Early in my career, my group was tasked with the development and implementation of a plan to increase ticket sales for a major annual sporting event that drew reasonable attendance with little marketing effort or expenditure. After much internal discussion and preliminary analysis of prior years’ sales, we developed a planning mechanism that remains a part of our strategic arsenal, to this day. Simply articulated, we created an exhaustive list of potential elements of the marketing/promotional/media mix, as rows down a spreadsheet. We then listed potential target segments as columns.
The next step was to align the most relevant rows and columns with pragmatic tactics that became the elements of our ticket sales strategy. As straightforward as this sounds, the task became quite complex, and forced us to undertake a number of beneficial custom marketing research initiatives to better understand the appropriate and most resonant marketing mix elements and message points for each segment, while also gaining a better understanding of the value of each segment.
At that time, the segment that was seen primarily as an afterthought, or “icing on the cake,” was a group we called “event enthusiasts.” These were the potential attendees within a community, who might gravitate to the sporting event because it was something to do, rather than because they possessed a particular passion for the sport or event itself. It was easy to overlook this segment, because we (erroneously) believed that they would require significant marketing effort for little return. We also failed to recognize that rather than being a tertiary audience, event enthusiasts held significant meaningful sway over the ticket purchase and attendance behaviors of our more intuitive targets (fans of the sport itself). Today, several of our firm’s recent research engagements across a variety of major sporting events have prompted me to remember and revisit those initial learnings about event enthusiasts.
Why Event Enthusiasts
Sports marketers need to buy into the importance of the event enthusiast as a primary target, and make them an integral part of ticket marketing. It’s critical to recognize the market saturation that challenges anyone trying to draw attendance to sporting events. By our last count, the two days after Major League Baseball’s All-Star game are the only ones on the calendar where one of the four traditional major sports does not offer a single game for our viewing or attendance pleasure, and a certain sports network has usurped All-Star Wednesday for their annual awards extravaganza. We’ve seen the successful extension of major sports that has created buzz-worthy off-season events like drafts, selection shows and open training camps that further crowd the playing field for attention. And we would all be close minded to not recognize that even among our most passionate and loyal fan segments, sports is competing with every other type of entertainment for the attention and dollars of our targets.
And that’s where the power of the event enthusiast is magnified in this day and age of leisure time deprivation. Even if we make the incorrect assumption that we can build it and serious fans will come, there’s a much broader potential audience out there, willing to eschew their inability to understand defensive indifference or a loose impediment to become part of an event. Just think about everyone you know who attended a Super Bowl party, if you don’t believe me.
Our recent research has reaffirmed that today’s biggest and most important sports events have differentiated themselves by transcending the competition itself to become social events with wide sweeping cultural relevance. They’ve cracked the code and successfully gone beyond their natural boundaries to extend the offering to a broader set of high ROI, untraditional attendees. Gone are the days that these folks can be ignored. Many are your future core fans who have yet to make a loyal commitment. Some are seeking an olive branch or keys to a kingdom that they do not understand. Others still control or influence the precious commodity of how your core targets will spend their ever shrinking leisure time.
So, as our research has suggested, bring on the gamified campaigns that create inclusivity for casual fans. Build the interactive fan fests, “Kidzones,” player-access experiences and tablet-infused sports bars that transform a day at the game into a true family outing. And invest in sound custom research that helps you better understand what truly resonates with these event enthusiasts. They may become new lifelong fans.