s local race event. The San Diego Padres, similarly, had a Comic-Con-themed promotion when that event was in town.
— David Broughton