Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Going Beyond The Game - How We're Reaching Young Adults

The notion that teams must do more to reach fans is not a new one.  Even when I was in graduate school 12 years ago, one of the primary tenants of sports marketing that we were made to understand is that the product is the experience, not the game.

Teams have long known that they must reach the casual fan, not the core fan, to expand.  We as an industry are endlessly trying to develop fresh approaches for the best solutions, but the problem is timeless.

In this week's Sports Business Journal, Bill Sutton (@sutton_impact) discusses the idea under the headline of "Leagues, teams must give fans new reasons to give up the sofa."  (Story can be found here, for SBJ subscribers.)

He makes a lot of valid points, including cost.  However, I don't buy the idea that fans can't afford to go to games.  I personally believe that most NBA, MLB, and NHL teams, sans the truly major properties, have done a good job of providing cost-efficient game experiences that meet nearly every budget.  Teams in certain NFL markets are learning the hard lessons that they must also reach out to fans economically -- and in those markets, they're reaching new fans live at the stadium.

And people are spending money on entertainment, regardless of the economy.  They're just having to make more difficult choices.  Instead of being "five-game or ten-game pack," it's more like "game or movie, with some vacation money set aside."

So if we assume that price isn't an issue, why aren't more fans coming to games?  Are teams not communicating the benefits of being at the game well enough?  Are local marketing efforts falling on deaf ears?  Is the social media outreach falling short?

Let's go back to Bill's column.  He cites two issues to reaching a younger target: "participatory control vs. spectatorship" and "choice."  I think Bill's close on both of these, but to me it's about something more simple.  To me, it's about convincing young adults that it's worth the time and effort to enjoy the product live and in person.

Everything comes so easy to us today.  Online banking, iPhone apps, e-commerce ... things that make our lives easier and allow us to be more productive.  Even sports viewing have now come easy to us, through portals like MLB.TV and NBA.com.  

But the game experience ... I think teams need to do a better job of merchandising the benefits of in-arena experience, and how it's worth the effort.  Let's note that I'm not necessarily talking about rock stars at halftime (although that always helps), but rather some of the more refined nuances.  I sometimes think teams work too hard to create these massive promotions that end up distancing themselves from season ticket holders and devaluing the product just to get "butts in seats."

For this demographic, I think it's simpler than that.  I'll offer up two key selling points for consideration: access and amenities.  

I think most teams have gone the "young professionals" route, and are probably reaching them through social media.  But I rarely see any exclusive benefits being given.  We all know that club levels have long been reserved for companies, corporate outings and the financially able.  

But what if, on less-than-capacity nights, teams opened up the club or exclusive levels to a younger demographic, giving them a taste of access without forgoing major revenue.  And concurrently, find areas within your arena to continue to pay off that experience throughout the game.  Simple bar promotions on that concourse might be your in with the demo on that night.  Then, go back to that demo with the same proposition a couple of times throughout the season.  One night's not going to be enough to convert to a traditional ticket package.  As for underwriting, a beer or liquor sponsor or even a auto sponsor makes a lot of sense in this scenario.

Let's also look briefly at amenities.  I think that this demo considers amenities much more than sports marketers think.  In-seat dining, gated access and even WiFi is a differentiator.  Are the teams you're working for or with considered promoting in-arena WiFi for free, thanks to a sponsor?  I single-handedly changed my airline allegiances to Airtran because of their WiFi.  They thought enough of my time as a business traveler to offer me this service at a reasonable cost.  With iPhones, smartphones and iPads, WiFi is now a critical component to a person's overall daily existence.  But it's not a given in most arenas and stadiums.

Bottom line here: sports teams need to "think like and speak from within" the demo, versus "thinking about the demo and speaking to" this group.  Social media and game promotions alone aren't going to cut it.  We have to prove as sports marketers that the game is worth the experience, not the other way around.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I still love going to games and have season ticket packages for 2 major teams. However, I think one reason people don't go, and you didn't mention it, is HDTV. Sitting on the couch, watching the game in 60 inches of HD glory is awesome. You get a great picture, see all the replays, and can even skip commercials thanks to DVR's. With all of that being said, to me, there's nothing like being at the event, hearing the roar of the crowd, and seeing the game live.