3 Strategic Reasons Major League Baseball’s Attendance Is Free Falling…

In Uncategorized by wakemanconsulting2 Comments

Let’s get right to the point here:

  1. No one outside of the teams themselves knows exactly how bad MLB’s attendance really is because the reported numbers are all built around tickets distributed and not tickets used.
  2. Many of the examples that are thrown out in these lists of think pieces about what’s up with attendance are largely tactical and might act like a dose of sugar to an 8-year-old.

As someone that works with companies all over the globe, I look at Major League Baseball and I don’t see a tactical problem…I see a strategic problem and one that hasn’t been framed properly to this point.

In my view, the challenges that MLB is dealing with comes down to 3 things:

Value proposition: 

Let me ask you a question: what is the value proposition of going to a Major League Baseball game at this point?

No one really knows.

Are you purist that is going for the love of the game?

Are you a family, enjoying a night at the ballpark?

Are you a business, entertaining clients?

All of these things might happen, but the reality of the situation is that no one really knows the point of view of Major League Baseball for why you should attend a game.

Looking at this challenge through the lens of the larger business community, we need to recognize that most teams and leagues don’t do a very good job of initiating a story about why someone should be a fan of the game or attend a game in person.

This is partly due to the fact that most of the teams have standardized their websites and content under the idea of making things uniform and simpler to create…with the unintended consequence being that, unfortunately, a lot of the brand personality has been squeezed out of the leagues and teams.

Outside of this reason though, the more important issue is that if the value proposition of what you are selling isn’t present from the first image on the landing page, you are likely costing yourself tons of money because as consumers shift more of their recreation dollars to experiences, you aren’t just competing against the in-home experience, you are also so competing against things like concerts, arts, festivals, road trips, and more.

Check out Disney World’s website: 

  • Clean homepage with almost everything dedicated to highlighting the value of the Disney experience
  • Video
  • Strong language about the experience and limited time, to create urgency
  • Images of people having fun and some of the things you’ll see

I mean, I’m not going to Disney. But it looks fun!

Contrast that with the landing page of the Washington Nationals and what do you see:

  • Cluttered home page with nothing specific to draw your attention towards a game
  • Scrolling headlines that are likely interesting if you are a Nats’ fan, but if you aren’t…
  • A clear call-to-action about “Vote Daily! Vote Nats!” that would likely be better positioned to sell the in-stadium experience or tickets.

Best practices around the world of marketing and sales tell you three things:

  1. Your message should be clear.
  2. Your message should be compelling.
  3. Your message should be consistent.

A critical eye on the website of most MLB teams would show that it varies whether or not teams are using a pop-up to alert visitors to a special game, series, or offer.

Within those that offer, there is also a wide variation of the pop-ups being good or bad.

This is hard to explain in a blog post, but if it is me…I’m starting out with 3 things to drive home the value of the in-game Major League Baseball experience:

1. Start by laying out a clear value proposition: The team side needs to be all about winning. To quote Al Davis: “Just win baby!” But on the business side and the fan experience side, my goal is to be to provide a world-class entertainment experience. Then I benchmark myself against what other experiential businesses are doing.

If I am selling premium seating and suites, I’m not looking at what other teams are doing in sports…I’m going beyond that to look at what the Four Seasons is doing.

When I’m looking at the presentation of my game, I’m looking at what Disney is doing, in their parks, on their cruises, and all the other places they entertain.

This goes on and on because every aspect of the experience matters and people’s expectations are growing as they are exposed to what experiences are like in other towns, countries, and areas.

2. Paint a compelling picture of why going to a game matters: 

I did a keynote speech in the UK in 2017 that focused on the community and the connection of the live experience.

I didn’t do this for any other reason except for I’d seen a lot of reports and data that stated pretty emphatically that people want, yearn for a community and connection to the world around them.

Contrast that information with the way that is often presented when we are selling sports.

One isn’t reflected in the other.

If it is me, I’m beating people over the head with the excitement of the in-game experience:

  • I’m showing fans jumping up and down with joy at an exciting play.
  • I’m highlighting the goofy dancing and antics of fans during breaks.
  • I’m pointing people to see the ways our guests interact with each other in the concourses.

To put it another way, I’m putting everything out there like you have the chance to be at the best party in town 81 days a year.

To me the challenge looks like keeping demand up at a nightclub when you have 365 nights a year to get people to come to your party.

3. I’m going to deliver this message consistently:

While there may be some variation to the specific message, I’m going to be going crazy with the repetition that you need to come out and see the Orioles this weekend because the Royals are here for their only weekend series of the year and we are going to be throwing Baltimore’s best party all weekend long…and, best of all, it is family friendly.

Every message you get from me is going to be you are getting world-class entertainment that you can’t get anywhere else…best of all, bring the entire family.

…best of all, bring a client or prospect and share a one-of-its-kind experience.

On and on and on…

Customer Focus:

I’m pretty certain that if you just spent a little time going through the value proposition and really digging into how you could amp that thing up, you’d get a long way down to the point of solving many of the issues at the heart of baseball. Because out of understanding the value proposition you are likely to see that you aren’t really doing a good job delivering for your customers and you aren’t marketing very well.

Back to the customer.

There are 2 points here:

  1. Who is MLB’s customer today?
  2. What does their customer value?

First, does anyone really know who Major League Baseball is targeting as a customer today?

I certainly can’t tell.

Is your customer a high-end professional taking family or clients?

If so, you may be priced things the right way, but your stadium isn’t really built to encourage those fans to attend because if that was the case, you’d likely need to cut the size of your stadium from 40,000 to 4,000.

Is your customer the discount shopper?

Great!

You’ve now taught your market that if they stay away long enough, they’ll eventually get a better deal.

Is it someone else?

Who knows?!

The other point is that what do these customers value?

Without understanding your customer, you can have no idea what is valuable to your customer.

Worse even, how often are executives and marketers and sales folks just chatting with their customers, understanding what they like and don’t like, what they find valuable, etc.?

If I were to ask you the question in a workshop, I can guarantee everyone’s hand would go up.

I’m also betting that a lot of people are thinking that they do enough…and my challenge would be to do more.

Then there is the likely majority of people that aren’t really doing this at all and need to start ASAP.

The general idea being, MLB has a customer problem and it is that they don’t know who their customers are.

As far as I can tell the majority of their customers are TV partners, business sponsors, and brokers.

But if you want to get people back in the ballpark, start with your most valuable partners and ask these 2 questions:

  1. What is the value that you receive from working with us?
  2. What do you wish we could do better?

From there, let’s go to people you want to come to the ballpark:

  • Families
  • Young adults
  • Business folks
  • Other

Ask them what they are doing now. Why are they doing it? Why aren’t they going out to a game? What would they like to do more of?

And, on and on.

You want to understand what people find valuable.

What will cause them to come out to your venue?

What they are doing currently?

This isn’t rocket science though maybe it feels like it sometimes.

But the secret to generating demand is:

  1. Understanding your market
  2. Understanding their needs
  3. Designing something that fills those needs based on your knowledge of your product and your customers.

Marketing!

Everyone knows how to market…I get it!

At least that is what most people think.

I’d argue most of you are wrong.

I go between two definitions of marketing:

  1. Marketing is about selling shit! And, making boatloads of money! (Credit this one to Mark Ritson.)
  2. Marketing is about creating discomfort. The discomfort of knowing that you could have something better if you’d only take action: buy it, vote for it, do it…you get the point.

I believe they are pretty similar, but too many people roll out the garbage about social purpose and brand identity and all these other things that really mean that people don’t know how to sell something or get someone to take action.

My perception of the situation is that there are 3 big marketing challenges facing MLB:

  1. For a long time, MLB’s partners have done a great job of promoting the game, the players, and the story of baseball that the chops to market holistically just aren’t there. Look at the NHL’s decision to hire from a background outside of sports and how that has improved their marketing dramatically in a year or so.
  2. Marketing and advertising are looked at as cost centers and boxes to check, not profit centers.
  3. The art of storytelling has been lost.

How do you solve those 3 challenges?

First, you need to get some new life ideas into the marketing rotation.

Having the opportunity to do things across industries, I get to see the best and worst of marketing from all over the place.

Here are 3 ways to dramatically improve the marketing of baseball:

  1. Expand the types of advertising and marketing that you are doing. I’ve used Alan Weiss’s concept of Marketing Gravity as a jumping off point of my own marketing and he lists 24-26 ways to promote yourself. I also keep a list in my folder with 125+ different ways to create content. So baseball needs to get out of the same old, same old emphasis and be creative in sharing its message.
  2. Do better with your email marketing: email marketing for MLB is bad! Fix it. People buy from emails ask Kirk Bentley. He works with nonprofits, but I’m telling you his advice works…
  3. Be consistent in telling the story of the game and link it to the emotional: nostalgia, experience, and community: emotions get people to act, period. Advertising and marketing is about striking an emotional chord with your target audience to get them to take action in a way that you need them to. It might be a decision ladder like I need you to go to the site, buy tickets, come to the game, repeat. Whatever it is, tell your story…over and over with an emphasis on what is going to create emotional reactions in people and get them to take action.

These things aren’t happening today. And, they are limiting the impact on what MLB is able to do from a marketing perspective.

I’ve done nothing here to cover other important parts of the issues confronting Major League Baseball like scheduling, pricing, and more.

In truth, if you knew your customers or were more in touch with the people that you need to come into the ballpark, some of these issues would be resolved during the designing an experience for your customer phase.

But this is my take on MLB’s attendance challenge from the POV of a strategist.

What say you?

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