Marketing in Dallas: Interview with FC Dallas

Over the last couple of weeks, we posted our Q&A with Timbers VP of Marketing Cory Dolich and interview with Revs COO Brian Bilello.  Today, we are fortunate to have had an opportunity to chat with FC Dallas’ Director of Marketing and Digital Media Justin McCord.  Mr. McCord has been with the team for three seasons following a couple of years with the Dallas Morning News and Mandalay Baseball Properties.  He has a BA in Communications and an MS in Sports Management from Baylor.  Mr. McCord was kind enough to provide some insight into the marketing and business aspects of FC Dallas.
Footiebusiness.com:  How is FC Dallas 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?

Justin McCord:  Digital media is one of the top imperatives for FC Dallas.  Twitter and Facebook carry over the editorial tone of our website, which fills a void in Dallas/Ft Worth in providing unique and distinguishable soccer content for soccer fans.  We’’re talking about soccer at all levels: FC Dallas’ first team and development academy, local adult leagues, EPL, La Liga, International.  Over the last 12 months we’’ve made a concerted effort to establish our digital content team as a significant source for soccer information.  And social media is a big part of that.

Twitter and Facebook also allow us to approach soccer fans three-fold:

1)      Pushing breaking news or unique content, like promoting Bobby Rhine’’s total soccer podcast.
2)      Communicating back and forth with fans that have a connection to the game or our club.
3)      Driving revenue through special offers.

Lastly, with respect to both of these platforms, social media gives us the opportunity to empower our fans.  Last November, amidst the most successful season in FC Dallas history, we were at a loss at the lack of coverage through local media.

Doug Quinn, our president & CEO, sent an open letter to the major media outlets in our market, informing them what they had missed.  We published an except from that letter (http://www.fcdallas.com/news/2010/11/open-letter-doug-quinn-dfw-media) and include the phone number, Facebook page and twitter handles for DFW media with a call to action for FC Dallas fans to contact the stations and let them know that they wanted more FC Dallas coverage, using #IWANTMYFCD.  Twitter and Facebook played a unique role in that campaign, which resulted in a significant social buzz, inches and air-time.

Going forward it’s no different.  Our three-fold approach allows us to provide a complete content user experience and connect deeper with FC Dallas fans.  We do not have a team policy regarding the use of twitter, but, from a marketing and communications side love to see our players leveraging their brands in the social space.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, some teams heavily utilize game day promotions to drive traffic while others have moved away from that model.  Others have recently started using Groupon for select games.  Do you anticipate using Groupon in 2011?   Should fans expect game day promotions in 2011?

JM: We are building on a shift and focus to being soccer-centric. So, while the answer to all of your questions is yes, it’s important to know that it is through a filter of being true to what it means to be a Football Club that we’’ve made decisions on ticket packages and promotions. We’’ll have some unique ticket promotions/packages launching in the coming weeks that I’’m very excited about, including a Derby Package that includes games against some of our biggest rivals like Houston and Chicago.  Our gameday promotions will also include premiums that are traditional to the culture of the game, like scarves or over-sized yellow cards.  We want our promotions to enhance the game experience for the soccer fan – tying them closer to the game and team they love.

Groupon is a great tool and one that we experienced success with in 2010.  We’’ll continue to use it strategically, careful not to compromise the investment from our package holders, primarily our full season ticket holders.   

FB: In a recent interview with the Dallas Business Journal, Doug Quinn indicated that season ticket sales are up 300% year over year?  How does that figure translate into actual numbers? Will the team announce its final season ticket numbers at some point during the season? What does the team offer as season ticket incentives?
JM: Doug has put in place a leadership team that is going to propel this company in many departments, including Ticket Sales, Business Development, Marketing/Communications, the International space, Broadcast/Digital, FC Dallas Youth and more.  And that doesn’t take into consideration what our Technical staff does on the field.

With respect to ticket sales, we have more than 25 ticket sales representatives.  That’s more than three times what we had at this time last year.  Kris Katseanes (Director of Ticket Sales & Service) and his sales staff is hungry for success and is showing that when you combine the right people, the right strategy and right work ethic you will see results.

The number Doug referenced includes new packages buyers, both full and mini plans/flex buyers.  That doesn’t include the 92% renewal rate.  This is a great first step to our ultimate goal and gives us great momentum for 2011.

Our season ticket packages include many benefits that range from special opportunities/invitations to meet the team, exclusive gifts and the ability to exchange tickets.  For me, the most unique benefit our season ticket holders receive is priority communication.  Our season ticket holders receive information on player signings, awards, accolades and more before press releases go out of the building.  When David Ferreira won the 2010 MVP or when we signed our MLS leading fifth homegrown player, Jon Top, – it was our season ticket holders that knew first.

FB: What type of marketing efforts does the team make to attract soccer fans in the Dallas who follow the sport (in Europe, Latin America, etc…) but not the team?  Do you use billboards and newspapers or a more targeted approach?

JM: We want to be in the spaces where the DFW soccer fan consumes soccer.  That means partnerships with local adult leagues and spending time and resources through our pub network and on college campuses.  The other place we’’re trying to lead the charge for “all things soccer” is through media.  Our TV Analyst, Bobby Rhine, answers questions about soccer from all over the world in his weekly podcast on FCDallas.com.  We’re exploring opportunities to expand this type of programming in local media, both TV and radio.

Our paid media includes a mix of traditional and non-traditional, with a considerable focus in the digital space and social media.  We don’t have unlimited resources, so, for us, it’s about being smart with our dollars and placing buys around research and the analytics on previous campaigns.  We are targeted in our placements when we can be, for instance, running spots during Champions League and EPL broadcasts or online campaigns on soccer-specific sites. We do realize that not every medium allows us to be targeted specific to soccer, and in those instances, we are placing media in spaces to at least hit the general sports fans.

Our 2011 campaign, “Dallas ‘Til I Die,” has layers of meaning for our club.

“Dallas ‘Til I Die” is the premiere and traditional chant for the FC Dallas faithful.  Through thick and thin they have proven that the idea behind this simple chant is more than just words.

Likewise, “Dallas ‘Til I Die” is intended to be a vehicle for us to reach out to all soccer fans in the Dallas/Ft Worth area.  That includes fans of EPL, Primera Division, La Liga and so on. Our market is ripe with people who have been bitten by the soccer bug.  We don’t want to replace their affinity for their club.  We want to supplement that addiction and give them their fix for an exciting brand of soccer through their hometown team. Lastly, “Dallas ‘Til I Die” is a means for us to communicate the rich soccer history in North Texas.  Our patriarch, Lamar Hunt, is directly responsible for the growth of soccer in the United States and the Dallas/Ft Worth area.  Through this campaign and our 2011 marketing strategy, we want to celebrate that legacy.

FB: Finally, Commissioner Garber announced in November that a number of teams will announce jersey sponsors for 2011.  Other than a brief relationship with ESPNDallas.com, FC Dallas is one of the few remaining teams that has never had a jersey sponsor.  Do you view that as a lost revenue opportunity over the past few years?  Recently, the team has indicated that four companies are vying for the front of the team’s jersey Do you anticipate FC Dallas joining the list of teams with a jersey sponsor prior to the start of season?

JM: Yes, it’s lost revenue.  But, like Doug also said, this isn’’t a decision you rush into “to keep the lights on.”
The partnership between the FC Dallas brand and official sponsor whose logo will be on the jersey has to be a perfect marriage.  You represent each other and work lock step in all activations.  The courtships that Doug mentioned are in a really good place – but there’s no ring on the finger just yet.

Thanks again to Mr. McCord.

Interview with Rapids Senior Director of Marketing and Entertainment Kieran Cain

On Sunday afternoon, the Colorado Rapids will host their second game of the new season at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.  In advance of that match, we caught up with Rapids Senior Director of Marketing and Entertainment Kieran Cain to talk about the Rapids’ marketing efforts, tickets sales and more.  Mr. Cain is a 13 year veteran of the Rapids organization and after a start in ticket sales, he has moved through roles in ticket sales, community relations and game entertainment before coming to his current position.

Thanks to Mr. Cain for answering some questions.  For our recent interview with Union VP of Marketing Cara Joftis, click here.  For our library of 2009 marketing interviews, click here.

Footibusiness.com:  How have the Rapids utilized online avenues such as social networking sites  to market the team?  Do you find that these efforts increase interest in the Rapids or impact attendance?

Kieran Cain:  We are very active….over the last three weeks we have had more growth online than any other MLS club in terms of how many friends we have added on face book….we have hired two new full time digital media personnel.  This year we have taken a very proactive approach in to online technology, maximizing it where we can.  Not just for the Rapids, but also for our stadium, for our youth academy teams and our adult leagues.

FB: The Rapids offer a number of benefits to season ticket holders including ticketless entry, “chalk talks”, designated parking and more.  What other advantages do season ticket holders get?  How do you promote these benefits to attract new season ticket holders?

KC: We’ve really ramped it up this year.  Everyone has seen the economy, we really wanted to bend over backwards for our season ticket holders, we’ve got a new set of benefits this season for full season ticket holders.   For instance, for the first time ever they have their own prices on the stadium menu which are significantly less than the average fan would pay.  They have their own parking lots.  We created a custom scarf for each season ticket holder. …In addition, there are several different experiences we offer on game day.

One of the big exciting things is that we really reward full season ticket holders with a kickback card.  For every dollar  they spend in the stadium they get an equal amount of points. They can redeem those for everything  from jerseys to dinner with the coach to a trip to London with the team.  They can turn them in this year, next year or let them build up.

Especially this year, there has been a big jump.  We have upgraded many partials to fulls which has been a big objective.   The only way they can get these is to be a full season ticket holder.

FB: How are your season ticket numbers as compared to prior seasons?

KC: We’re up.  We have surpassed last year.  Tickets are up.  Given the economy, this is good news. We have a long way to go.  We’d like to have a full house of season ticket holders. We are working on it every day.

 

FB: This is the 4th season in DSG Park and the stadium plays host to many events in addition to the Rapids.  How does DSG Park create opportunities to market the Rapids?  What does the team do to market those attending non-Rapids events at the stadium?

KC: We’ve got the building and facility year round.  We are out there doing handouts at the gates, running scoreboard messages.  There are high school games, rugby games.  The biggest concert in the State of Colorado takes place at DSG.  That is a great event to market.  There are lots of cool marketing opportunities.  Our stuff is everywhere, flyers, booths at the event. I control the scoreboard during the event to let people know what is going on and our street team is out there. In addition, we like to reward our fans because they can buy tickets to these events before the general public.  There is synergy both ways.

 

FB: Last year the Rapids ran a promotion in August where the first 2,000 kids through the gate got a free soccer ball.  Will the team run similar promotional events this year? How successful are these promotions in bringing fans to the stadium?  How do you balance attracting “hard-core” fans versus families?

KC: They are very successful…but the problem that we have is that they are successful, but only for certain people.  Some come for those promotions rather than focus on the game itself.  We’ve made a concerted effort to do away with the promotions on game day and make the focus on the game itself.  We are doing alot to appeal to the dedicated soccer fan.  You wont see many of those promotions this year.

 

One of the big things we did this year…the first MLS team to do it,  was to physically construct a family unfriendly section in our stadium.  The whole side of the stadium that we completely retrofitted to appeal to our hard core supporters.  It is something where we are encouraging adult only, drinking beer is allowed, having fun is allowed.  It is something we promote.  If you are a family, you can find where you want to sit.

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 Colorado can take from Seattle’s efforts?

KC: Sure.  All the teams in the league have heard that success story.  There are certain elements to their success.  They set their club up right from the get go.  They are very involved in their supporters group.  They also have some of the benefits that we may not be directly benefiting from like a stadium directly downtown.  They have bars that you can walk to which is something we would kill for. I think we talk regularly with those guys.  We trade off going to each others games.  There are lessons to be learned, but on the other hand they ask us for advice as well.  It’s a two way street.  Everybody is still learning.

FB: Finally, with the season about to being, are there any other marketing/branding efforts (either inside or outside the stadium) that Rapids’ fans should be on the lookout for?

KC: Our objective this year is that it is the year of the soccer fan. If you are living in Denver, we are your gateway to the World’s most passionate activity, whether you are a youth player, an adult player…we are going to be a conduit to that. We’ve already done a few things leading up to the season, some grassroots marketing events….I think we are the first team to have our games over the air and in HD all season.  It is definitely trying to appeal to that soccer fan, if the club was appealing to the families in past years, they are going to see a difference this year.

 

Thanks to Mr. Cain for answering some questions.

 


MLS: A Peek Behind the Curtain

mlsFew sports leagues guard their finances more closely than MLS, but efforts to bring a franchise to Portland brought many long hidden numbers to light.  In a report prepared  by HVS, many MLS financial numbers became public for the first time.  The report is here.

The report projects MLS finances from 2011 (when Portland enters the League), until 2015 and aggregates data from past seasons.  Total  MLS stadium revenues for 2011-2015 are projected at $14-15 Million per year.  This includes ticket sales, advertising, naming rights, concessions and more.

The report also addresses season ticket sales for 2007 and 2008 with Toronto the high (16,641 in 2008) and Chivas the low (837 in 2008).  The report does not include Seattle’s 22k for 2009.  Most teams fall in the 3-5k range, but the League did show a 26% increase from 2007 to 2008 (including the addition of San Jose in 2008).

Because the report focused on the viability of a stadium in Portland, many of the numbers focus on seating, concessions, merchandise and other game day items. Around the League, Club prices range from $5,000 (both L.A. teams) to approximately $1,000.  Suites range from $154,000 per year (Galaxy) to $21,000 per year (KC).  Some teams sell suites by the game, while most offer only annual purchases.

Stadium naming rights are also discussed; The Home Depot Center is a $70 million deal for 10 years, while Pizza Hut Park is $25 million over 20 years.  Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is a $40 million two year deal and Rio Tinto is a $1.5-$2 million dollar annual deal (for 15 years)The report also projects annual ticket sales in Portland (well below the mean), ticket prices, revenue from non-soccer events and more.

This is a facinating picture of the League’s current, past and future finances. Based on these numbers, the City of Portland and presumably investors in Vancouver, Portland, Philly and St. Louis were eager to buy into MLS.  The report makes for fantastic reading (in its entirety) and will definitely make for interesting conversation.

What are your thoughts?  Are their numbers in the report that surprise you?  Impress you?  Let us know.