Prior to the start of the 2009 season, the New England Revolution announced the “Defend the Fort” campaign as part of a drive to target “traditional” supporters. In combination with the introduction of the Rev’s Girls and new online content, the new campaign is part of League-wide effort to replicate the energy evident in Toronto, the Nordecke and other passionate supporter areas. Brian Bilello, the Revolution COO, is the architect of the new campaign. He was kind enough to answer a few questions from footiebusiness.com about the Revs’ marketing efforts for 2009.
Footiebusiness.com: The Revs have debuted the “Defend the Fort” campaign this year. What are the components of the campaign? What is the team doing to market the new campaign?
Brian Bilello: The primary reasoning behind the Defend the Fort campaign is to grow the number of season tickets in The Fort, our supporters section. While we’ll do as much as we can to grow the supporters section in general, we feel that season ticket growth is the key because those fans are the most passionate, most involved and have the biggest stake in the game, so to speak. So we didn’t want it to be where people are coming two, three or four games and sitting in that section, but rather growing a base of fans who are here every single week. That will drive the energy in the building.
There are a number of elements to the campaign. The primary one is the $200 supporters seat, which is less expensive than any other seat in the building. We actually lowered the price of the season tickets for folks in The Fort. However, we didn’t adjust any of the prices for the other tickets we have – the individual tickets or the 4-packs. Those are still the same pricing structure so an individual ticket in The Fort is still the same price as a Category III ticket, as are the 4-packs. But if you purchase a season ticket, you save $100, which is an incentive to a lot of people.
We have defendthefort.net, which is also a big piece of it. The main site is still in development – although a portion of it is live now – and there will be more to come. Included in that site are our Fort-related ticket offers and videos and we’re looking at some social networking components. It’s also the home of the Rev Girls’ activities. That group is really out there going out after the hard-core soccer fans and pushing them back to defendthefort.net.
We’ve also done TV spots, radio spots and online advertising, and all of those things are targeted at the more hard-core, young adult soccer supporters. We also have radio, TV, print and online advertising that’s aimed at the general market, but the Defend the Fort campaign is specifically targeted. When we advertise on boston.com, you’ll see a Revolution Soccer ad, but when we advertise on Big Soccer, it’ll be a Defend the Fort ad.
FB: The Revs seem to be targeting more “traditional” soccer supporters this year. Do you believe this represents a change from prior marketing efforts, and if so, what is the impetus for the change?
BB: We really took a hard look at it a few years ago, and ever since I’ve been involved with the team beginning in 2006, it’s been an area that I’ve wanted to take the team. For the last three seasons, we’ve been trying to target the “traditional” fan more and more. It hasn’t been something we’ve flipped a switch on, but it’s a piece of our business we’re trying to add back in because we feel these are the fans who really support the team. Those are the fans who are most engaged. Those are the fans who are going to drive the performance of the team. Because they’re engaged, they care; they wanted to read about the team; they care about the results. They’re not just here to come to one or two games a year, but are here to really get behind the team and support the team. We recognized that those fans are the ones who have the greatest everyday interaction with the team and we really want to interact with them at a greater level, and show that we’re here to please them, both on and off the field.
We’re not eliminating our marketing to families or the youth soccer segment because they’re still important to us. We’re just adding a layer to our mix.
FB: How do you measure success with the new branding efforts? Do you feel the team is meeting those goals?
BB: With the Defend the Fort campaign, we’re going to look at how many tickets we sell: season tickets, 4-packs, individual games and walk-ups. We’re closing on doubling the number of season tickets in The Fort right now, so I’d say we’ve already been successful. We could look at it and say we wanted to double our season ticket numbers there, but it’s a bit artificial. If we do 90 percent more, isn’t that good? If we do 110 percent more, isn’t that good? We’d like to get to double because it’s nice to say we’ve done it, but since we’re almost there, we can’t really say that was the milestone we were looking to hit. Then again, as of right now, we haven’t kicked a ball at home yet, so if we can look at 4-packs and walk-ups and see if they’re changing for the better, then we have an additional metric to judge our success on. But early returns are showing that the Defend the Fort campaign is working since we’ve doubled the number of season tickets in The Fort, so we’re hoping to continue that as the season goes on.
With the web site, we can see how many people are engaging; how many people are sending messages; how many people are going on, and so on. We have those stats and will continue to look at them and see how many people are engaging actively in the program.
FB: Although still in its infancy, Seattle is being trumpeted as a “model” franchise for purposes of marketing and fan outreach. Are their any lessons that an established franchise like New England can take from Seattle’s efforts?
BB: There are certainly some things that Seattle will do that we’ll feel are great ideas and we may look to take on, but I would actually suggest it might be the other way around. Seattle should take lessons from the New Englands, D.C.s, Chicagos, Dallases, and Colorados of the world – those original and early-year teams – and where they were the first five years in this league and numbers they were bringing in, and then see what happened to lose some of those numbers that are now coming back. I think there is more of a lesson for them to learn in “How do we keep these people here,” “How do we make sure we fulfill the promise,” and from what I’ve seen from both Toronto and Seattle, they’re both well down that path. So if there is a lesson to learn, it’s one that would have helped us 15 years ago. Not that they’re not bad ideas – they’ve certainly been able to capture the interest and excitement in their market – but they’re really leveraging it well and can continue to drive it. But we’re past that initial curiosity and initial years of the Revs. People may say, “Well, Seattle has 22,000 season ticket holders. Can’t you get that next year?” That’s not going to happen, but we’re trying to move back closer to that. What they’ve done right would’ve helped us 15 years ago.
FB: Finally, with the season just underway and the home opener coming up, are there any other marketing/branding efforts (either inside or outside the stadium) that Revs” fans should be on the lookout for?
BB: You’ll see the atmosphere change in the stadium, especially from the additional energy from The Fort and supporters section. We’ve changed our music program a bit to be a bit more edgy, more modern. We’ve added some pump videos. You really can’t do anything in game to artificially create energy and get the crowd going, but pregame, we’ve brought more fun and engagement with the crowd. We have a pregame party program that we’ll roll out at a few games this year. There will be a band playing in a party zone next to the field, which will be located next to The Fort. Again, we’re targeting the younger crowd – they’re getting the pregame party and The Fort atmosphere in one, so we think that will be good. Those parties will be primarily marketing through our Rev Girls in bars and out at night, so we think that all ties together between the demographic, how they buy the tickets and what they experience when they get here. We’re adding some viewing parties – not every single game – but we are adding some to try to engage fans away from the stadium and get that interaction with the team up. We’re definitely being more aggressive in our advertising and making some spends in some places we might not have done before – in particular online in places like Facebook and the Google ad network to reach anyone in New England who’s on a soccer web page. Even things like social networking, which isn’t a traditional ad spend, but keeping Facebook and Twitter updated at all times so we’re relevant.