MLB Franchises Push Their Own Efforts to Get Fans in Parks

Marketing Pushes by Teams Designed to Avoid Another Attendance Slump in 2010

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Major League Baseball may have pulled in a record-breaking $6.6 billion in revenue in 2009, but economic realities still fired a 95 mile-per-hour fastball at the league: Attendance was down for 21 of the league's 30 franchises last year, resulting in an overall 6.6% drop.

Now, as MLB steps up to the plate for the 2010 season, the league is hoping its attendance strike-out in 2009 doesn't turn into an overall slump, and it is putting a more defined emphasis on marketing by its individual clubs.

As the league and its corporate sponsors activate around the first game of the season on Sunday night and the traditional opening day on Monday, the franchises are doing more and more of their own marketing to help lure fans to the ballpark.

"They have to," says Robert Boland, marketing professor at New York University. "They have to sell more of their individual stadium seating inventory than in recent years. In better economic times, teams struggled to sell only certain games, and their more marginal inventory -- think upper deck seats. Now every team has to work harder to sell what would be considered prime seating inventory."

Popularity up
And, the time is right for MLB to capitalize on its popularity, both with its fans and sponsors. For the first time in years, Major League Baseball tied the National Football League for "most loyal fans," according to the 15th annual Brand Keys Sports Loyalty Index.

"These insights allow leagues and teams to identify areas that need strategic reinforcement," said Robert Passikoff, president of New York-based Brand Keys, Inc. "Done correctly, an increase in broadcast viewership, merchandise purchase and ticket revenue will follow."

So as MLB breaks its own national campaign Monday with a second year of "This Is Beyond Baseball," from McCann-Erickson, New York, individual teams are reaching out to their own markets.

In Oakland, the Athletics have already introduced the first of what will be 10 commercials during the course of the season as part of a comprehensive campaign called "Green Collar Baseball." The team's primary color is green, and the slogan will be integrated throughout Oakland's marketing this season. The campaign, from Hub Strategy & Communication, San Francisco, is also featured on radio, print, outdoor and digital.

Oakland A's 'Fast' spot

Jim Leahey, the Athletics' VP-sales and marketing, said the campaign "just communicates that we do things unconventionally and that our young team works exceptionally hard to succeed. ... It highlights the personality of our team, connecting our fans to our players in a fun and irreverent way."

Economy picking up
The Boston Red Sox, despite having a fervent fan base and a perpetually sold-out Fenway Park, nonetheless instituted what they called "Revenue Thursdays," offseason meetings including all departments focusing on how to increase revenue. The team came up with such ideas as rewarding season-ticket purchasers with amenities that include the chance to go on the field during batting practice and limousine rides to games.

That teams are stepping up to do more "is just a fact of the climate right now," said Robert Tuchman, exec VP of sports and entertainment marketing firm Premiere Global Sports, New York. "I do think that MLB is actually going to have a solid year in terms of attendance numbers. I think they will see an increase over last year. A lot of that was due to the economic climate. I also think teams being more aggressive will lead to more fans at the park this year. It's a better economy this year."

The Atlanta Braves have decided that there is strength in numbers. The club has teamed up with four other popular attractions in and around the city -- the Georgia Aquarium, Stone Mountain Park, World of Coca-Cola and Six Flags Over Georgia -- to create the MVP Ticket Package, which includes admission to all five attractions for $89.

The Braves are also one of several franchises that offer an "all you can eat" ticket, which gives the customer a seat and all the Cracker Jack, hot dogs, hamburgers, sodas and popcorn they can eat, priced from about $32-45.

The Tampa Bay Rays are reaching out to the community for help with its marketing campaign. The Rays are currently accepting submissions from local high schools and select area drum lines to record music to be featured in the team's television and radio ads. The Tampa, Fla., area is known for its band and drum line talent.

"We want to incorporate these unique sounds in various ways throughout the season to create a connection across the Tampa Bay region," said Rays VP-marketing/community relations Tom Hoof.

Mr. Hoof recognizes that the Rays, despite reaching the World Series in 2008, nonetheless average more than a half-million fans less than the MLB average of 2.5 million fans per team per season.

"This is really a function of team pricing having gone up dramatically -- in many cases to pay for new stadiums or stadium renovations -- while consumer discretionary spending, especially business entertainment spending, has tightened dramatically," said Mr. Boland, who added that, while he wouldn't necessarily consider this a pivotal year for MLB, in many ways it's a make-or-break year for the current economic model the league uses. The 30 teams last year paid players a combined $2.648 billion, largely because of the high cost of free agent contracts.

"And if they can't plug the leaks at the turnstiles," Mr. Boland said, "look for the owners to turn to the union and demand salary cuts the way the NFL, NBA and NHL are."

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