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If You Are Selling & Marketing Sports, You Are In An Arms Race…


To gain attention, buzz, word of mouth, chatter…whatever you would like to call it.

The thing is, the old marketing playbook of people would just show up because we are sports is over.

If you’ve seen the early season MLB attendance visuals, you know that the pain that is starting to be felt across the industry is acute and getting worse.

I was recently chatting via email with Georgia Rivers from the Sydney Opera House about the changing nature of arts and entertainment marketing. So “arms race” is her term to describe the nature of today’s entertainment marketing landscape.

She says, “we have to change what we sell.”

By which she means, we are often the background music to someone’s night out, not always the reason for the night out.

Which for many of us, is a big change in perspective.

The reality is that there are several things pulling against our ability to have the same results come from the same activities today.

There’s a significant shift in the culture surrounding sports and entertainment.

With an always on culture, more competition for attention, and less discretionary spending power, the culture around entertainment has changed.

This means that consumers and customers have higher expectations than ever before.

It means that there is greater cost sensitivity as Georgia highlights in a presentation she gave that “price equates to risk.” And today’s consumers are less likely to risk their discretionary dollars on a so-so event or an experience that isn’t likely to meet their expectations.

These things are all manifesting themselves in the form of lower attendance, lower ratings, and less awareness of the product and service that we are providing.

What does this mean for all of us in the business of selling and marketing sports?

It means several things:

  1. We need to reorient our focus on our customers and our prospects to make sure that our attention is solely on them: We can’t just settle on the idea that because its sports, people care. We’ve seen that this just isn’t true. We have to turn our attention onto the people that we are trying to reach. We need to create events and experiences that are shareable and that engender our guests to talk about us.
  2. Focus on maximizing the perceived value of a night spent with us: Perception of value is a key business skill and one that differentiates commodities from luxuries. In my work with the Centurion Card, we built a program that enabled card holders to buy tickets anywhere in the world with just a phone call, no need to worry about Internet searches or anything else. Frankly, it wasn’t a complicated thing, but the perception of the value of having a phone number and a personal concierge, made the program feel that much more special. It was all in the perception. That’s what we all need to focus on: what tiny things can we do that will improve the perceived value of a night with us.
  3. Change what we sell: We aren’t selling features. We are selling benefits. One of the worst collection of marketing practices comes from the world of IT services. Have you ever looked at the typical IT service providers site? Its jargon filled, technical specific, and crappy. It does nothing to solve a problem or talk about transformation. Marketing is all about connection and emotion and when you are selling sports and a night out, you are really talking about connection and emotion in their purest forms. So change from just selling the game to selling all of the possibilities. Sell the way that a night at the ballpark will move you. Its an important distinction.