Several years ago I worked for a professional indoor football team. The team’s owners were passionate and knowledgeable football enthusiasts. When it came to marketing however, they were inexperienced. In sports, winning helps sell tickets, but it shouldn’t be the only thing marketers, managers and owners relay on.
The owners thought all marketing should focus on the results of the game. They wanted press releases and advertising about how great the team was, hyping the high scoring offense and touting our winning record. Indeed, the team was amazing. Our offense scored over 50 points a game, won the conference championship and had a record of 13 wins and only 3 losses going into the league’s version of the Super Bowl, Indoor Bowl III. In the franchise’s first year we had the highest attendance in the conference.
Per the owners’ requests, some marketing was about the product on the field. However, most was focused on the customer. The team’s General Manager, Dakota Crow was a brilliant marketer. He helped me realize we weren’t in the sports business; we were in the entertainment business. Marketing had to attract more than just rabid football fans, but also causal fans, families with kids and anyone else looking for a fun night out. Fans weren’t paying for a “final score,” although they liked when the team won. Fans were paying for the experience. Our marketing had to focus on the customer and the value they were getting when paying to go to a game. It was about the pre-game and half-time entertainment, the excitement of being in a packed arena, the smell of the concessions and yes, the product on the field. By focusing on the customer, we branded ourselves not just as a football game, but as a complete entertainment experience. Prior to this shift in focus a potential customer would think “Should I go to the football game or not.” Branding ourselves as an entertainment option expanded our customer base. Now potential customers would say “Should we go to the movies or go to the football game instead.”
When you focus your marketing on customers it becomes all about “them.” If you only focus on your product it’s all about you. Your product may be the coolest thing out there, but what is the customer getting? What’s in it for them other than just a product or service? For example, if you have a window cleaning service, sure you could talk about the efficiency wherewith you clean windows. Or, you could talk about all the things the customer can now do because they don’t have to spend time cleaning windows… since you’ll do it for them.
A poor demise: At the start of the second season both the G.M Dakota Crow and I left the organization. Most of the marketing shifted back to the product, the actual football game. Unfortunately the team record wasn’t impressive finishing with only 7 wins, 8 losses and an early playoff exist. Attendance dropped by 1,500 fans per game, over a 20% decline from the previous year. The team was sold before the start of season three. Later the team was elevated to the Arena Football League; the focus returned to the customer and has been fairly successful ever since.