Interview with Davy Ratchford, RSL’s Director of Marketing

 

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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 Davy Ratchford, RSL’s Director of Marketing.  RSL is in their first full season at Rio Tinto Stadium and brought huge crowds to their playoff games at Rio Tinto last year.

Thanks to Mr. Ratchford.  Check out our other recent marketing interviews with Revolution COO Brian Bilello, Kansas City VP of Marketing and Communications Rob Thomson and  Dynamo Senior Vice President Rocky Harris

Footiebusiness.com: What is RSL doing differently for marketing in 2009?  How has the economy changed/impacted those efforts?

 

Davy Ratchford: Everyone is operating on tighter budgets.  We’ve focused our marketing efforts around a segmented marketplace.  Our mass media is focused on research driven statistics telling us what stations our prospects watch and listen.  Although we are doing well, it is easy to see the economy’s effect when it comes to discretionary entertainment spending.


FB: RSL opened Rio Tinto Stadium last year.  How does the presence of the new stadium change/impact marketing efforts?  Is the stadium experience a
marketing tool?

 

DR: Absolutely, when we opened the stadium at the end of the 2008 season, we had fantastic attendance which helped us both on the field and off. The experience that people had was captured and bottled into our 2009 pre-season marketing “where you there” campaign.  We tried to remind people of what those few games’ magical moments were like.

Having a home to call our own brings a level of optimism in our marketing.  But at the same time, we don’t want it to be just about the building.  Our players and fans are the soul of our organization and the building helps us showcase that.


FB: How has RSL 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 RSL or impact attendance?

 

DR: We actually do quite a few online promotions.  We have a steady following on Facebook and our sales pods keep their clients informed via twitter.  These avenues are the right price “free” and allow us to communicate to our fans in their comfort zone.  We do a lot of online banner ads and have tracked some fantastic click through numbers.


FB: Unlike other MLS franchises, RSL plays in a city without competition from multiple “big four” sports franchises.  How does that impact RSL’s
media exposure and ability to generate interest through “free” exposure?

 

DR: The Jazz have been a great anchor for professional sports here in Utah for some time.  As have the college sports teams at BYU and The University of Utah.  Real Salt Lake is rebounding from some years of losing seasons and the media has started to embrace a 2nd professional sports team.  We’ve negotiated some larger broadcast deals that allow us more coverage on local networks.


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?

 

DR: I think it does become a challenge, but a good one to have. In our marketplace we have a certain market segment that is young, male and single.  We also have married with 3 kids and we also have grandparents and grandkids.  Having a broad marketplace does cause us to stretch our budgets across the spectrum to reach these differnt targets.  The key is creating a good media mix that is atrractive to all of these groups.  And to have a strategy in place to move them along in their commitment level towards us.  We are happy to have folks come to one or two games a year, but our goal is for them to experience us and increase their connection to us.

Interview with Rob Thomson, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Kansas City Wizards

wozardsOver 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.

Interview With Houston Dynamo Senior Vice President Rocky Harris

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We have previously posted on Houston’s promotional efforts ( a promotional date for every game) and some of their marketing efforts. Rocky Harris, a Dynamo Senior Vice President, was kind enough to chat with us about the Dynamo’s marketing plans in 2009, fan outreach and more.  Mr. Harris has been with the Dynamo for about one year following a six year stint in the N.F.L. with San Francisco and Houston.

Footiebusiness.com:  What is Houston doing differently in terms of marketing in 2009?  How has the economy impacted those efforts?

Rocky Harris: We made a few marketing changes based on the economy. 1. Develop plans early – We knew early on that we needed to put our strategy together early so we don’t miss any opportunities. An example of this is that we finalized our entire promotional calendar before the season started so we could promote our games/themes/giveaways earlier and to get sponsors to commit to their nights and support their themed nights with media support. The promo calendar was complete before the season started and we have seen a lot of positive feedback from our sponsors and our fans. 2. Decrease media spend – We reduced our media spend and we justified it based on the following: the mainstream media is giving us more coverage, our unpaid promotional and media partnerships are more effective based on our partnership with the CBS affiliate, we signed a deal with Comcast delivering television advertising, better leverage of sponsor assets and we are shifting that money into sales and marketing initiatives that return direct ticket sales. 3. Going with what works: Our business plan was developed strictly on programs that have a history of success. The 50 programs we have in place will accomplish this goal. The marketing department took on a much greater role in helping the growth of our business. The marketing department is focused on creating or supporting programs that drive tangible business results.

The marketing department’s purpose is as follows: 1. Make a connection with a targeted audience/building fans, 2. Drive ticket sales, 3. Create sponsorship assets, 4. Build brand presence and major league image, 5. Provide valuable market exposure, 6. Help drive broadcast ratings, 7. Help drive camp registrations, 8. Support all departments.

Marketing’s general area of focus includes the following: advertising/media, promotions, grassroots marketing, Hispanic marketing, web-based marketing, production, game management and game day experience.

FB: How have the Dynamo utilized online avenues, such as social networking sites, SUM’s new online ad network, etc..- to promote and market the team? What is the endgame for these online efforts? Is there research that suggests such efforts will increase fan interest?

RH: We were the first MLS team to have a social networking site and we already have over 2000 members. We love it. It gives us a direct connection to our fans. Our executives and players can blog about insider information. Our COO writes a blog every few weeks about the status of the team.

There are three objectives: 1. engage and build fans, 2. Increase online revenue, 3. Sell tickets. We are also in the process of putting together a Twitter strategy. Yes, there is a lot of research to suggest this is the best way to reach our fans, specifically young and Hispanic fans.

FB: Is there anything unique or different about the Houston market that distinguishes it from other MLS markets? How do your advertising/fan outreach efforts account for that uniqueness?

RH: We have five (5) key target groups that drive our attendance. All of our business comes from these groups therefore all of our strategic efforts will focus on at least one of these targets. They are as follows: Youth Audience, Hispanic Community, Corporate Community, Adult Soccer-Playing Community and the General Market. We have identified and established 50 results-oriented programs and initiatives aimed at reaching these audiences and driving specific company-wide goals. These programs serve as the basis for our 2009 business plan.

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 Houston can take from Seattle’s efforts?

RH: Yes, it taught me that timing is everything in business. Plus, they have a solid plan to execute and deliver the promises they made to their fans. As you know, Seattle has some disgruntled fans with their NBA team’s departure so the fans have grabbed on to their positive image in the marketplace. They have a great international community and a solid soccer fan base. We looked at their marketing efforts and we see a lot of crossover to what every other MLS team is doing.

Thanks to Rocky Harris.  Check out our recent interview with Revolution COO Brian Bilello for his take on many of these same issues.

Business Bits: Ticket Deals and Promotions

houstonWe recently wrote about the Galaxy’s drastic reduction in ticket prices for premium seats for upcoming home games (including the upcoming Chivas USA match).  Around the League, other teams are offering other deals to bring fans into the park.  In Chicago, the Fire are now offering five game plans for as little as $110 per seat (note to the Fire, it would be helpful if the link on your website to the ticket package actually worked).  In Houston, the Dynamo are packaging a Mexican appearance in the Gold Cup with five additional Dynamo games for a $90 ticket.

In Colorado, the Rapids will continue their annual “Play Clean Night” tradition for their April 25th home game.  In addition to providing special parking for hybrids and carpools, the Rapids will also offer cell phone recycling and reduced power operation around the stadium.  According to the Rapids’ website, the team will also “encourage” the recycling of Galaxy and Beckham jerseys that night.

In Houston, the Team is also sponsoring two “soccer night out” events.  The team will bring players, Dynamo Girls, promotional items and more to these events in the Houston area. The Revs and FC Dallas are actively promoting watch parties for away games.  Dallas is offering two locations and including food/drink specials.  The Revs are bringing the Revs’ Girls to their event, and will be distributing promotional items. revs

Marketing to Adults: The Revs’ New Direction

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From the outset, MLS has faced something of an identity crisis.  Who was the target audience?  Men? Women? Familes? Hispanics? soccer fans? sports fans?  Both the League and various teams have targeted different groups with varying levels of success.  Like all marketing, imitation is king, and right now, “hardcore” fan is sitting on the throne.

Envious of the fans in Toronto, DC and more recently, the Nordecke in Columbus, teams have been searching for ways to bring spirited supporters to their events in larger numbers.  Typically young and usually male, teams are counting on these fans to bring atmosphere and passion to their stadiums.  While most teams have long had dedicated supporters’ sections with small bands of dedicated souls (like The Fort in New England or Section 8 in Chicago), there has been a definite shift towards increasing attendance among the younger, louder demographic.

Nowhere is this more clear than in New England, long considered a stronghold of the “soccer mom” set.  Becuase of Gillette Stadium’s size and the Revs’ apparent focus on selling to club teams, familes and “Beckhamites”,  the Revs have long suffered from poor atmosphere and ongoing clashes between the team and its hardcore supporters.  Two recent initiatives seem intended to  alter that reality.

The Revs’ new “Defend the Fort” initiative is offering $200 season tickets (for 20 games) in the supporters’ section behind the goal.  According to Revolution, COO Brian Biello, the campaign is intended “to create an authentic soccer atmosphere at Gillette Stadium.”  The intiative will also include social networking opportunities and events at bars around Boston.

The Revs also announced the organization of the inaugural “Revs Girls” squad, a new promotional group intended to make appearances on behalf of the team.  Notably, the interview requirements include a head shot, body shot and “form fitting clothing.”  I don’t think the target demographic is in question here.  There is no suggestion that the Revs Girls will be a cheer squad or dance team.  In a quote pulled by the Boston Herald, Mr. Biello stated that, “the girls will distribute posters and special offers to come to games.”  Apparently the Revs Girls will visit area pubs showing English Soccer as a way to entice soccer fans to give the Revs a try.

I’ll all for efforts to increase attendance, and as I have posted on many occassions, there is enormous soccer loving population in the U.S. that has not yet fallen for MLS. However,  I question whether passing out fliers to pub dwellers at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays will drive traffic to Foxboro (perhaps the Revs Girls should be visiting 20 something bars at night).  That said, I think the “Defend the Fort” initiative is a great idea.  As Columbus has shown with the Nordecke, the creation of a loud, large and passionate area of the stadium can alter the atmosphere throughout the complex.   The Revs are on the right track.

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