Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Manage a Sports Team Like a Brand

I read a great Ad Age article yesterday about how the Tampa Bay Rays are being managed like a brand and are employing many principles that company's like P&G do when creating the right brand experience for their customers.

As a marketer, I love to see the ideas of my profession being applied in an area where you wouldn't expect to see them. It seems that most sports franchises these days, no matter the sport, are managed for financial outcomes and/or the personal gratification of the owner. Neither of these are bad approaches because I'm sure they yield a great deal of enrichment for those who have taken great risks. But, seldom do you see such an intense focus on the fan and providing that fan with a consistent experience across all touch points of the brand. And it makes sense to me because I can't think of many other products that have such intense emotional brand engagement. They don't call them fanatics for nothing.

The brilliance of what the Tampa Bay Rays are doing is that it shows up on the field and in the financials. It's not just for the sake of marketing or brand building. Players are quoted as saying they have a significant home field advantage due to the fan engagement, even when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees visit. This is a result that many teams could only hope for. I know that growing up in Washington that even Redskins games have large contingencies of fans from the opposing teams. It's even worse at Capital and Wizard games where the front office actually courts fans of the opposing teams in order to fill the seats.

I also like the focus that the Rays are putting on their "best customers", those fans that invest in them year after year. It rewards the fans for their loyalty with access to unique experiences. At the same time, they are reinforcing the fanaticism by making those fans feel like they're part of the team. Essentially, this activity creates an extension of their brand with the people in the seats. It's easy to see why the Rays are harder to beat at home.

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