12 Oct 2012

You think you have it hard, try being a sports marketer

The fall sports season is upon us. College football is in full swing, professional football has already had a few headlines, and European soccer has produced the leaders of the league. All we need now is for the National Hockey League to get their stuff together, hammer out a deal, and get the season underway. So with the majority of fall sports under way, we now get to observe all the new marketing and advertising campaigns dreamed up over the off-season, along with some damage controlled public relations that usually make excuses for athletes’ bad behavior.

What is tremendously interesting to me it how these individual sports teams, their leadership,  and marketing and advertising teams try to keep up with a product that is ever changing. In a normal marketing and advertising campaign, a product’s unique selling proposition(USP) doesn’t really change on a regular basis (if ever). There are certain attributes associated with that product that are used in promotion differentiating it from its competitors. In a traditional market, a company will focus on that USP, build their corporate identity around it, while developing all their marketing and advertising tactics to support that USP. That kind of strategy is difficult enough when dealing with one product. Professional sports teams have an even tougher time since their product (the team) changes every season, if not every week during that season. As the owner of a marketing agency in sports-crazed Denver (and a huge sports fan myself), I always wondered how they meet that challenge and what strategy they employ to make sure their customers (the fans) are consistently engaging with the team, its products,  and brand.

If a team is not winning, that can significantly affect revenue. This is an obvious statement that most people (fans and non fans alike) can recognize strictly by watching a home game on television. So how do sports teams connect with their fan base when the team isn’t successful? I spoke with Jeff Jacobsen, VP of Commercial Operations of the Colorado Rapids and he said, “Our club’s results produce intensely emotional responses from all our fans, from casual to hardcore, so we know that the most effective way to market the Rapids is to put a winning team on the field. However, winning is never a guarantee, so we must continually promote our club with consistency and transparency, allowing our fans to connect with the team and participate in the match experience.” I couldn’t agree more. Traditional small businesses should take a page from Jeff’s playbook and concentrate on the connection he has with his audience.

Jeff went on to say,  “While the emotional connection translates to brand strength and loyalty, we must always provide a brand experience that stays committed to future development (and championships!) and leverages our positive history.  We’re committed to serving our diverse, passionate supporter base by providing the best fan experience possible, from match-day through the offseason.”

I can attest to the success of the strategy utilized by the Rapids. They have a loyal and dedicated fan base that devoted through thick and thin. In addition, the relatively new front office of the Denver-based soccer club has attracted a new fan base that attends matches because of the emotional and experiential features developed over the last couple of years. This approach can make certain a long term, successful and profitable club will be here in Denver for years to come. And I, for one, wish them all the success in the world.

Adam O’Leary, President



Adam is a graduate of Colorado State University (bachelor’s degree in marketing), and he has experience on both the client and agency side of the marketing world. These experiences led him to come up with a unique, more efficient business model, which he’s incorporated into Encite Marketing. Adam sets the strategic direction for all Encite projects, developing integrated marketing campaigns that bring results. He takes a consultative approach with clients, educating them about how the process works, and keeping them in the loop about end goals, steps, and tasks.