RBNY Optimist: Marketing the Team – Does it all “Ad” up?

rbnyoptimistBY RBNY OPTIMIST
Staff Writer

If you really want to send the Red Bulls fan in your life into a tizzy, ask them what they think of the team’s marketing.

You will most likely get two reactions: The team doesn’t do enough of it, and when they do it, it’s all wrong.

Lack of marketing and advertising is often the center of attention in the other ongoing fan base worry point: attendance. How can the team sell out the building if there are no ads to let people know that the games are going on? The team needs to build awareness. People don’t know about the team and don’t know about Red Bull Arena. We need more public relations work to get the team in the papers and on television news sportscasts.

It goes on and on and on and on…

I think we are so focused on mass media advertising because seeing billboards, newspaper ads and TV spots validates our devotion to the team as something more than just an activity that a limited number of people are interested in. It makes what we do feel more mainstream, more accepted. It makes us feel like we are supporting something IMPORTANT.

But, alas soccer is not one of the major league sports in America. I am 100% positive that over the next 10 years it will be, but we are not there yet. And, even more specifically, the sport may never become a major sports focal point in the crowded New York market. With the demographic trends moving the way they are, the potential is there, but in the NY METROpolitan (see what I did there?) area, no matter how many MLS and NASL teams we have playing in their own soccer specific stadiums, there is just too much else going on in sports for the team to ever lead the news.

It’s next to impossible to figure out what the team and, more importantly, Red Bull Corporate, thinks about the power and potential of advertising to move the needle in awareness and attendance, but based on their past approach, I believe it’s probably something akin to one of my favorite quotes of all time, credited to John Wanamaker, renowned retailer of the early 1900’s:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

If you look at the strategies the team has used in the past, they lean more towards the trackable and less to the splashy mass media approach (see: NY Cosmos, circa 2011). There’s lots of social media, Groupon and online banners (all tactics that can be easily tracked for results) and very little newspaper, television and billboard (all tactics that, apart from surveys probing for awareness, are much more difficult to track). This is most likely the result of a concerted strategy to make the most of a limited budget.

My theory (based on absolutely nothing but my gut, by the way (hey, it’s an opinion piece!)) is that mass media advertising, leading with dates of games, calls to action to buy tickets, etc, would not increase attendance by a significant amount. Why? Because the group of people that are the best possible target to buy tickets — the ones that are already fans of soccer — already know about the team and the stadium. The team is better served by concentrating on getting these people, who already have an awareness of the team, to attend a game and then spending as much as possible on making the game day experience something that will make fans want to  return.

Is the team executing on this plan? Based on what I see, I think they are getting the “trial” part right. Groupon and game package discounts are part of this (remember, discounting tickets is really a marketing cost), but so is the outreach the team does with it’s incredibly successful training program, which sends qualified trainers into the surrounding areas to work with local rec leagues on clinics, summer camps, and embedded trainers. Every kid that goes through one of these programs (and there are a lot of kids) gets a free ticket to an upcoming game. Free ticket for the kid usually means purchased tickets for the parents, and another family experiencing live soccer at Red Bull Arena.

How about the second part? Ensuring the best possible game day experience? On this front, the results are a bit more mixed. Game day flow around the stadium is much improved and parking is better, if not perfect. PATH station renovations are under way. The team has mercifully gotten rid of the NBA-style, pre-game screaming DJ (Thanks for nothing, Mr. Heck). I haven’t heard as much noise about concessions as I had in year’s past, but it’s not clear if things are improving on that front or fans are just tired of complaining. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments…

That brings us to this week’s news of a new campaign featuring individual players on placards aboard the PATH. Is this a sign of the purse strings being opened? Should we be prepared to finally see the team plastered across hometown billboards and TV screens? Well, it could be the start of a new approach at garnering attention for the team we love, but, then again, it could just be something to make you feel better about being a fan as you ride the train to the next match. Only time will tell.

  • Couldn’t disagree more. If you fail to create awareness of your product – especially in this market – you are KILLING yourself. Living Social and Groupon deals are no substitute for real marketing. This team has a great argument it could make to area sports fans – an up-and-coming sport, international superstars, a great stadium and an AFFORDABLE gameday experience that sets it apart from the Yankees, Rangers, Mets, Jets, etc. Why they have decided that the “build it and they will come” approach is the way to go is beyond me. And my buddy Miguel, who is deeply involved in area youth soccer, says they make almost no effort to reach out to area youth programs.

  • Not everyone (no one?) will agree with me on this, but here’s some thoughts on #RBNY marketing over at EoS. http://t.co/RSacEN8f7x

  • jerichowhiskey

    Even the Yankees and the Mets need to advertise to get people into their stadiums and their stuff is plastered all over the news and what not. If there’s one tenant I understand about marketing, it is that doing so keeps you in the loop. AT&T doesn’t do things like sponsor MLS just because it’s the hipster thing to do. It’s to make sure the ever growing population is aware that their company is one of the top telecom companies in the US besides T-Mobile and Verizon, and they should sign up with them. And apparently they have received fairly good returns with MLS.

    Game day experience is definitely important as well. RBNY need fans, not people who’ll show up for one game, find it distasteful, and then never come back again. Given the amount of complaining us fans do, I can’t help but wonder how many decided that once was enough. I cannot wait for the Harrison PATH station renovation to be finished and I can’t wait for the mixed development in front of RBA as well. No one wants to walk far especially if they have kids in tow so the restaurants and perhaps bars that’ll open up in front of RBA will be a welcome scene.

  • Red Bulls are named after an energy drink and play in a New Jersey suburb. Even if the Dos Equis, Old Spice and and Axe men’s products ad agencies worked together, they couldn’t help that brand. They have Thierry Henry for Christ’s sakes and still can’t fill their seats.

  • Gruff and Manly Bob

    My son has never gotten a free ticket and has been at a camp in which a RB trainer has participated. My friends have said at work, I’m going to a Red Bulls game this weekend. That has gotten replies such as “a who?” or a “where do they play?” Both of this show a lack of awareness by the general public. One of the things people need to realize is when competing for your sports and entertainment $$. RB game day provides a very affordable yet fun option.

  • Oh, Optimist Prime. Where to begin. Let’s start with the classic marketing purchase funnel that starts at awareness, then narrows to consideration, preference, trial, and then (hopefully) retention. Sorry to go all MBA on you, but it’s difficult to go directly to trial without some awareness that this team exists. Based on an entirely unscientific focus group of one, me, I’ll say that our little SuperClub on the Passaic is suffering mightily on both those the awareness and retention angles.

    Regarding awareness, I think we can agree that without much mainstream media coverage, broad-based outdoor, television, radio, or digital advertising is a must to get folks’ attention. If there was only a selection of media outlets that covered NY’s soccer fans exclusively, that’d be great, but sadly RBNY doesn’t have that luxury. Campaigns like the current one on the PATH line are terrific, and simple. They engulf a captive audience and get in their faces to let them know not only about the club but when specifically the upcoming matches start. Good job. We just need more of it. There are many, many soccer fans in this area that know nothing of the club. Nothing. This will help. There are also many fans than know and reject the club. There’s little that can be done on these haters.

    Of course, all the marketing in the world won’t help generate a repeat visit to Red Bull Arena if the first one isn’t a positive experience. Hardcores and season ticket holders have figured out the best way into Harrison, where to park, where the shortest concession lines are, and when to leave to avoid a traffic nightmare. Red Bull Arena can be very very rough on the uninitiated. It’s not RBNY’s fault that the PATH station has yet to be modernized, that the 2nd I-280 interchange has yet to be built, and that the Riverbend neighborhood has yet to materialize, but all those factors lead to first-timers having poor experiences and saying “never again.” I’d wager that the “never again-ers” are in the tens of thousands over the three-plus seasons of RBA. See this story on customer service at Portland: http://www.oregonlive.com/playbooks-profits/index.ssf/2013/05/portland_timbers_dont_take_sel.html This is what we need. The ticket sales team should be pushed HARD to generate repeat business, and upselling one-games to mini-packs, minis to half-seasons, etc.

  • Does the @RBNYOptimist have a good handle on #RBNY’s ad campaign? http://t.co/T0HsjIh4S5 Survey says?

  • jspech

    I have gone to 1 game, never left compelled to go back, even thou my friend has ST. here’s why? Game day experience was not good.

    To begin w/ arriving at the stadium was a breeze, thou I left Brooklyn at 6:15 for what was a 7:30 start. I was in a group of first to enter the stadium as there was hardly any traffic no issue w/ finding parking.

    area around the arena was awful, lots of empty spaces. The street approaching stadium was block off w/ plastic barriers, Thousands of us were asked to walk along a narrow sidewalk, wasn’t long before we removed barriers because the cramp sidewalk was getting dangerous w/ thousands of fan trying to get to the gate.

    Inside, I missed the kick-off of both halves because I was stuck on the concession line. At one point they ran out of pizza and seemed really puzzled as to if and how they can get more, this discussion went on for a while as the fans all round grumbled.

    After game I was so happy I drove when I saw the mass of people squeezing into the path station. I wondered how long it would have taken for me to even get on a path train. So I’ve chosen to watch the games on TV.

    Marketing-see article….

    To RB credit, over the past few weeks in Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn & Manhattan I have seen a few people wearing RB’s gear.

    Finally, I have worked on a few commercial shoots in the area around the arena where there are some great Brazilian resturants & really nice people. Name any players who has worn their shirts that anyone in this area could truly identify w/.

    RB needs to develop a team, not a group that feels like they were assembled to be the MLS all-stars to take on MANU.

    The RB has yet to field one player, that people could easily identify w/

    They had one in Augudelo but they trade him for a guy who can consistently break into first team in Pearce & while Alexander & Steele maybe solid, they came out of nowhere, like a few days before season started nd have played, I think in every game w/ heavy minutes.

  • I sometimes have to remind myself I’m not @RBNYOptimist http://t.co/ThOdO4Wa7d

  • So, I submit my #RBNY piece to EoS and head to an all day meeting. I get out to find I’ve apparently hit a nerve. http://t.co/RSacEN8f7x

  • “@MikeFirpo: RBNY: Marketing the Team – Does it all “Ad” up? http://t.co/n5Htm5Jj2v #rbny #nyrb #mls” // Super!