Sports marketing strategies have long surpassed billboards, thirty second television commercials and one minute radio spots. New wave marketing techniques are being used everyday to mobilize existing sports fans, draw in a new audience and generate additional organizational revenue. While big market professional and collegiate teams have large merchandising profits and generational fan bases, smaller market teams and minor league clubs rely on unique marketing techniques to engaged fans. Advertising for the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball litter television screens, radio dials and newspaper pages. But the NBA’s developmental league, amateur baseball teams and small market hockey organizations have a hard time getting the word out. Grassroots sports marketing is what makes these little known teams and leagues thrive in a sea of competition.
What’s the hottest buzzword in marketing today? Social media of course. Rightfully so since the use of Twitter and Facebook is no longer a nice-to-have for businesses, large and small. Sports organizations must embrace these business tools to influence their fans, boost ticket sales and hype promotional events. Some teams underwhelming utilize social media tools to sell available tickets and promote upcoming home stands. Truly savvy grassroots marketing departments don’t just use them as new channels to push information. They remember that social means communal. Social media websites and apps can be used to engage fans in conversation about the team and its players. Create interest by asking fans questions like “Which Los Angeles D-Fenders (NBDL) player will eventually make an impact in the NBA?” or “When should Cubs prospect Jorge Soler get called up to the big club?” Conversation starters on social media platforms are important to stir interest in current fans and draw in new ones. Solicit feedback on a variety of topics such as future promotional ideas, mascot stunt suggestions and food and beverage options at games. While marketing departments can’t control on-field decisions, there are certain areas you as a marketing professional can influence. Find ways to makes fans an extension of your team and get their buy-in on decisions that will make their experiences more positive.
Utilize targeted blog advertising to promote your small market sports team. Fans already spend time pouring over articles and listening to talk radio about their favorite professional and college teams. But little known clubs need to grab some mind share without spending those big dollars. There are literally thousands of blogs on the web devoted to various sports teams. Track down popular blog writers that cover sports in the nearest major markets. Offer them a fee to write disclosed, promotional posts about your club with external links to your team’s website. Or, for a smaller fee, ask them to add a line of text referencing the team name with an external link to the bottom of their new posts. The advantages are clear. Most bloggers don’t make a lot of money so what you perceive as a small fee may seem more than fair to them. Fans read well-written, local sports blogs and, at times, trust these “fellow fans” more than large media conglomerates. Fans may not be aware of the team you represent or the proximity of your stadium to where they live. Stumbling upon the information in their favorite sports blog may get them to poke around your website and realize the low cost, high entertainment value of attending a game.
It’s true that viral marketing can be hit or miss. Creating a funny video clip or snappy song that actually goes viral (i.e. passed from fan-to-fan) is a rarity. But capturing a viral gem and dispersing it via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can do wonders for team attendance and merchandising. Genuine moments are the best but sometimes you have to create the moment to make it work. Host a pre-game dunk contest and film it. Does your team have a strong-armed quarterback? Capture him tossing a football the length of the field. And of course there are opportunities galore for a team with an athletic or hilarious mascot. Once the moment is filmed and edited, get it out to the fans. Use the previously mentioned social media channels along with your own website to share it. If you work for a minor league club, network with your professional affiliate’s marketing department to see if they can help with your viral marketing campaign. Don’t lose faith if you don’t rack up the hits on your first attempt. This type of grassroots marketing takes patience and an eye for that truly memorable moment.
The most powerful form of advertising is done through community marketing. People watch television programs that their friends suggest and people try beers that they see their friends ordering. Pabst Blue Ribbon, once a sinking brand, started enjoying a comeback in the early 2000s. The quality wasn’t greatly improved and the prices didn’t drop dramatically. The advertising agency representing P.B.R. developed a grassroots marketing campaign to build up the brand from the inside. Hipsters began drinking the beer in local brewpubs and the beverage became a sponsor of local bands as opposed to targeting top flight artists. There are Kevin Durant and Robert Griffin III jerseys on thousands of fans across the country. Derek Jeter jerseys and Chicago Blackhawk sweaters are commonplace on the streets of New York and Chicago. But minor league teams and small colleges don’t share such team branding luxuries. Giving out free jerseys, hats and other apparel to potential fans gets your brand out on the streets. Paying “field marketing representatives” to showcase your logo is both ethical and necessary for clubs that need to generate community interest and bring fans to the games. Community marketing keeps your departmental cost down while creating a host of walking advertisements for your team.