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.

The Deal Down in Dallas

fc dallasWe have discussed the attendance woes in Dallas on a number of occassions.   Attendance in Big D (or Frisco) is down this year by almost 40% But for Kansas City and its forced limited attendance, Dallas would be bringing up the rear with its average of 9,300 (that includes an opener of almost 16k) over four games.  With a fairly new stadium in Pizza Hut Park, a local population in Dallas that plays soccer en masse, premier online, independent coverage and a long history as an original team in MLS, FC Dallas would seem to be an obvious choice for success at the gate.  Yet, the team is averaging just over 9k and attendance is dropping fast.

The big question is of course, Why?  There are theories about front office ineptitude, poor performance on the field or a suburban stadium too far from downtown Dallas (does anyone actually live in downtown Dallas??).  We were in Dallas this week and performed a bit of marketing reconissance to check on efforts to promote FC Dallas  in Big D.  We asked everyone we met, from cab drivers to waitresses to business assoicates about FC Dallas and Pizza Hut Park.  The results of our anecdotal survey were pretty dramatic.

Almost everyone we met had heard of Pizza Hut Park, but nobody had every been there.  Most associated Pizza Hut Park with the Roughriders, a Double A baseball team playing at Dr. Pepper Park in Frisco, TX (same location as Pizza Hut Park).   We spoke with season ticket holders for the Mavericks, Stars and Cowboys, all of whom knew nobody that had seen an FC Dallas game, yet almost everyone knew about the Team.  Everyone we spoke with was shocked that FC Dallas struggled to fill the stadium; they all mentioned how popular soccer is in Texas.  Interestingly, almost everyone we spoke with knew where the stadium is located, knew how to get there and said it was “close.”

We saw no advertising for the Team, whether on signs, buses, television or newspapers.  There was no evidence of FC Dallas merchandise at Dallas-Forth Worth airport and we heard no commercials on the radio for upcoming games or events.  The Team is marketing through its website; pre-game happy hour anyone?  Other marketing efforts are certainly being made (our trip was pretty quick), yet they were not apparent.

Our survey was obviously informal, yet it was instructive.  In recent trips to Kansas City, Washington and other MLS cities, we have seen evidence of the local soccer team in a number of different media.  People were aware of the local franchise and some had been to games.  In Dallas, the Team’s impact on the sports consciousness was minimal.

The question is of course why.  If you have any theories, let us know.  Why is this once proud franchise struggling on the field and at the gate?