Marketing in Philly: An Interview with Union VP of Marketing Cara Joftis

We are now about two months away from the Philadelphia Union’s primetime opener on ESPN2 against Seattle.  With a new stadium on the way and an excited base of fans, Philly is set to become American soccer’s latest success story.  As we did last year, we hope to bring you a series of interviews with MLS marketing professionals to provide insight into how teams seek to promote their brand. We thought we would start 2010 with the Philadelphia Union.

Cara Joftis has been the  VP of Marketing for the Union since September, 2009.  Prior to joining the club, she was Vice President of Sponsorships and Brand Promotions at Citizens Bank for more than six years.  She managed brand presence and messaging  for Citizens Bank properties in 13 states, including Citizens Bank Park.   Thanks for Ms. Joftis for taking a few minutes to discuss the Union’s efforts to market the team in a tough economic climate in a city full of competition for attention from fans and media.  The Union is starting play in a fairly rough economic climate.  What impact does the economy have on the message of your marketing campaign?  Do you have to tailor your methods of marketing because of the economy?

Cara Joftis:  We try to be aware of all issues facing our fans.  We haven’t had to adjust our marketing campaign at all.  Our tickets are the most economically priced out of the Philadelphia major league sports teams.  Our marketing methods remain the same, with a focus on the passion of the game and of our fans.

FB:  The Union are moving into a brand new facility during the season.  Yet the team is starting the season at the Linc.  How does the team balance efforts to market the new stadium with the reality that the team will play a number of games elsewhere?

CJ: There really hasn’t been a need for any balance.  Again, the focus is on the passion of the game and the fans and that is relevant in either of the buildings.

FB: How does the Union 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?

CJ: Online marketing efforts have the same goals as our traditional marketing – drive awareness and ticket purchases.  Facebook and Twitter are important communication channels for us in interacting with our fans.

FB: Philadelphia is a sports mad city with strong passions for teams that have been passed down through generations.  What can the Union do to penetrate those mainstream sports fans?  Should that be a goal of marketing efforts?  Is it important to gain exposure on mainstream sports outlets like WIP?

CJ: A recent Wharton study showed that approximately 1.5million people in Philadelphia DMA identify themselves as avid soccer fans.  There is an extremely strong fan base for soccer.  We talk to those people and do not go after people who are not interested in soccer.  Approximately 80% of our founding members do not have season tickets to any other professional sports team in town.

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

CJ: Seattle and Toronto have done a terrific job of staying true to the sport and authentic to their fans.  That is definitely something that we also strive for.

Thanks again to Ms. Joftis for responding to our questions.

Soccer Business Bits: Deals??, Stadiums and More

red-bulls1On the eve of the US/Mexico showdown, we thought we would keep our sites on the upcoming MLS weekend and some of the marketing efforts teams are employing to bring fans to the gate.  In New York, the Red Bulls are offering a contest for round trip airfare and game tickets for the upcoming Red Bulls/Chivas USA match at the Home Depot Center.  Offered through MLS partner American Airlines, the trip seems designed to bring fans to the website.  Remarkably (and embarassingly), the trip does not include ground transportation, food and hotel accomodations.  This “deal” is pretty disappointing. Why would the Red Bulls send two fans off to Los Angeles and leave them to fend for themselves?  This is cheap for the sake of cheap and very disappointing.

In more positive Red Bull news, the first section of stadium roof has gone up.  Click here for the webcam of the stadium construction.  The progress in New York is far ahead of construction in Philadelphia.  Given that the buildings are intended to open at the same time next year, this is some cause for concern.  There has already been talk that the Union will start the season with a long road trip.  With vagaries of winter weather, construction delays and more, it will be a real struggle to open in Chester in time for 2010 first kick.

Finally, a bit of MLS/USMNT combination news.  In Salt Lake City, Real has announced plans for the sale of tickets for the World Cup Qualifier at Rio Tinto. The team offered a pre-sale for RSL season ticket holders and now seats are available to the public.  There are also offers for VIP packages and more.