In 2012, the Colorado Rapids hired David Burke as the team’s Chief Revenue Officer. Prior to joining the Rapids, Mr. Burke was the President of the Houston Aeros of the AHL. Prior to joining the Aeros, Burke was Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service for the Phoenix Coyotes and Jobing.com Arena from 2009 to 2011. He also served as Director of Season Ticket Sales for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats from 2007-2009. Today, Mr. Burke was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions about the Rapids’ marketing efforts, promotions and more. Thanks to Mr. Burke.
Footiebusiness.com: How are the Rapids 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 front office. How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward? Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?
David Burke: We are moving to a more interactive responsive strategy and providing unique content to our followers both on Facebook and Twitter, and to that end have a growing communications team that is now more focused on the digital area than ever before. We’ve recently hired a Digital Marketing Manager who is tasked with growing our online presence and being more engaged with our fans in a variety of social media platforms, joining a staff that is working toward having more unique content in many different online areas. We understand that MLS’ strongest and fastest-growing demographic is 18-35, and they use social media to get their news and entertainment.
As for our players using Twitter, our Marketing Communications group encourages their participation and interaction on social media, while keeping an eye out to help them avoid difficult situations. The lines of communication are open between our players and staff, so if they have reservations about what to post, they are pretty responsible about checking first. With that said, our players that use Twitter are great at it, responding to fans’ questions and sharing unique perspectives on the team.
FB: What are the biggest challenges to selling tickets in such a crowded sports landscape? Are the Rapids in competition with other sports franchises for paying customers? What can the team do to distinguish themselves from other franchises in the Denver area?
DB: Denver has been shown to be one of the most saturated sports markets in the country, if not the very busiest, so we have to be creative in order to gain a share of people’s attention. The biggest challenge we have is getting people to their first match, because once they come to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and watch our team, they’re hooked.
The Rapids’ supporters group, Centennial 38, provides a unique element which no other sport in the area can provide, and the atmosphere at a Rapids game can appeal to everyone from families to young professionals. Our style of play and young squad is exciting and entertaining, and draws in both casual and passionate soccer fans. We are proud of the entertainment value and excellent customer service at the stadium, but we also feel that our fans, players, and the sport itself all do an excellent job marketing the Rapids experience to those in the stadium.
FB: In a recent interview with the Sports Business Journal, Tim Hinchey indicated that the Rapids have 4,000 season ticket holders in 2013, more than double the number from two years ago. What are the Rapids doing to further increase those numbers? Does the team have a specific target for season ticket numbers in coming years? Are there special benefits that season ticket holders receive?
DB: Our first task is identifying, recruiting and keeping top-level salespeople on our staff, which is an ongoing process. Second, we work to train our sales staff, developing their skills and making sure they’re not simply telemarketers, but rather sales executives that meet with clients face-to-face and develop a relationship. From there, our staff can provide a product that best fits the client’s needs. Third, we motivate sales executives to work hard and remain with the club, because we know that continuity can help a great amount in bringing in new customers and retaining existing ones. Finally, we must provide strong leadership that will mentor these executives. With that plan in place, our goal next season is to continue this great recent growth and surpass 5,000 full season ticket holders. Some of the benefits of being a season ticket holder can be found here: http://www.coloradorapids.com/tickets/sth-hq/%252Ffull-season-ticket-holder-benefits
FB: The Rapids introduced multiple new jerseys for the 2013 season. These include a unique primary jersey that incorporates the names of season ticket holders directly into the fabric. Yet noticeably absent from the shirt is a jersey sponsor. Why has the team had such struggles in securing a jersey sponsor? Is the team still looking to secure a jersey sponsor this year?
DB: This is something that our President, Tim Hinchey, continues working on every day. The club has been working very hard to secure the right jersey sponsor, which is not an easy task these days when you look at the investment levels. The average MLS shirt deal is worth over $2.5M per year, with most being three-year agreements – this is not a small ask by any means when calling on local, regional or national brands. In the last two years, the Rapids have made over 15 presentations, and while we’ve converted two of these prospects into local major sponsorships for the club, they just have not been for the shirt. In a market where the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL deliver multiple seven-figure deals, we need to work that much harder to find our “share of voice and share of wallet.” While difficult, this will happen and we hope all of our hard work will be rewarded with the right partner soon.
FB: Finally, with the season just underway, are there any other marketing/branding efforts (either inside or outside the stadium) that Rapids’ fans should be on the lookout for in 2013?
DB: The most notable and visible change in 2013 is the emphasis on our relationship with the state of Colorado. In addition to our new alternate uniforms, which feature the distinctive blue, red and yellow of the Colorado flag, our 2013 marketing campaign is centered on the pride people have in this state. The taglines “State of Mind” and “Colorado For Life” can be seen on billboards and advertisements in the area, and the Colorado flag can be seen on all our uniforms, on our field before the game, and in virtually everything we do. As the only MLS team that uses its state in the club’s name, we’re proud to be Coloradans and want to reflect our fans’ passion for the Centennial State.
Fans will also notice a new area of the stadium called “The Corner 7-Eleven,” which is the result of a partnership we’ve made with 7-Eleven in conjunction with Coca-Cola. “The Corner 7-Eleven” will be in Sections 112 and 113 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, which seats approximately 880, and fans can purchase $15 vouchers – which will be the lowest-priced ticket in the stadium – for the special area at any of more than 300 7-Eleven retail locations in Colorado. We’re excited about the partnership as it allows us to work with two great brands to bring the Rapids to a great number of people in retail locations throughout the state.
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