In today’s era of citizen journalism and constant feedback loops on social media, it’s easy to lose oneself in the constant chatter that passes judgment on every front office move. This has taken on multiple dimensions of late, where the aforementioned “front office moves” go beyond trade deadline and waiver wire transactions to leave promotional activations right in the cross-hairs of fan commentary.
As marketing researchers, we often assume the task of helping sports marketers to avoid being victimized by the “what were they thinking” rant. I’ve used this space to be an advocate for thoughtful, well-designed research approaches to avoid over-reaction and elicit true and objective feedback from fan constituencies. Be it ticket sales promotions, the efficacy of in-game promotions or transformation of in-venue amenities, we’ve worked with myriad organizations to determine the impact of marketing decisions for sponsors and properties. This can include concept testing or assessment of activation possibilities before missteps occur. Of course, the level of adoption of sound marketing research practices remains far from universally embraced in our discipline. As we sit on the cusp of post-season hockey and basketball, and with Spring training just underway, three particularly buzz-worthy activations have recently caught my attention. I have no knowledge regarding which, if any, of these were developed with the support of formal marketing research. But I’d surmise that in each case, a research-driven approach could have benefited each.
Exhibit A: Frisco’s Lazy River
I’ve always been enamored by the creativity and, often, over-the-top promotions that one finds in baseball’s minor leagues. In fact, having conducted numerous activation efficacy research projects at assorted MiLB venues, I can say with some conviction that minor league fan bases often exhibit a level of engagement and commitment to the local franchise, not easily replicated at sports’ highest levels. We’ve also partnered on research with properties, and I’ve written about the focus that many venues have dedicated, of late, to enhancing the live fan experience. The trend towards expanded social spaces, more varied and innovative food and beverage and increased wifi capabilities has been widely documented. Yet, fans of the AA Frisco Roughriders will soon be able to take in a game while cooling off and floating around a figure eight-shaped lazy river ride, being built behind the right field fence. Did the Roughriders discover through marketing research that their fans had a proclivity for water activities? Perhaps not. Though I have to think that this 68,000-gallon oasis is sure to generate a huge amount of interest, and certainly seems to be in sync with research we’ve conducted that has shown a positive linkage between family sports travel and a desire for water amenities.
Exhibit B: Arizona’s Dog Days of Summer
Frisco has perhaps one-upped the Arizona Diamondbacks, who originally made waves (bad pun intended) by introducing baseball’s first participatory water feature with their outfield pool. But curiously, soon after the Lazy River was announced in Texas, the Dbacks unveiled plans for a Dog Days of Summer promotion that takes the bring-a-dog-to-the-game, “bark at the park” concept to another level. A number of teams have embraced the natural connection between Summer in America and family trips to the stadium with on-field pooch parades that have spawned such creative anthropomorphic gems as “Mutt” Harvey” and Yasiel “Pug.” But this season, Chase Field will unveil a permanent dog-friendly area, branded the PetSmart Patio, beyond the left center field wall on the main concourse. Fans will be able to bring their dogs to all 13 Sunday home games this season, and the patio will feature concessions including canine ice cream topped with kibble, a pet adoption area and doggie bag fan giveaways. Odd as this one sounds, it also strikes me as a winner.
Exhibit C: Chuck the Condor
Pity the Los Angeles Clippers. Finally relevant as the better basketball team in the City of Angels with a progressive and engaged ownership, and social media crucifies the Clips after the introduction of their new state bird-themed mascot. Could marketing research have forewarned the negative reaction to Chuck? Most definitely. But research may also have demonstrated the positive impact that mascots have in fostering a unique and special connection with the next generation of fans, not to mention an uptick in merchandise sales.