Marketing in New England: Interview with Revs COO Brian Bilello

Earlier this week, we posted our Q&A with Timbers VP of Marketing Cory Dolich.  Today, we were fortunate to have Revs COO Brian Bilello answer some questions about the Revs marketing strategies and efforts.    The Revs have really amped up their online presence in the last couple of years and have started to aggressively use Twitter as a marketing tool.  Also, their new blogger initiative is very innovative and should provide a great forum for fans to connect with their team.  We last chatted with Mr. Bilello in April of 2009.  A copy of that interview is here.  Thanks to Mr. Bilello.

Footiebusiness.com: In a recent interview with the Sports Business Journal, you discussed the Revs’ decision to credential independent bloggers in 2011.  What is the motivation behind that decision?  Do you believe this will help the team better connect with its fans?  What will qualify a blogger for a credential?

Brian Bilello: In terms of team communication, we’re always exploring ways to better inform, entertain and service our fans. During the past few years, social media has opened new avenues for bloggers to increase their reach to fans. In our case, they can tweet an entry with #Revs or post it on our Facebook wall and have it seen by tens of thousands of Revolution fans. Given that bloggers now have this larger promotional platform, they are reaching more and more fans and becoming greater influences in the soccer community. We feel it’s important to help them get accurate information about the team, so that has been the basis for this new initiative. In terms of qualifying, we’ll be looking to first credential those who have existing blogs and who regularly write content. It will be somewhat of a work in progress as we get into the season and we launch the program. But as you can imagine, we won’t be able to credential 100 bloggers, so we may have to create a new accreditation process at some point.

FB: Similarly, how are the Revs utilizing social media?  Some teams are aggressively relying on Twitter, posting frequent training camp updates, linking to blog posts about the team and providing teasers about signings and ticket promotions, while others have been slower to adopt the technology. You are currently on Twitter as are members of the team’s communications staff.  How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward?  Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?

BB: In terms of Twitter and other social media tools, we’re going to continue to use them to update fans on the team, website content and events and give fans some snippets from behind the scenes. For me personally, it is a great way of getting real-time updates on soccer news as I follow all the relevant writers so when Kyle McCarthy or Grant Wahl post an article, I can see it right away. I also like the ability to be able to reach out to fans directly when they have questions about the team.

We don’t yet have any formal policies as they pertain to Facebook and Twitter with players. They are individuals and are, of course, free to do whatever they like, but we are in the process of creating suggested usage guidelines to help them navigate social media. That being said, we continually emphasize that commenting on Twitter or Facebook is the practically same as making an on-the-record statement to a reporter, so they need to be careful as to what they post or say.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, last year the Revs used Groupon to sell more than 2,500 tickets to the Revs/Seattle game.  Do you anticipate using Groupon in 2011?  Is it possible to identify how many purchasers of that opportunity will become repeat visitors to Revs games? Does the team view that promotion as a success?  Should fans expect other game day promotions in 2011?

BB: We’re certainly looking to work with Groupon again in 2011 but we’re have to be careful not to devalue our tickets through vehicles like this. As a one-off, it’s nice to be able to give fans a free t-shirt or other value-added amenity, but I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to just start throwing such significant discounts out on a regular basis. There is no direct method of tracking GroupOn purchasers since they are fairly protective of their lists. (After all, that list is their business.) However, we used other incentives in the stadium that night to encourage them to sign up for our newsletter, so could communicate with them directly about the team and upcoming games. That promotion was certainly a success and we are looking at more promotions in 2011.

FB: What is the Revs rate of season ticket renewal for 2011?  Will the team announce its final season ticket numbers at some point during the season? What do the Revs offer as season ticket incentives?

BB: At this point we are at 82% with about two months to go in the process. Given past results, that will likely put us among the top 2-3 teams in the league for renewal percentage. That’s also off of a base that is essentially the median for the league.

We really try to provide our Season Ticket Holders the best service and benefits in the league, and this year especially they have rewarded us by coming back strong. Given our performance on the field last year, the success with our Season Ticket Holders renewals really speaks to the hard work done by our customer service team throughout the year. We offer a long list of benefits, including several exclusive STH events with owners, players and coaches, a dedicated parking lot, early stadium entry, discounts on additional tickets and pre-sale opportunities to events at Gillette Stadium (international soccer games, concerts, Patriots games, etc.), not to mention a great discount on their Revolution tickets versus face value. Ultimately, I look at our renewal success this year as a leap of faith by our Season Ticket Holders that we’re going to be better on the field.  Now it is our job to reward them for that faith.

FB: Finally, Commissioner Garber announced in November that a number of teams will announce jersey sponsors for 2011.  The Revs are one of the few remaining teams that have never had a jersey sponsor.  Do you view that as a lost revenue opportunity over the past few years?  Do you anticipate the Revs joining the list of teams with a jersey sponsor in 2011?

BB: Yes, it is a lost opportunity for us and we need to get a partnership finalized. We were very close this off-season, but it didn’t happen. We’re still in talks with a number of companies, but hard to put a timeline on it right now.

Marketing in Portland: Interview with Timbers VP of Marketing Cory Dolich

Over the last couple of years, we have conducted interviews with a number of marketing professionals throughout MLS.  These Q&As have provided great insight into the marketing strategies and goals of various franchises.  Within the league, the Portland Timbers are one of the most exciting marketing stories of 2011.  The expansion team has made waves with its billboard campaign, downtown store and robust season ticket sales.  Cory Dolich is the Timbers’ Vice President of Marketing and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Timber’s 2011 marketing efforts.  Thanks to Mr. Dolich.

Footiebusiness.com: The Timbers have launched a memorable billboard campaign featuring real Timbers’ fans and plastered them all over the City.  What was the inspiration for the ads?   Who is the team trying to attract with the campaign?  How effective have the ads been in generating buzz?

Cory Dolich: We’ve been very pleased with the feedback that we’ve received thus far on the campaign. There’s obviously been a lot of exciting events and announcements surrounding the team this offseason, from player signings to our kit launch, and the campaign has certainly helped complement the existing buzz and further galvanized our overall message.

As it relates to the inspiration or genesis of the campaign, we were fortunate enough to partner with Jelly Helm Studio on the campaign. In conjunction with them, we wanted to expand upon some of the previous Portland and Timbers fan-centric messaging we’d used during the previous six-month period, but be a little less explicit about it. We wanted to embrace more of a “be it, don’t say it” approach. We have an amazing fan base that creates such a tremendous in-game experience – it was about showcasing that…at its core, showcasing the authenticity of Timbers fans and the faces of that make up our community. Plus, the icons, the chainsaws, axes, etc. are embedded in the heritage of our team, and using them was critical to further cement the authenticity of the campaign – they’re such strong visual pieces with great significance to our fans and organization.  Ultimately, it was about highlighting what makes us the Timbers – strong and striking icons, great fans, an authentic in-match experience, being Portland’s soccer team.

From a demographic standpoint, we took what might be perceived as a counter intuitive approach – it wasn’t so much about a targeting a specific age range, gender, etc. but more about sharing the message with all of Portland. We wanted to live the mantra of “being by, for and about Portland” and as such, make it inclusive of all Portlanders, rather than excluding specific targets. We recognize that in a lot of cases you can’t create an “all-inclusive” campaign, but felt the messaging did well to speak to both young and old, families and singles and existing fans, and those that might not be as familiar with our product.

FB: How do the Timbers plan to utilize online avenues such as social networking sites, SUM’s online ad network, etc… to market the team?  What is the goal of such online marketing efforts?  How do you measure the success of these efforts?

CD: We put a great deal of value on digital media, specifically social networking tools; it’s certainly going to be a significant part of our marketing strategy moving forward. We try and diversify our digital approach and be more targeted (as opposed to the billboard campaign) using this media – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, national ad servers, local websites or search-optimization tools, we’ll layer messaging throughout these different mediums when activating on a campaign.

Our goal is simple – create engaging and unique content to develop and grow fan interest. And hopefully…if all goes well, that interest turns into ticket sales. At the foundation though is content, and providing it is key. Telling the team’s stories, by sharing the access we have to all facets of the organization is pivotal.

From a measurement standpoint, it’s a combination of a lot of elements. There’s certainly a lot of statistical evidence that we can use, be it click-thrus, number of impressions, Facebook “likes,” resulting ticket sales, etc., but there’s also a level of anecdotal measures to mix in as well. Are people talking about it? Have they seen it? The current billboard campaign is a great example of that; we’ve received a ton of unsolicited feedback which shows people are taking notice. There’s also some web reporting tools, like Radian 6, that we use at times. They can track the degree in which the club is being “talked about” on the web, from articles to blogs to social media posts, and if all goes as planned, those measures spike during a campaign.

FB:  What lessons can the Timbers take from the marketing success of Seattle and Toronto?  Similarly, what lessons can the Timbers take from some of the marketing mis-steps of the early years in the League?

CD: Seattle, Toronto and Philly (last season) have been great case studies of how to launch a team. Each club has been very generous in sharing their experiences, and we’ve learned from their respective launches. Where they’ve succeeded, and where others might have struggled, can be traced, in my opinion, to how each club has approached how they view the sport. They’ve embraced the authenticity of the game. They hold true to the game’s traditions, culture and heritage. Each of those clubs has built a strong level of trust between the organization and the fan base. You don’t need to change the dynamics of the sport or the in-match experience just because it’s played in North America, as opposed to Europe or South America. The fans are savvy – don’t try and fake it – be authentic.

Plus, I think they’ve done a tremendous job of customizing their launches to the culture and attitude of those cities, while, simultaneously, not over-complicating the message. Seattle and Toronto’s use of the scarf was really strong – it helped galvanize those cities around a soccer specific icon that really resonated for the fan base.

That said, you have to be true to your own brand and your own fans. We are a different and unique culture that has a lot of history behind it and is quite distinct from Seattle, rivalry aside. We categorically need to keep things “Portland.”

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?  Will the Timbers target a particular group?

CD: Depends on the tactics you use to target those different entities. Some mediums, like the billboards, might have a more universal appeal and the medium is image-centric. Tailoring a specific message to a smaller demographic group isn’t as necessary with outdoor marketing. When using other mediums, be it digital or print for example, we are much more demographically and geographically targeted. Ultimately, the core message or spirit of the campaign, regardless of who you’re speaking to is fundamentally the same. For us, like I mentioned in question No. 1, we’re still talking about passionate fans, great in-match experience, being Portland’s soccer team…that doesn’t change whether you’re talking to our most ardent supporters or non-soccer fans alike. The difference lies in the nuances of how you tweak the tactics and imagery to reach the different demographic groups.

For us, we can’t be everything to everyone, but we definitely need to be smart in reaching out to multiple types of fan groups, including ardent soccer fans, non-soccer fans, families and the corporate community. We certainly have a significant, primarily young male (18-32) demo that makes up much of our core. For us to be truly a success and long-term fixture in the community though, we need to have an even larger appeal that reaches outside of this group.

FB: Will the team run day of game promotional events (e.g. giveaways, discounts, etc…) or will the Timbers rely on its season ticket base and face value seats to fill the stadium?

CD: We’ve been very fortunate to have close to 11,000 full-season tickets and are on pace to eclipse 12,000 by the start of the season. While I wouldn’t rule out offering some value-added ticket programs on a case-by-case basis, our emphasis has to remain on selling, servicing and building our season ticket base in both the short and long term. It’s all about retention for us. We feel we’ve affordably priced our tickets and cost isn’t a barrier for fans to attend games. Providing great fan service, a strong and exciting on-field product and a wonderful in-game experience is paramount to maintaining a full stadium.

We do have some giveaway nights planned in an effort to enhance the day-of-match experience for our fans. While still being finalized, we’re looking at doing about four premium giveaways throughout the course of the year.

Thanks again to Mr. Dolich.

Legal Update: The Courts and American Soccer – Vermes and VW

Its been a while since we took a look at some of the ongoing civil litigation and criminal actions involving American soccer personalities, clubs and leagues.  However, with the recent news of Peter Vermes arrest on a DUI, we thought we would take a look at some of the cases that have been prominent over the last year.

We’ll start with Mr. Vermes, who was recently arrested on suspicion of DUI 30 miles Southwest of Kansas City.  The arrest occurred in the early morning hours of August 24.  He spent about six hours in jail, posted a $750 bond and was released.  He will be arraigned on November 9.  Fortunately for Mr. Vermes, harsher penalties recently recommended by a commission in Kansas have not yet taken effect.  Currently, jail time is an uncommon sentence, even after multiple offenses.  To date, there has been noevidence that he has previously been found guilty on a DUI charge.  While the criminal proceeding likely has months until it reaches a resolution, it is unclear what steps the Wizards will take with their coach.  We will update this post as the matter moves forward.

We’ve posted a couple of times over the last few months about the litigation involving DC United.  The gist of the lawsuit is that the plaintiffs (Jones and Mair) are alleging that DC United (Macfarlane Chang DC Soccer, LLC) breached a contract with the plaintiffs regarding the location of potential DC United Sponsors.  Specifically, the plaintiffs allege they were entitled to a 22-25% commission on the deal to make VW the presenting sponsor of DC United.

The case was dismissed (by agreement), in early Summer.  The defendants had filed for Summary Judgment in the Spring and the Court had granted that motion.  As such, the defendants essentially won without having to take the matter to trial. A review of the Motion for Summary Judgment suggests that the plaintiff’s claim was essentially baseless.   There was a 14 month gap between the plaintiff’s effforts to contact VW as a sponsor and the actually signing of the deal.

From a business perspective, the case is interesting because it details United’s efforts (through Kevin Payne), to secure VW as a sponsor.  The relationship began over a search for property in Virgina and ultimate became a presenting sponsorship.  VW’s move to Virginia included a wish to get involved with local properties and with the Honda deal expiring, VW made a perfect target for MLS and DC United.  The courtship included dinners, phone calls, meetings and live games.  United personnel traveled extensively to close the deal and did so in the Spring of 2008.  There is no suggestion the plaintiff’s were involved.

The Adidas Deal: Inside the Numbers

The big business story in American soccer over the last 24 hours was the announcement that league sponsor adidas has significantly increased its committment to MLS with a new 8 year, $200 million that runs through 2018.  The deal replaces the previously signed 10 year, $150 million deal signed between the parties in 2004.  With four years remaining on the original deal, adidas has increased its annual committment to Major League Soccer by $10 million per year.

In addition to supplying the clubs and league with merchandise and balls, adidas will remain the the official supplier of uniforms and equipment to MLS youth academies and will increase its advertising presence during MLS broadcasts.  The increase in MLS youth academy presence in affluent and urban areas gives Adidas significant opportunities to reach younger players and familes with an entire line of merchandise.  Moreover, the 8 year deal allows MLS to develop and plan its strategies with the knowledge that these funds are coming through 2018.

According to the Sports Business Journal, adidas’ decision to extend the deal,is based, in part, on the 600% increase (over the last five years) in annual MLS merchandise sales to $300 million per year.

With its FSC contract up this year, the Adidas deal may provide a background for further broadcast negotiations.  With promises from adidas to become a greater presence in television advertising, FSC, and potentially Versus,  may have more reasons to consider signing with MLS.  ESPN may also recognize greater return on its long term investment in the league.

This is obviously a great moment for the league, as it ensures a significant commitment from one of the great merchandise and marketing powers in the world of sports.  At the same time, adidas is shrewdly increasing its participation in MLS at a time when the league is devoting increasing resources to youth development.  We

We’ll let Don Garber have the last word:  “One of the major reasons Major League Soccer has become one of the top soccer leagues in the world is due to the support and commitment of adidas. “They have a clear vision for the sport in North America, and they see MLS as a cornerstone of that vision. Our extension with adidas is a major statement by an internationally respected brand that MLS is increasing in value and that our commitments to stadium construction, strategic expansion, player development and improvement in the overall quality of play are playing dividends.”

World Cup 2010: Interview with Steven and Harrison Stark

Steven Stark and Harrison Stark are the authors of World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics recently published by Blue River Press.   The book combines humor, soccer knowledge and a bit history to discuss the World Cup from a variety of angles.  In addition to in depth previews of each team, the book also provides discussion on the politics of hosting, the background of the tournament and offers some predictions on the result.  The first part of the book provides context for the event, while the team guides will be a great companion for  fans looking for insight into the teams on the field.

The Starks were kind enough to take a few questions from us about their book, the politics of the World Cup and the games coming to South Africa.  Thanks to the Starks for a few minutes.

Footiebusiness.com: The book discusses the impact of the first African World Cup and addresses the politics, geography and climate that will make 2010 unique.  Recent reports indicate that ticket sales for South Africa are falling well short of expectations. How do you believe those elements that make South Africa a such a unique destination for the World Cup are affecting ticket sales?  Why are fans staying away?

Steven Stark/Harrison Stark:  There are a couple of things going on here.  It’s a long trip to South Africa for everyone – and an expensive one too. We’re in the middle of the worst economic downturn in over a half century, so money is tight. And, any time you put the World Cup in a locale that is not one of the leading industrial nations of the world, some people are going to be scared away.

For the home nation, we write in the book that like everything else in South Africa, the nation’s attitude to the sport is inextricably tied to the history of apartheid. Most whites in South Africa are more cricket and rugby fans than soccer ones. So that’s a sizable part of a potential audience, too, that may not be buying tickets.


FB: In addition to the geopolitical and historical elements, the book also provides detailed information on each team coming to South Africa.  Was the book  written for the “hard core” soccer fan or someone watching soccer for the first time.  How did you balance the difference in knowledge and interest among your target readers?

SS/HS:  We tried to reach both audiences. In a sense, the chapter introductions may be more geared to a first-time fan (along with the country profiles), while the team discussions are more geared to the hard core fan.

FB: The book offers a series of predictions about the results and classifies teams based on their level of expectation.  What is your basis for those predictions?

SS/HS: Well, we watch a lot of soccer and read a lot about it too. But in the book, we make the point that the World Cup is unusual in that pedigree tends to count for an enormous amount in trying to determine who will do well. A very small set of countries – namely Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Italy – tends to dominate this tournament. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win again but they’re always the best bets.

FB: What efforts have been made to market the book?  Have you been doing book signings and radio/TV interviews?  What types of stores will be carrying the book?

SS/HS: Hopefully the book is available everywhere, both on line in places such as Amazon and in stores. We are doing a tour featuring New England, New York, and California and we will be doing a fair number of radio/TV interviews. Information about all those is available on the book website (http://worldcupsoccervoice.blogspot.com/) and on booktour.com . We’re also analyzing the Cup for realclearsports.com.

FB: The cover depicts two prominent players (Ronaldinho and Beckham) who will not feature for their national teams? Was thought given to changing the cover to reflect that reality?  Do you think that “hard core” fans will be turned off by the cover photo?

SS/HS: Don’t judge the book by its cover! Yes Beckham got hurt after we had gone to press. But no, it’s too late to change things now.

FB: Finally, given soccer’s place on the American sports landscape, why do Americans purchase more tickets than any other country for the World Cup?  What does that mean for the future of the game in the United States?

SS/HS: It’s certainly a hopeful sign but one shouldn’t read too much into it. As we said before, this is a hard Cup for anyone to get to, and we’re a wealthy and large country so we have more fans available who can make the trip. Last year’s run to the Confederations Cup final may also have convinced some Americans that this team has a chance to do well.

Soccer Business Bits: Fox Soccer Ratings, Castrol Joins SUM & More

In an article addressing ratings for the MLB network, the Sports Business Journal reports that FSC is the lowest rated of the Nielsen rated sports channel.  From March 29 until April 25, FSC averaged less than 50k viewers in prime time.  MLSB Network was the second lowest, with just under 100k viewers in prime time.  However, given that much of FSC’s programming involves European soccer games that broadcast outside the 8-11 prime time window, the numbers are not surprising. The MLB rating includes occassional live broadcasts that included a Yankees-Red Sox game.   FSC’s three highest rated broadcasts in the same period were all over 215,000 viewers for specific European/EPL matches.

The Sports Business Journal is also reporting that FIFA sponsor Castrol has signed a two year deal with SUM that includes rights to the US and Mexian National Teams and MLS.  Castrol marketing will me directed to Hispanic fans and will include ads, appearances and other avenues.  MLS players will also be added to the Castrol Index.   This is a neat compartive device that includes players from some of the world’s biggeest leagues.

Finally, take a look at these ESPN World Cup promos.

MLS CUP 2009: On the Ground in Seattle

With Seattle set to cap its impressive  inaugural season as an MLS City by hosting MLS Cup 2009 at Qwest Field, we thought we would check in with Seattle soccer guru David Falk, the man behind the comprehensive Seattle soccer website, http://www.GoalSeattle.com about marketing efforts, media coverage and ticket sales for MLS Cup in Seattle.  With Seattle not in the game, we were curious about how the game was perceived in the Emerald City and David, who also writes for the Seattle Soccer Examiner, provided some great insight.  Thanks to David for his thoughts.

Footiebusiness.com:  Beyond newspaper coverage, what has been the level of mainstream coverage of the game? Are local outlets, sports radio, etc… covering the match?

David  Falk:  There will be guests on Sports Radio (KJR AM 950) this week, but it doesn’t look to be any bigger than a Sounders match week so far.

FB: There is evidence of Sounders’ season ticket holders seeking to offload their seats.  What is your sense of the interest level among Sounders’ fans in attending the game?

DF: Mixed, but most want to still go. Some are selling their seats to LA and Utah fans who want the best views. Some are giving them away, even. Still, it is likely that the lower bowl won’t have too many empty spots. A Chicago-LA match-up would have increased the ticket demand and the rate of those that showed up. There will still be a “March to the Match,” it is still the last ticket in our season package…so unless the weather is an absolute downpour, Seattle should represent. Are Seattle fans “excited” about the match? I have yet to hear from anyone that is.

FB: Tickets for the game have been parceled out with the recent opening of 6,000 additional seats.  Do you agree with the decision to limit availability?  Do you think there is a good argument for opening the entire stadium?

DF: They are handling the MLS Cup ticket sales just fine. Beckham v. Blanco could have sold more, but now what they’ve offered is more than enough.

FB: Are there ongoing efforts to advertise the game to Seattle residents?  What are those efforts?

DF: None that I have seen. Perhaps through the Sounders website and emails to all 24,000 ticket holders. Billboards…no. Bus signs…no. TV commercials? No.  We did get a letter from Garber asking us all to show up:

We also recommend you check out the extensive coverage of the game on the Seattle Times website.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers