Over the last few weeks we have posted a number of interviews with MLS Team executives regarding efforts to market their Clubs in the current economic and technological climate. Each team has unique circumstances that make their marketing and fan outreach efforts fascinating fodder for discussion and analysis. This week we touch base with Rob Thomson, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Kansas City Wizards. The Wizards are in their second year in cozy Community America Ballpark after spending the last decade at cavernous Arrowhead Stadium. The Wizards are working toward building a new stadium at the Bannnister Mall site near Kansas City.
Mr. Thomson is in his second stint with Wizards after starting with the franchise as an intern in 1997. He quickly moved up the ladder in the team’s P.R. department until 2001 when he left to complete his graduate work at the University of Kansas. After finishing at the University of Kansas he became a professor and coach at Jewell College before returning to the P.R. world for the Brigade of the Arena Football League. He returned to the Wizards after they were purchased by OnGoal.
Thanks to Mr. Thomson. Check out our other recent marketing interviews with Revolution COO Brian Bilello and Dynamo Senior Vice President Rocky Harris
Footiebusiness.com: What is Kansas City doing differently for marketing in 2009? How has the economy changed/impacted those efforts?
Robert Thomson: We have to be much more creative in our advertising plan. With a nine-month season, it takes a lot of effort to put together a sustainable plan, which is why it is essential to develop relationships and find key partners who are very supportive. It has helped that a lot of electronic and print outlets need advertisers, especially due to the diminishing money spent in the automotive spectrum. As far as overall marketing, we do a lot of grassroots efforts: fliers, chalking sidewalk in the Latino communities, creative email blasts, viral campaigns, etc., but we also have a promotion/theme tied to each home game and segment large groups around those (http://kc.wizards.mlsnet.com/t105/fans/theme_nights/2009/index.jsp). Ticket packages are geared around families, food/beverage deals, gas (we provide buses for groups of 50), and we have free parking. We also have been very aggressive with our Latino base and it has clearly shown the last two season.
FB: You are now in your second season at Community America Ballpark. How does the size of the stadium impact how you market the team? At the same time, with the planned opening of the new stadium in 2011, how do you market with an eye towards the move?
RT: We do have a capped inventory and can be somewhat hindered in corporate sales due to our temporary facility. The future is unbelievably bright here and our vision toward the future is spectacular. That being said, we all put a ton of effort into making our temporary home now look and feel like a soccer stadium. It will be nice not to play in a 70,000-seat stadium or a 10,000-seat stadium in the future, but we all work extremely hard for the present. The size of CommunityAmerica Ballpark doesn’t necessarily dictate how we market as much as the location, game elements/promotions, and schedule of events going on around Kansas City. Our organization and fans are thrilled to have our own home in the future.
FB: How have the Wizards utilized online avenues such as social networking sites, SUM’s new online ad network, etc… to market the team? Do you find that these efforts increase interest in the Wizards or impact attendance?
RT: We focus a lot of our efforts on online communities, since soccer fans in this country are very tech-savvy and most of their information comes through the internet, plus it is so global. We are very active on many new-media and social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Picasa and YouTube. Our team blog, www.hillcrestroadblog.com, is very well read and provides another area for our fans to interact directly with the club. To that end, our President Robb Heineman and other staff members contribute on Big Soccer regularly to seek information and inform our fans. The SUM online ad network is a great tool for our League, and we have run ads through this network, especially before our opening game.
The biggest impact on interest and attendance is helping us to turn casual fans into hardcore fans. By offering more in-depth information through the blog and embracing these social-media communities where our fans talk about us, we are showing them a different look at the organization and reaching out to them in ways not previously done in many sports. Our fans have become more engaged, more interested and, thus, more likely to attend matches and watch games on TV than they might have been in the past.
FB: Although we are only a month into the season, fans and the media have been fawning over some of the marketing/fan outreach efforts in Seattle? Is there anything that an established franchise such as Kansas City can incorporate from those efforts?
RT: Each MLS market is so different, as is the type and location of stadiums. Everyone is excited for what is happening in Seattle as it is great for the League. We only compare ourselves to us and what we can do better. Kansas City and the Midwest have a lot of families and youth soccer players. So, while beer per caps in Seattle and Toronto might be higher than ours, we probably sell more merchandise items catered to younger fans. In our new facility, we have planned on having our own English Pub, which will increase the 21-34 year olds; a very important demographic. I do know that some teams have looked at what we do in marketing such as: media games, doubleheaders with area college teams, weekly TV and radio shows (and broadcasts) in English and Spanish, player pop-ins at youth practices, programming tied to young business executives, our dealings with the media and advertisers, Latino Barnstorming Tours, post-game shots on goal for fans, our busing program, and many more.
FB Is it inconsistent/challenging for teams to target “hard core” supporters, non-soccer sports fans and families? How do you resolve those inconsistencies/challenges?
RT: There are so many ways to reach people now that we target our marketing accordingly. We get a lot of earned media in Parent magazines and Mom-2-Mom blogs, then in alternative newspapers and morning radio shows, and also on every newscast forecasting with our logo on the day of our next game. The tones are much different in what we want to brand, but we try and hit every possible angle and outlet. One advantage for Kansas City is that we might not have the amount of options as other markets (NY, DC, Boston, Houston, LA, etc) and we are the only MLS team within a nine-hour drive.
Once again, thanks to Rob Thomson.