SBJ/April 6-12, 2015/Opinion

Teams offer lessons in innovation, patience to reach new fans

The ICC Cricket World Cup played to a global television audience recently of more than a billion viewers, while more than a million fans attended matches over a six-week period. While these numbers show the massive global reach of cricket, sporting leagues of all levels would be wise to look to one of cricket’s biggest box office successes, the Australian-based Big Bash League, for inspiration on lessons for how to establish deeper fan engagement strategies with children, women and families.

As a result of its innovative fan-engagement approach, the BBL has reported that:

50 percent of game attendees are families.
51 percent of women ticket buyers are attending their first game.
One-fourth of game-day attendees are children.

Many team or league executives could spend their entire careers trying to achieve similar results. For the BBL, a Twenty20 cricket league incubated by Cricket Australia, it took just four years.

At the core of achieving these results are four lessons for sports organizations of all levels to emulate when challenged with the task of engaging hard-to-reach segments like family, female and youth fan bases.

Separate innovation from execution

Hurricanes player Tim Paine gave a young contest winner a ride to school.
Photo by: BIG BASH LEAGUE (2)
Nothing kills innovation and progressive thought more than trying to answer the question of how the idea can be executed before the concept is identified. The BBL scheduled internal brainstorm sessions with the singular focus of generating ideas about what is possible to engage key, targeted fan segments — like engaging younger fans. The league office challenged each team to take 30 days to brainstorm and present at least one idea to engage with youth fans. The key: Teams were instructed not to worry about the resources involved with the concept. These ideas were a critical driver in one-fourth of
the league’s ticket buyers being younger than 14.

The Hobart Hurricanes did this exercise and discovered a high-profile promotion to engage younger fans that cost roughly the price of a few gallons of gas. In doing so, the Hurricanes executed an idea that raises the bar to what’s possible in driving youth engagement. The team held a contest for its junior members to win a chance to have the club’s star player, Tim Paine, drive the winner to school. The video went viral and, not surprisingly, the Hurricanes, despite playing in the BBL’s smallest market, had the most youth fan memberships sold.

Think beyond the season

The path of taking fan engagement strategies from good to great can be achieved by authentically connecting with fans during the offseason.

One of the staples of any club’s offseason agenda is a new-player press conference. A new-player press conference announcement is arguably the same everywhere around the world. A team executive introduces the player, the player speaks, both answer questions, and the reporters file their stories.

The Perth Scorchers added life to this template by tweaking a traditional player press conference announcement and scheduling it at a local elementary school. The team had a 12-year-old girl introduce the player. The result was positive press, a more colorful introduction, and a step toward achieving the team’s objective of showing vs. telling that they are both child-friendly and fan-friendly.

Think big. Focus small.

The pursuit of the big idea often blinds us to aligning with what our core objectives are. That’s why the BBL is a great reminder of an organization that thinks big but maintains a core focus of growing the league through engaging with children, families and women.

To further its family reach, the BBL took the unique step of sponsoring a Monster Jam event. Considering that more than one-third of Monster Jam attendees are under the age of 12 and that the tour had dates in Australia that led up to the start of the BBL season, it was a smart play.

The sponsorship included a BBL-branded truck and a back-end customized season-ticket membership offer that gave fans a free ticket to Monster Jam with the purchase of a BBL membership. The big idea and narrow focus on families helped teams get a healthy spike in membership sales, including the Adelaide Strikers and Melbourne Renegades, who sold out of their 500 Monster Jam membership packages.

Show vs. tell

Most teams will tell you they’re fan-friendly, but the true litmus test is in how they perform against key fan segments, such as female fans.

In an effort to engage female fans the minute they walk through the turnstiles, the Sydney Sixers created a paparazzi-style welcome zone. The area was complete with a carpet emblazoned in the team’s primary pink color, and staffers snapped pictures that were later posted on the club’s website. An added business benefit was the photo backdrop that featured the team’s primary sponsors, increasing their exposure to the club’s female fan base.

These four examples are repeatable ingredients to fan-engagement successes of teams of all levels, but perhaps the most important takeaways from the BBL for any team and league executives are patience and discipline. The BBL’s successes weren’t achieved in one season. The strategy, and the results, gained momentum over multiple seasons, and the discipline of staying focused on the league’s plan was a key reason for the successes.

Dan Migala (dan@propertycg.com) is the co-founder and chief innovation officer of Chicago-based PCG, which represents the Big Bash League.


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