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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Major League Baseball is launching a new brand called MLB FanPass that will be used by all 30 clubs to promote paperless ticketing.

It’s the first big push to come out of the Commissioner’s Ticket Review Committee and reflects the fact that going paperless is now one of the league’s top priorities. While several other leagues and individual teams have also invested significant time and money into digital ticketing, MLB is believed to be the first major sports league to create a prominent, unified brand around the concept.

Levels of activation around the MLB FanPass brand will differ in each market. But the new moniker seeks to showcase more prominently features within paperless ticketing, such as electronic seat transfers and upgrades, and online inventory management.

“From an industry perspective, it’s now safe to say baseball is among the most aggressive of anybody in terms of promoting digital ticketing,” said Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves executive vice president of
sales and marketing. Schiller is a member of the Commissioner’s Ticket Review Committee, and the Braves in 2012 will sell roughly a quarter of their projected Turner Field attendance through the localized Braves FanPass.

“We’re pushing this very heavily, and believe we’re now at the right time and right place for this,” Schiller said.
Clubs have begun to integrate FanPass to varying degrees into their ticket sales efforts, with FanPass delivery extending to full and partial-season sales, groups, and single-game tickets.

FanPass is being offered as a free option. Beyond that, though, several MLB teams are offering discounts, giveaways or other incentives to encourage ticket buyers to go paperless and boost adoption. And MLB FanPass will be integrated with MLB Advanced Media’s new At The Ballpark venue-oriented mobile application for seat upgrades and other amenities.

Like systems in other sports, purchasers of paperless baseball tickets will enter ballparks using their credit card, which is swiped at the gate. Fans upon arrival then get a locator stub, created using a portable printer, to help find their seats. For fans, the most immediate change will be the elimination of a stack of paper tickets that need to be stored, managed and distributed. And MLB FanPass has been integrated into the primary ticketing systems of outside vendors such as Ticketmaster and the MLBAM-owned

“This is all a pretty drastic departure from how ticketing has traditionally been done,” said Vic Gregovits, Cleveland Indians senior vice president of sales and marketing.

The MLB FanPass effort likely will influence the sport’s future in secondary ticketing. MLB Advanced Media is in the final year of a five-year deal designating StubHub the sport’s official ticket reseller. MLBAM, the ticket review committee, and the sport at large are evaluating how they want to participate in a secondary market that is now far larger and more established than when the StubHub deal was first signed in 2007. And digital ticketing, featuring easy electronic transfer of ticket barcodes, factors significantly into that discussion.

Baseball, and nearly every other major sports property, is keenly interested in digital ticketing. In addition to helping eliminate fraud and waste and quicken fan entry into stadiums, paperless systems offer the potential of lower costs of delivery. But, most importantly, digital ticketing creates a wealth of data on consumer behavior and preferences. And for baseball, which sells more tickets than any other professional sport, the volume of potentially available data is immense.

“Baseball, the industry, is really going through a ticketing revolution right now,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president for business, earlier this month at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “And the piece that we’re really focused on is this bridge between who bought the ticket, who ended up with the ticket, and who entered the ballpark with the ticket. And once we bridge that gap, once we know who entered the ballpark with the ticket, then the activity that’s going to occur electronically between us and our customers is going to increase exponentially.”

For now, teams are not implementing user controls within the MLB FanPass program. Fans retain a wide degree of latitude to transfer or resell their unwanted paperless tickets. Some options, such as reselling through StubHub, are easier and come with a higher degree of integration than others. But there are currently no impediments or closed markets for resale within MLB FanPass.

Over time and once MLB FanPass is more established, it is possible baseball will exercise some control over how paperless tickets are redistributed, industry sources said.

The MLB FanPass brand is among the initial tangible products to arrive out of the ticket review committee, which has been operational for about 18 months. The effort is led by MLB Chief Marketing Officer Jacqueline Parkes, and involves senior executives from six clubs and several league departments.

Beyond MLB FanPass, the panel has been involved in a wide range of efforts, including best practices sharing among clubs, dynamic pricing (see related story), discussions around StubHub and secondary ticketing, and an ongoing research study of baseball’s ticket marketplace with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Major League Soccer has hired Montreal-based Sid Lee as its new advertising agency of record. The move is part of an overall marketing ramp-up by America’s top professional soccer circuit under Howard Handler, who is still carrying the interim chief marketing officer title since joining MLS in January after a consulting gig with the league.

Howard Handler is leading changes to the league’s marketing department.
Handler said Sid Lee was developing a new campaign for the league and its clubs, along with supporting brand work. However, Handler said it was too early to say when consumers will see new creative work.

“We’re at an interesting point right now — we feel like it’s just before a lot of growth and we want to be in the right place as a brand for that,” said Handler, who identified “multicultural Gen Y millennials,” roughly 20- to 30-year-olds, as the league’s biggest opportunity.

While the league and agency plan further research on its fan base, Handler’s most encouraging statistic is from an ESPN Sports Poll that shows professional soccer is the second-favorite sport of 14- to 24-year-olds, after the NFL. Of course, that response includes European football, the world’s most popular team sport.

“The overall charge for the agency will be to grow the MLS footprint and develop the stature and breadth of the brand,” Handler added.

Without revealing the size of the planned campaign, Handler said it will include paid media buys outside of MLS rights holders.

Sid Lee also handles advertising for the new MLS Montreal franchise, along with Adidas, MLS’s exclusive uniform licensee and one of its largest business partners. The selection echoes the NHL’s use of DraftFCB for its newest brand campaign (SportsBusiness Journal, March 12-18) since that agency also works for MillerCoors, the league’s largest sponsor.

Handler said he was impressed by Sid Lee’s work for Red Bull, another MLS corporate patron, along with the agency’s Cirque du Soleil creative. “They showed us the beginnings of a vision, of how we can build to where we want to be,” Handler said.

The new agency assignment comes as MLS is making changes in its marketing department. Handler said that he will soon hire four new positions at or close to the vice president level, with separate responsibilities for strategy and planning, research, brand development and club services.

Earlier this year, the league reshuffled its licensing and merchandising under SUM President Kathy Carter, bringing in Maribeth Towers as its first senior vice president of consumer products.

The influx of new hires in marketing follows the recent completion of the sale of an equity stake in Soccer United Marketing to Providence Equity Partners, which also owns portions of the YES Network, Univision Communications and World Triathlon Corp.

Dentsu America was the most recent MLS ad agency, debuting creative during 2010 to coincide with the FIFA World Cup that year.

Former President Bill Clinton will speak to NFL owners on Sunday to kick off the league’s annual meeting, sources said last week.

The league has long had high-profile speakers at its annual meeting — including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein — but Clinton may have the highest standing to date. The former president earned about $11 million in speaking fees in 2010, according to CNN, and presumably, he is charging the NFL owners a speaking fee.

The speech plan came at the request of Clinton’s representatives.
A Clinton representative did not respond for comment. The presentation, at the request of Clinton’s representatives, a source said, will be a closed event, for league and team personnel only. Media in the past have, on occasion, been invited to listen to the guest speaker.

What the former president will talk about could not be determined, but there are a number of areas close to Clinton that would be of interest to the league — from his Clinton Foundation, which focuses on various health issues, including childhood obesity, to his knowledge of global markets and politics.

The NFL’s Play 60 initiative aims to get children active. The league also is trying to expand its international footprint and is working to launch a venture capital fund, which the NFL hoped could be set to begin operations by this meeting.

Guest speakers at the league meeting often do not speak directly to NFL issues but instead address overarching themes.

There are several other pressing issues for the league with labor strife now in its rearview mirror. At last year’s annual meeting, the players had just been locked out, and a spring and summer of legal filings and negotiations toward a new collective-bargaining agreement were just beginning.

One of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s significant initiatives for the league is to improve the in-stadium experience. That topic is expected to draw significant time at the meeting, which runs through March 28.

The league also is facing, as of last week, 36 lawsuits from former players alleging that the sport hid the dangers of concussions. More recently, the league is confronting a public relations challenge with the revelation that New Orleans Saints players apparently had a bounty pool paid to defenders related to injuries for opposing players.

The meeting is at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., and marks the return after a one-year hiatus of hosting these meetings at resorts. Last year, in the midst of the lockout, the meeting occurred at The Roosevelt hotel in New Orleans.