Baseball is a tough industry.
With some exceptions, teams play over a hundred games a season, with players and personnel going through the grind of the long season each summer. Marketing these games – especially in a way that keeps fans engaged and sells inventory – is an ongoing challenge, with a variety of different factors determining success or failure. No matter the sport, these challenges exist all the way from high school athletics to the major leagues – and here are a few marketing lessons that you can take from baseball to any sport, no matter the level:
Marketing is not a cost – it’s an investment
When teams create their budget each year, advertising and marketing costs are among the most contentious line items discussed – and it’s usually because the results from spending money aren’t always seen in revenue. One dollar spent on advertising does not necessarily one dollar received on the other end. However, marketing and advertising dollars ply a much more important role in creating awareness about the team, the players, the team’s sponsors and more. Viewing marketing as an investment in the team’s brand rather than a way of creating direct revenue streams allows for the marketing department to create a strategy, content to fill the strategy, and ultimately creates more revenue over time. While there isn’t always instant gratification from marketing dollars spent, the long term effect of well-spent marketing far outweighs the short term expense.
Marketing a team takes time
This is directly related to the first point – marketing isn’t always about hitting a home run right away. I wrote about the idea of social small-ball last year – the basis being that a well thought out, well executed strategy is more beneficial for your team than a one-off viral moment. Marketing takes time and money to be effective, and patience – especially from team investors and ownership – is paramount in getting it right. No matter the sport, strategy and execution are far better than instant gratification from retweets and likes.
Creativity is King
Have you ever had a Syracuse Salt Potato? They’re great – little parboiled potatoes boiled in very salty water and drenched in butter. Outside of Syracuse (or Dinosaur BBQ), they are a rarity. Why am I talking potatoes? Because the Syracuse Chiefs decided to do a series of games with the team rebranded as the Salt Potatoes, complete with special jerseys, stadium food, and logos. This special branding has been reflected across baseball as well as across the minor leagues – from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel hosting a Spongebob night complete with jerseys for both teams to the rebranded New Orleans Baby Cakes, the more creative ideas stick with fans and advertisers. It is ok – in fact, it is necessary – to think outside the box when marketing a team, provided that everything is planned and executed well.
Marketing techniques are NOT Universal
Marketing is not one size fits all. Marketing depends on a variety of factors – the sport, the market, ownership, budgeting, and staff to name a few. A marketing or sales technique that is successful in one market doesn’t necessarily translate to another. The strategy has to fit the brand, and not vice versa – for example, when marketing hockey in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights had to build their own plan and strategy as a team in the desert, and couldn’t borrow from a team with years of success in a different market, i.e., the Toronto Maple Leafs. Marketing should be bespoke – each brand and team should tailor it to their situation.
Marketing is Always Changing
While this article speaks in generalities, the fact of the matter is that marketing techniques are always changing. Technology, currency, markets, consumers, advertising, and sports are changing – not on a yearly basis but on a daily basis. Marketing is constantly changing to keep up with the consumer, and marketing managers have to stay with the latest trends, technology and techniques while also maintaining the organizations goals. This is a fine line to balance, and it’s not easy, but the best laid strategies have to be ready to adapt.
Obviously, these 5 lessons are from my experience in baseball and hockey, and there are always more lessons to learn. But if you’re a newby to sports or an experienced vet, keep these ideas in mind as you enter the 2018 baseball season – or whatever sports season you have next!
Chris Knoblock is currently a sports communications free agent and is available to sign with your social media department for very reasonable terms. Follow him on Twitter at @cknoblock17 for dog photos and sports commentary.