Interview with RSL Director of Marketing Davy Ratchford

Last year, RSL surprised many in MLS  be winning the championship over the Galaxy.  Now firmly entrenched in Rio Tinto stadium while defending  its first championship, RSL is off to a great attendance start in 2010. RSL has consistently been one of the most innovative teams with respect to marketing and in-stadium programs and their attendance reflects those efforts.  As part of our ongoing series of interviews with MLS marketing personnel, RSL Director of Marketing Davy Ratchford was kind enough to chat with footiebusiness.  Thanks to Mr. Ratchford.  For our other 2010 interviews, click here.  For our 2009 interview with Mr. Ratchford, click here.

Footiebusiness.com: RSL is the defending MLS Cup Champions. How does the championship factor into your efforts to market the 2010 season? What types of opportunities does the Championship offer when trying to market to potential season ticket holders and group ticket purchasers? Have you seen an increase in season ticket and group sales as a result.

Davy Ratchford: As the Champions, our advertising feels more legitimate. In my mind, the result validates the messaging that we’ve been using. We are the smallest market place in the league, yet we have some of the best attended games. I think the market place has bought into what we’ve been positioning. That RSL is their team, that the team is the star and that coming to our games will be the most exciting thing you can do that weekend. Winning allows us to more confidently sell and renew our season tickets. People can’t deny the product value. We have seen increased sales to season tickets. As an organization, we have lofty goals. We will never sit back and be content until we have the stadium full of season ticket holders. I think we’ll see most of the “championship” effect in our single game ticket sales, where more fans are curious about us and willing to test us out.

FB: RSL has made a concerted effort to showcase its trophy around the state of Utah. In addition to public relations value, how does this effort function as a marketing tool? Can you correlate these efforts to ticket sales?

DR: The Championship Cup Tour was an idea that we had that would allow us to take the cup to areas of the state that would never usually get a chance to see it. We recognized very early on that the community is the 12th man. That they helped us as much as anyone win this Championship and that the state should feel proud of what we’ve accomplished. We had over 75,000 people take their picture with the cup during the month long cup tour. We visited 56 schools and 154 other locations. It was a massive undertaking. The benefits have already paid off, especially in group sales. We have some communities that have never been to a game showing up in the hundreds. I believe the Cup Tour was the best grassroots marketing program we’ve ever done. It was great for sales and ever better for our brand position.

FB: RSL will be participating in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time. Historically, this is a competition that has failed to draw significant interest in MLS markets. What steps is RSL planning to promote these additional matches and the tournament itself?

DR: The first thing we did was give a specific budget for these games. These games are as important to team and the organization as any other regular season game. Anytime you play an international game it brings experience and awareness to new markets. We hope that we get our fans out to support us in these matches. Our specific marketing plans will be solidified once the games are announced, but we will focus on radio promotions to get the word out. They’ve always been a big driver for our walk up and single game ticket sales.

FB: Last year you told us about RSL’s presence on Facebook and twitter. Are you intending to continue/expand these online efforts? Does marketing through social networking translate into tangible brand awareness?

DR: We have increased our social media base to over 22,000 people. It has become one of our most dramatic communication tools. We only have one team in the league that is ahead of us (not bad for the smallest market). We need to stay relevant in our content and we need to do a better job in selling tickets through Facebook. You will see some changes taking place in the next few weeks to make that happen.

Thanks again to Mr. Ratchford.

Soccer Business Bits: Back to B-More, RSL Friendly and More

unitedWe are back on our regular schedule now and thought we would start with a quick look to one of the big business stories of the week.  After getting rebuffed by PG County and desperate to leave RFK, DC United is still considering a permanent move to Baltimore.  According to the story from the Washington Business Journal, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has written to the Maryland Stadium Authority asking them to research a possible stadium project for United.  According to the story, the inquiry was made without consultation with DC United.

This is not the first time United has explored a stadium in Maryland.  Those prior efforts died After an 8-0 vote by the Prince George’s City Council refusing to support funding for a study of a potential stadium in Maryland.  United was then in the unenviable position of having thumbed its nose at the District of Columbia while being left at the alter (or perhaps engagement party) by the State of Maryland.  Now United may have another opportunity to build in the State.

There are many benefits to MLS teams playing mid-season friendlies: exposure, revenue and more.  That said, RSL’s decision to play Chivas in mid-October seems a bit contrary to their efforts to make the playoffs for the second consecutive  season.   With RSL needing points, it seems someone counter productive to exhaust their players with three games left to play.  Nevertheless, with a lenghty break between games, RSL probably needs the matches to stay fit for the run to the playoffs.  However, it is interesting that this match will likely draw about the same amount of fans as a typical MLS match at Rio Tinto.

Finally, the Globe & Mail is reporting that Vancouver will go forward with plans to build a retractable roof on BC Place.  The open air stadium is a requirement of the MLS franchise and moving forward should continue to make the transition for the Whitecaps smooth in 2011.

Soccer Business Bits: The Morning After

mlsIn a week without an ESPN game, MLS was busy with 14 teams in action in six cities.  On the attendance front, the League seemed to have a pretty good week with the notable exception of 8,200 in Dallas.  Most interesting was the virtual attendance tie between Chivas and the Galaxy in dueling games at the Home Depot Center.  On Saturday night, Chivas got more than 16k in hosting DC United in a 2-2 tie.  The Galaxy got virtually the same number for a Sunday afternoon tilt with Columbus.  Chivas has continued its strong attendance start, with each game seemingly building on the success of the week before. The Galaxy are way down, but the return of Becks is just weeks away.

Elsewhere, NY showed a comparatively big number by bringing about 14,500 to Giants Stadium. For a team that has struggled to top 10k on some nights, 14,500 is a good showing.  As we have discussed before, Red Bull Arena is opening up next year and there is a sense that the team is holding its advertising dollars for next season.  That is not the case in Utah, where RSL brought more than 19k to Rio Tinto.  We have highlighted RSL advertising efforts in the past, and those efforts appear to be paying dividends.

Switching focus to WPS, the Womens’ League was in action in three cities this weekend.  FSC broadcast the Sunday night game from Boston and the other two matches were available on local television.  Just over 6k attended the Sol’s Friday night game at the Home Depot Center as part of its three games in three nights this weekend.  In Boston, 4200 watched the Breakers on Sunday and just under 5k were in Chicago on Saturday.  WPS continues to hit its attendance targets, settling nicely into the 4-6 range.  As the year progresses, it will be interesting to see if the WPS pulls ticket sales from MLS.  The Revs are struggling around 10-13k while the Breakers are pulling 5k on the same weekend.  Would some of those fans be at Gillette if the Breakers weren’t in Boston?

Finally, the 2009 SuperLiga has been announced with play starting in June.  We will discuss the SuperLiga in detail as it comes closer.  This event wobbled a bit last year, after a successful first campaign. This year, some of the big Mexican teams like Chivas and America are not participating.  That should have a dramatic impact on attendance at TV ratings. Nevertheless, the soccer has been pretty good during the tournament and the atmospheres have been pretty lively.  For now, take a look at our write-up on last year’s SuperLiga.

Soccer Business Bits: Seats in Seattle and More

soundersA bit of business potpurri today.  Building on its sellout success, the Seattle Sounders have announced that they are opening additional seats for the rest of the season at Qwest.  The Sounders have averaged almost 30k during the season and are now adding some additional seats for the rest of year, bringing capacity to 32,000, the same amount of seats that were available on opening day.  With 22,000 season tickets and a large amount of additional demand, the additional capacity will enable more fans to experience Sounders’ soccer this year.  It will also increase MLS average attendance for the season.  The team also recently announced new 9 game packages and confirmed friendlies with Barcelona and Chelsea.  With those games included in the 9 game packs (along with MLS CUP), the Sounders may hit that 32k for the rest of the year.

It will be interesting to see if the Sounders can sell the additional seats for every game.  As we have said before, Seattle has continued to hit the right notes with all of their business moves and this seems like a calculated gamble that will increase revenues for 2009.  There is risk if the team finds that it cannot find takers for all seats to every game.  The Sounders might unwittingly find where attendance is capped.  That could create a ripple effect whereby there is less demand next year and some negative press if they ultimately close the newly opened sections.

In Salt Lake City, RSL is looking to build on its solid attendance showing from last week.  As part of that effort, The Team announced a buy one get one free promotion with Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Fans can obtain the vouchers at 35 KFC Restaurants around the Salt Lake area.  The promotion is part of an ongoing relationship between KFC and RSL.

Finally, in Los Angeles, Chivas looks to continue its strong start on the field and at the gate againt DC United on Saturday.  As part of those efforts, they are offering a “kid’s pack” which offers a free ticket for any child under the age of 16 with the purchase of a full adult ducat.  The same package is offered for a number of upcoming games and is capped at 8 sets per purchase.  The numbers have been impressive for Chivas this year and the big “Blanco game” is on the horizon.  It will be interesting to see if the Goats can keep the fans coming.

Interview with Davy Ratchford, RSL’s Director of Marketing

 

rsl

Over the last few weeks we have posted a number of interviews with MLS Team executives regarding efforts to market their Clubs in the current economic and technological climate.  Each team has unique circumstances that make their marketing and fan outreach efforts fascinating fodder for discussion and analysis. This week we touch base with Davy Ratchford, RSL’s Director of Marketing.  RSL is in their first full season at Rio Tinto Stadium and brought huge crowds to their playoff games at Rio Tinto last year.

Thanks to Mr. Ratchford.  Check out our other recent marketing interviews with Revolution COO Brian Bilello, Kansas City VP of Marketing and Communications Rob Thomson and  Dynamo Senior Vice President Rocky Harris

Footiebusiness.com: What is RSL doing differently for marketing in 2009?  How has the economy changed/impacted those efforts?

 

Davy Ratchford: Everyone is operating on tighter budgets.  We’ve focused our marketing efforts around a segmented marketplace.  Our mass media is focused on research driven statistics telling us what stations our prospects watch and listen.  Although we are doing well, it is easy to see the economy’s effect when it comes to discretionary entertainment spending.


FB: RSL opened Rio Tinto Stadium last year.  How does the presence of the new stadium change/impact marketing efforts?  Is the stadium experience a
marketing tool?

 

DR: Absolutely, when we opened the stadium at the end of the 2008 season, we had fantastic attendance which helped us both on the field and off. The experience that people had was captured and bottled into our 2009 pre-season marketing “where you there” campaign.  We tried to remind people of what those few games’ magical moments were like.

Having a home to call our own brings a level of optimism in our marketing.  But at the same time, we don’t want it to be just about the building.  Our players and fans are the soul of our organization and the building helps us showcase that.


FB: How has RSL utilized online avenues such as social networking sites, SUM’s new online ad network, etc… to market the team?  Do you find that
these efforts increase interest in RSL or impact attendance?

 

DR: We actually do quite a few online promotions.  We have a steady following on Facebook and our sales pods keep their clients informed via twitter.  These avenues are the right price “free” and allow us to communicate to our fans in their comfort zone.  We do a lot of online banner ads and have tracked some fantastic click through numbers.


FB: Unlike other MLS franchises, RSL plays in a city without competition from multiple “big four” sports franchises.  How does that impact RSL’s
media exposure and ability to generate interest through “free” exposure?

 

DR: The Jazz have been a great anchor for professional sports here in Utah for some time.  As have the college sports teams at BYU and The University of Utah.  Real Salt Lake is rebounding from some years of losing seasons and the media has started to embrace a 2nd professional sports team.  We’ve negotiated some larger broadcast deals that allow us more coverage on local networks.


FB: Is it inconsistent/challenging for teams to target “hard core” supporters, non-soccer sports fans and families?  How do you resolve those
inconsistencies/challenges?

 

DR: I think it does become a challenge, but a good one to have. In our marketplace we have a certain market segment that is young, male and single.  We also have married with 3 kids and we also have grandparents and grandkids.  Having a broad marketplace does cause us to stretch our budgets across the spectrum to reach these differnt targets.  The key is creating a good media mix that is atrractive to all of these groups.  And to have a strategy in place to move them along in their commitment level towards us.  We are happy to have folks come to one or two games a year, but our goal is for them to experience us and increase their connection to us.

The Business of Real Salt Lake

rslThe week of RSL’s big home opener at Rio Tinto stadium has brought a number of stories about how RSL is functioning as a business in its new digs.  From “Behind the Shield, RSL’s official blog, comes word of “ticket insurance” in case of precipation at the home opener.  Unlike traditional rain check policies (where a game is rained out), the RSL policy allows fans the option of coming back for a game in August even if the game goes forward.  If there is any rain or snow between 6-10 p.m. the night of the game, all scanned tickets get a second game.  This is a clever policy, but suggests that RSL is concerned about attendance for opening night.  Check below for the opening night attendance.

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting on the RSL’s elite “100 Lions Club“.  For a base fee of $15,000, admission to the Club provides VIP seating, food service, V.I.P. parking and more.  The program also includes additional up close  meetings with players, concierge service and first rights to non-soccer events at Rio Tinto.  These are the types of programs that teams in all major sports rely upon as  an important revenue source.  These are also the types of programs that are struggling in this economy.   It will be interesting to see if RSL can keep selling these seats and selling them out.

We recently wrote about RSL announcement of Jet Blue as an official sponsor.  The deal includes signage, promotions and special offers for RSL fans.  According to this article, RSL has also signed on with Burger King, Anheiser-Busch and more.  Rio Tinto stadium is a big draw for these advertisers, because the signage and stadium advertising includes events other than soccer.  The article also announces a new TV deal for the team.

During the broadcast, Crown Royal, Heineken, Pennzoil and McDonalds were among the national advertisers.   Sponsors such as Panasonic, Chase, and Gatorade were among the signage sponsors in front of another disappointing crowd.

Business Bits: Opening Week, WPS and Milan

wpsAmway International, the presenting sponsor of the San Jose Earthquakes, has signed on as the jersey sponsor of the WPS’ L.A. Sol. The sponsorship will include the Amway name on the jersey, stadium signage and placement on an array of Sol items.  Perhaps most importantly for Amway, Brazilian Marta, perhaps the most recognizable star in Womens’ soccer, will now wear the Amway name.  In a separate deal, Marta signed a three year endorsement deal with the company.

In Salt Lake City, RSL has announced an “open house” at Rio Tinto Stadium.  The free event will include a Friendly with the Austin Aztek of the USL First Division, a meet the players component and plenty of family friendly activities.  With the fall 2008  opening of Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL has a beautiful new venue to showcase.  The open house seems like a fantastic way to introduce potential fans to the stadium without giving away the proudct (i.e. free tickets to games).  Rio Tinto looked and sounded great on TV during the playoffs and reports suggest that season ticket sales are up for 2009.

The Galaxy have wasted no time in selling tickets for their negotiated Friendly with AC Milan.  According to the team website, tickets are now on sale as part of a package with tickets for opening night.  While the game is free for season ticket holders, the two game package prices range from $50-$600.  It is somewhat surprising that L.A. would pair the Milan tickets with opening day because it suggests that opening day tickets aren’t selling well;  we’ll know in a week.  milan