The five types of baseball teams (and how to market each)
For dozens of Major and minor league baseball teams across North America, a new season is dawning and with it a whole new opportunity to drive ticket sales, advertising and sponsorship revenue, and a wide variety of direct and indirect revenue from their fans and broader communities. And although every team is different – its location, its standing, its history, its stadium and location, etc. – every team largely fits into one of five categories.
Here are the five major types of baseball teams entering this and any season, as I see it, and how I would generally approach marketing for each.
1. The defending champion
One team has this honor each year, and generally rides that wave of popularity into the new season with natural bumps in ticket sales, advance group sales commitments, merchandise sales and so on. Smart championship teams celebrate all season long with pre-game ceremonies, fan giveaways, additional merchandise for sale and more.
Ideally this starts well before Opening Day, as the team begins advance ticket sales and merchandise sales before the holidays. That wave goes right into increased attention and attendance at spring training and well into the new season. The earlier you capitalize on the previous season’s success, the better (just in case the team fails to contend the following year, in which case interest could decline quickly).
2. The division or league champion
This team won, but not the big prize. For this team, there’s significant unfinished business. Smart marketing departments highlight offseason improvements and hype the potential that, this year, we’re going all the way. During the offseason, you walk a bit of a tightrope as fans balance their excitement for postseason play with the reality that the team clearly could have (should have) gone farther. The best thing these clubs can do is continually stoke the hot stove, keep fans talking, and convert that talk into excitement and optimism come spring training time.
This includes more active engagement of fan bloggers, tweeters and other online activists who can continually drive buzz. Great time to introduce a social media suite at the ballpark next to the press box, or otherwise create or re-engage a proactive community of citizen journalists covering the team.
3. The contenders
Every season, a subset of teams stock up on free agents, promote their best prospects, and make clear their intention to challenge the previous year’s champions for the division crown. And despite their beefed-up rosters, they haven’t won anything yet. With the optimism that comes with an improved roster, these teams should accentuate the divisional match-ups played throughout the season. Who won last year? Who else stocked up and is expected to challenge? These are your primary targets for the coming season (especially since you’ll play you divisional opponents more than any other team) and key opportunities to drive higher ticket sales (in advance as well as day of game). Key giveaways and other natural promotional draws should be strategically placed during non-divisional play.
4. The dark horse or up-and-comer
This team enters the season with minimal expectations, but a chip on their shoulder. They’re denied the respect they feel they deserve, and will play the role of underdog all season long. Themes such as “you gotta believe” play well in this context, as fans will give the team lots of leeway to struggle just under the radar in their quest to sneak up on the leaders.
Divisional matchups are important for this group as well, but without the higher expectations of those who enter the season expected to win. This is a short-lived stage (either the team proves itself a real contender, or doesn’t), and teams can capitalize on a fan base’s natural yearning for an up-and-coming team to do well.
5. The “rebuilding year”
For teams expected to lose 90+ games, you drive ticket sales and revenue in two ways. One, you heavily market your prospects and the bright future. You make local heroes out of the “kids” coming into their own this year, and get you fan base to root for their development and maturation in front of their eyes. Expectations are low, because these prospects aren’t expected to be stars until a future season.
Two, you market the ballpark experience. The family atmosphere. The green grass, popcorn, sunshine, your kid’s first baseball game. The play on the field is secondary to the National Pastime, the romance of the game, the pace and history inherent in every game.