Marketing in Chicago: Interview with Fire VP Emigdio Gamboa

Over the last couple of weeks, we posted our Q&A with Timbers VP of Marketing Cory Dolich our interview with Revs COO Brian Bilello and our chat with FC Dallas Director of Marketing and Digital Media Justin McCord.  Today we are lucky to have an interview with Emigdio Gamboa, the Fire’s VP in charge of Marketing and Communications.  Mr. Gamboa was kind enough to provide some thoughts on Chicago’s 2011 marketing efforts and use of social media.

Footiebusiness.com: How is Chicago 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.   How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward?  Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?

Emigdio Gamboa: For the past couple of seasons we have made social media a focal point of fan interaction. Over the past two seasons we have developed and implemented a progressive Facebook and Twitter strategy that has seen our Facebook numbers go from 8,700 in Feb. 2010 to over 50,000 fans at present. We see Twitter and Facebook serving different purposes & objectives moving forward.  Our Twitter is a complimentary tool to Facebook in our overall social media strategy.  As it relates to Facebook, we are continuously focused on improving the quality of engagement with our followers paying particular attention to the type & frequency of our postings.  We want to make certain that the content that we are posting is relevant and entertaining so that it is creating a two way dialogue with our followers.

Currently, we do not have a written policy on players using Twitter. We encourage our players to use Twitter & do so in an appropriate fashion.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, some teams heavily utilize game day promotions to drive traffic while others have moved away from that model.    Should fans expect game day promotions in 2011?  Similarly, some teams have started using Groupon to sell individual game tickets.  The Fire used Groupon to sell season tickets.  Was that a successful relationship? Will you use Groupon to sell individual game tickets in 2011?

EG: Yes, fans should expect to see game day/ticket promotions in 2011.  Currently, we have been promoting a “family pack” offering that includes 4 match tickets, 4 hot dogs & 4 refreshments.  However, we have made a stronger emphasis on improving the overall game day experience.  We understand that we have a diverse and passionate fan base that expect and appreciate different aspects of a game day experience so we try our best to cater to our entire fan base. From the different activities in our fan fest area, to the food, the bi-lingual public-address announcements, etc., this is an area that will continue to evolve.

Our relationship with Groupon has been successful in the sense that it gave individuals who might have not otherwise experienced a match live the opportunity to do so.  Once you experience a match, the likelihood of returning is obviously much higher.

FB: What do the Fire offer as season ticket incentives?  Do fans get special values from being part of the team’s season ticket base?  How many season tickets has Chicago sold this year? How does that compare to previous years?

EG: Following the 2010 MLS campaign the Fire evaluated their ticket sales philosophy and integrated fan input to propose the most progressive season ticket campaign in the club’s 14-year history. Gaining feedback from its supporters about the kind of offers and incentives they want in a Fire season ticket package the Fire developed  a season ticket campaign built by-and-for a supporter. Starting with an unprecedented  move in Chicago sports, the club offered free and reduced parking to a majority of season ticket holders and a 12-month payment plan that allows Fire Season Ticket Holders to pay as low as $15 a month. In addition, the Fire created a referral program, allowing current Fire Season Ticket Holders to receive a 20 percent credit on referral purchases. Those referred receive a five percent savings on the purchase of their 2011 season tickets. The result has seen the club sell over 2,800 new season tickets in the offseason, breaking the previous club best of 1936 season tickets sold set in 1998, the Fire inaugural year.

Our season ticket holders are given a wide range of incentives from access to exclusive team events, gifts and other special offers including free parking (depending on the ticket package), discount on merchandise & concession items.  We strive to provide our supporters with an authentic soccer experience while providing them with extensive access to the club at a cost effective price point.

FB: What type of marketing efforts does the team make to attract soccer fans in the Chicago area who follow the sport (in Europe, Latin America, etc…) but not the team?  Do you use billboards and newspapers or a more targeted approach? Do the friendlies you play against club sides from around the world have a measurable effect on your regular MLS ticket sales?

EG: We have a heavy emphasis on grassroots marketing activities focused on areas in our community where the sport is being played from soccer fields on the south-west of Chicago to fields in places like Palatine, Naperville and beyond. We’ve developed a number of strong relationships with youth and adult soccer leagues to engage individuals who are playing soccer to help drive them to Fire matches.

We do have a targeted approach in placing billboards and other forms of advertising keeping different audiences in mind.  Friendlies have a minimal effect on our regular MLS ticket sales.   However, they serve multiple purposes from branding to different communities, building international relationships to simply improving our level of competition.
FB: The Fire had a long relationship with Best Buy as their jersey sponsor.  That relationship recently ended.  What efforts have you made to secure a new sponsor?  Do you expect to announce a new relationship soon?

EG: Our effort to secure a new sponsor is an on-going process, the jersey sponsorship is a unique opportunity & we continue to meet and discuss the opportunity with potential sponsors.

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