Sports franchises connect with fans in ways many other corporations don’t. Attendees at a workshop in downtown Seattle heard tales of the changes that can occur in an industry where technology plays a major role.
Inside sports business
The thing about marketing in sports versus all other industries is that nobody dons a Heinz ketchup jacket hoping to look cool.
That’s what two-dozen attendees were told at the start of a sports marketing workshop last week at Seattle’s downtown School of Visual Concepts. Not only will consumers avoid jackets, jerseys or caps of favored household products as opposed to, say, donning Seahawks gear, they also won’t sign up for corporate Twitter accounts by the millions the way they do for players and teams.
“We’re talking to more than customers when we talk about sports marketing,’’ says Jim Copacino, who helped host the “Sports Marketing: More than a Game” event last Tuesday. “We’re talking about fans.’’
And that, in a nutshell, sets sports marketing apart: offering unique advantages and disadvantages. Copacino ought to know, since his company, Copacino+Fujikado, has long handled marketing for the Mariners — including their award-winning team television commercials.
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Other workshop speakers included Seattle Reign owner Bill Predmore, social media coordinators for both the Seahawks and Mariners, Sounders author and onetime Sports Radio KJR host Mike Gastineau and former Boston Bruins marketing manager Cole Parsons.
Workshop attendees included promotions and marketing employees from sports, financial and other fields as well as recent college graduates.
They heard tales of the lightning-quick changes that can occur in an industry where technology plays a major role. But also, of how personal interaction and a human touch can still pay huge dividends.
Predmore discussed how, with a limited marketing budget, he’s trying to get fans to buy into his women’s soccer team beyond individual stars like Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe. He says the Sounders were highly successful at creating “a tribe” of followers that became emotionally invested in the team.
In addition, he talked about a “digital disruption” that has fragmented the means of delivering marketing messages. He sees team websites as less effective than five years ago and feels it’s become increasingly useful to deliver marketing via means like video sent directly to smartphones and other platforms.
Former radio host Gastineau, who authored the book “Sounders FC: Authentic Masterpiece” described how the team used a personal touch with fans and employees in order to quickly build a legion of grass roots followers. Attendees heard how onetime Seahawks president Tod Leiweke devised the plan to share the football team’s promotions and ticketing staff with the Sounders in exchange for Paul Allen getting a 25 percent stake in the fledgling soccer club.
Gastineau said Leiweke later visited each Seahawks ticketing staffer, desk-by-desk, explaining how the Sounders’ success needed to become a part of their goal despite no immediate pay increase from it. Such personal connections, Gastineau added, made the difference in getting the sales team on board.
Seahawks digital media director Kenton Olson and Mariners digital marketing manager Nathan Rauschenberg discussed the benefits and land mines of fan engagement via Twitter and other means. Both mentioned the need to remember they represent the team’s brand during discourse with fans and that it isn’t their job to answer for on-field issues.
On that subject, Copacino told attendees that his Mariners campaigns focus on themes largely separate from on-field performance. Instead, he added, the “brand architecture’’ revolves mainly around the in-game experience, the quality of people within the organization and the values they share with the community around them.
As for the TV commercials, the goal is to have fun with players, but not make fun of them. He mentioned how onetime Mariners pitcher Chris Bosio once took offense to plans to dress him in ballerina garb to contrast his gruff demeanor.
Instead, after Bosio angrily tore up a scene board containing the idea, he was quickly recast as a dentist.
Copacino’s account supervisor, Parsons, who co-hosted the workshop, described his previous job working the Boston Bruins’ popular “Bruins Hockey Rules’’ TV spots from 2009 through its Stanley Cup season in 2011. They involved a man in a full-sized bear suit who walked around enforcing a fan “code” — everything from not dating opponents’ fans to never leaving a game early to beat traffic — that appealed to the team’s hard-nosed supporters.
At the time, the Bruins were losing core fans after years of unpopular ownership decisions. The campaign aimed to acknowledge those fans and their loyal, hardworking nature.
The unique facial expression on the bear costume’s head could depict both ferocity and vulnerability at the same time. And writers worked with that; creating commercials where a tough bear threw offensive fans through windows, then softer humored spots where a vulnerable looking bear was stared down by Bruins great Cam Neely in the locker room.
“We got so lucky with the face because it let us do anything we wanted with the bear,’’ Parsons said.
What sports marketing comes down to, he says, is trusting creative instincts and that you’ve done your homework on fans you’re trying reach.
“It’s still all about connecting with fans,’’ he says. “With all the new and different ways of doing things at our disposal today, that part hasn’t changed.’’