SBJ/February 4-10, 2013/Franchises

English firm helps Rapids reach a new state

The marketing campaign for the Colorado Rapids’ 2013 season carries the themes “A State of Mind” and “Colorado For Life.” Ironically, the MLS club reached the decision to go with those home-based slogans after working with an agency — from Derby, England.

The Rapids last summer engaged U.K.-based creative agency Origination to develop its marketing campaign for 2013. Rapids President Tim Hinchey had worked with Origination and its managing director, David Leatt, on a similar project when Hinchey was vice president of commercial for English club Derby County FC.

“We wanted to build a brand that had the fingerprints of our club and our fans,” said Hinchey, who joined the Rapids as CMO in November 2010 and was named president 13 months later.

Leatt spent two weeks in Colorado last July. He polled three groups separately: more than 40 Rapids fans; the club’s front-office staff; and its coaches and players. The groups were asked the same five questions. Among them was one that asked about the strengths of the game of soccer; another asked about the perceived barriers for growth for the Rapids’ franchise.

Leatt started the survey by telling participants that they were holding “truth pens,” and that it was crucial to the survey’s success that they answered quickly and candidly.

When he returned to England, Leatt and four of Origination’s staffers — two marketers, one fan-engagement manager and one research analyst — distilled the answers in search of recurring themes. Among the positives: the Rapids’ pride in the community; the fact that, unlike most MLS clubs, the Rapids use a state name rather than city location as their identifier; and the team being able to establish its own identity despite being one of nine pro teams in the Denver region.

One of the team’s challenges: It plays outside downtown Denver — at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, in Commerce City — and while the distance apart is only seven miles, it has been a hindrance in business. The team also does not have a jersey sponsor, but there remains the possibility of a deal before the start of the 2013 season next month.

“We have not quite cracked the code of corporate sales,” said Hinchey, who pointed out that the Denver Broncos have dominated the market even more than usual in recent seasons. “First Tim Tebow, and now Peyton Manning,” Hinchey said, with a mixture of amusement and awe.

Leatt and his staff created a 36-page document that it delivered to Hinchey in September. Origination and Rapids staff chose “A State of Mind” and the subset “Colorado For Life” as their themes. A rollout of the campaign started in mid-January, with the new elements being incorporated in advertising and sales material. The club’s alternate jersey, expected to be unveiled later this month, also will incorporate the themes.

The Rapids’ primary jersey for this year features the names of the club’s season-ticket holders shaded onto the uniforms, a first for an MLS franchise.

In addition to its work with Derby County, Origination has created marketing programs for England’s men’s national team and for Middlesbrough FC. It also is working for the Superliga in Denmark The Rapids project is the agency’s first work in MLS.

“These themes should have longevity,” Leatt said. “By creating authenticity, if the Rapids apply the principles, they should not have to do as much marketing in the future.”

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