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“In this economy” must surely be the phrase of the year, but Major League Baseball understands it to be true. With falling ticket sales and decreased attendance, they are getting back to the basics and talking to the true, loyal, long-time fans of the sport – their Zealots.

The Wall Street Journal published a wonderful look today (Full Article Here – Loyal Fans Are Batting Cleanup) at the actions MLB is taking across the board to focus on the long-term strategy of recognizing the Zealots for their brand, actions that don’t just include price cuts, but also include value-added benefits like early entrance to games and invites to exclusive player gatherings.  “In an age of fallen circumstances and concerns about revenue, major-league baseball teams are training their attention on a long-overlooked and increasingly endangered species — those unfailingly loyal fans who buy tickets for every game,” states the WSJ.

It is true that loyal fans are often those that all brands most often overlook, especially in the “good times” when they can more afford to so. So brands reach for other targets, the short-term money makers who are true loyalists but will play ball (pardon the pun) for the time being.  “In the past, when attendance was rising, the clubs’ marketing departments focused on big-dollar sales, such as corporate suites and stadium-naming rights … Suddenly, clubs remembered that nobody matters more than loyal fan.” It is the Zealots that talk about baseball, that come to every game they can, that immerse themselves in the details of their team and share with their friends. And, at the end of the day – MLB teams are still in the entertainment business.

There comes a point when selling all their tickets to un-interested fans who don’t actually attend games or support their team starts to detract as a whole from the brand experience, from the sport of baseball overall. Building more Zealots for the teams and sport of baseball ensures long-term success for the brand as a whole.

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

While it can be said that sports teams of all shapes & sizes have Zealots, fans for their brand, a simple post on Zealotry in sports seemed in order, in light of yesterday’s Super Bowl victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fans who consider themselves members of “Steeler Nation” seem to be some of the most loving of all sports franchises out there, with an unusually high propensity  to travel with the team and a widespread fan base at that – with fan clubs in over 20 states and 4 foreign countries.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, here are a few more reason we’d consider Steelers fans to be a Zealous bunch.

– They consistently draw higher television ratings in their own market than any other franchise in the NFL. (The 15 highest-rated shows in Pittsburgh in 2008 were Steelers games).

– Steelers Nation shows its strength by traveling in force, kind of like the fan base for a major college program (3 to 1 in fact for this years Super Bowl).

– According to figures compiled from NFLShop.com, they ranked third in merchandise sales behind the Cowboys and New York Giants between April and the end of 2008. They ranked first in the six months after their last Super Bowl win in 2006.

And a nice touch for the coaches & players alike to recognize these fans for being loyal supporters of the team.  With a tough economy ahead, a few smart Zealotry actions should be in place to give back to these fans, to lock them in as supporters, leverage their word-of-mouth, and to solidify ticket sales for next season. The best time to communicate to your Zealots is “often & always” – but especially following a Super Bowl win.

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