Marketing Lessons from a Major League Executive Perspective

November 4, 2014

A personalized approach pays off—for sports marketers and for all of us. And commodity pricing doesn’t work—at a ticket window or at a printing operation.

But before going further, let me explain my newfound fascination with sports marketing. It started after I attended some Little League games.

My nephews, Jack and Brendan, are identical twins. At first glance they look exactly the same. But Jack’s favorite color is orange while Brendan’s is blue. And on the baseball diamond, Jack is the first baseman while Brendan handles the hot corner at third base. They play on the same team—but they are two very different people.

After watching some of my nephews’ baseball games this past summer, I wondered how many twins played professionally. I learned nine sets of twins have played Major League Baseball. Further research revealed that in the 1950s, two brothers became the first twins in MLB history to play for the same team in the same game—and in a wonderful coincidence, these twins were also O’Briens—Eddie and Johnny.  They were well known in the Pacific Northwest—particularly at Seattle University where Ed served as athletic director for 20 years. Both twins have passed away: Eddie O’Brien died this past February at age 83.

Flying OBriens“Eddie was one half of Seattle University’s legendary ‘Flying O’Briens’ tandem back in the 1950s,” wrote Troy Kirby. “With his brother Johnny, the pair came from New Jersey and put SU on the small college map. Johnny was the first college player to score 1,000 points in a season, but Eddie is the one who assisted the ball off to his brother the most. Both were drafted by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1953, but never played in an NBA game. The pair did sign with The Pittsburgh Pirates, becoming the first twins in MLB history to play for the same team in the same game.”

Kirby, a sports marketing expert, is a prolific writer. After reading his tribute to Eddie O’Brien, I was prompted to read more of his articles. Although I have no connection to sports marketing, I found many of his observations have broader application.

Don’t Give Away Print or Game Tickets

Just as a printer must fill time on his presses, a sports marketer must fill an arena. And just as many printers are tempted to cut prices and rely on volume for profits, some sports marketing executives deeply discount their ticket prices, hoping to make up the difference in other areas, such as concessions.

“One common mistake made by event marketers is focusing too much on ticket price, not the value of a patron’s experience, when advertising,” asserts Kirby. “The product value should be the primary purchase motivator, not the price. “When the product’s value exceeds its price, demand drives sales. Blanketing an area with advertisements listing a lower cost than what the patron believes the event is worth is not beneficial. Good marketing enhances a product’s value by producing a brand image beyond the set price.”

In his ebook released last week, “Selling Sports,” Kirby makes some great points about what value means to individual fans. We often think of a team’s fans as being one uniform group—after all, they all love the same team, right?

All Fans Aren’t Alike

But Kirby says in 2014 each ticket buyer must be considered as a unique person.  “Technology and the mass messaging platforms, as well as the explosion of alternative entertainment options available, have revealed how little each customer, whether invested in sports or not, actually has in common with fellow patrons of a particular team, league, venue or culture,” says Kirby. He argues that a successful marketer must “understand how to focus messaging which pushes across the brand, propels it forward, and initiates a sale. This means creating a purchasing decision with the messaging’s receiver. Not all messaging is universal. It has to be delivered at the right, specific times in order to carry the largest form of financial impact.”

Jack and Brendan OBrienRemember my nephews Jack and Brendan? They may look almost exactly alike—but they are two unique people with different likes and dislikes. Now consider your customers’ customers—how can you help them enhance the value of their product or their service? Are you helping them sell a ticket or an experience? Are you helping them personalize their marketing messaging and deliver it at optimum times? Fall ball is over here in Illinois. Bring on the basketball season!

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