First off, the team got a new name -- Devil is gone -- and a fresh logo and color scheme, swapping green for blue. A list of "consumer touchpoints" was found via focus-group research and monitored to make sure the ballpark experience is fun for fans.
And a P&G staple -- product improvement -- was even applied as the team morphed from one of the league's most hapless teams into perhaps its best young squad. The emergence of fresh stars such as pitcher Scott Kazmir and third baseman Evan Longoria helped the team beat out such annual powerhouses as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to win a division title and playoff berth only a year after finishing dead last.
There's evidence the strategy might be starting to show a glimmer of success. The Rays won their first playoff game last Thursday, and their first two home games are sold out.
Work to do
But there's still a long way to go. Sales did climb about 30%, but that put the Rays at only 26th in attendance among the league's 30 teams -- a weak performance, considering they boasted the league's second-best record.
"It's embarrassing," said Marc Ganis, a veteran sports-industry consultant. "They had games in July and August when they're in the running to be the best team in the league and are playing in front of crowds in the tens of thousands." Mr. Ganis said the location of Tropicana Field, the vacuous downtown St. Petersburg dome where the team plays its home games, is perhaps the team's greatest obstacle, because the location isn't convenient to either Tampa Bay or Orlando.
Rays executives said past "worst-to-first" teams have also experienced a one-year lag effect between when a team improves dramatically and when ticket sales follow suit. "With consumer package goods, you can pretty much dictate everything about the product," said Darcy Raymond, the team's VP-branding and fan experience, who joined the franchise as a consultant in 2006, shortly after it was acquired by former Goldman Sachs managing partner Stuart Sternberg. "But in this world, the media controls so much of what gets said, so it's a little different."
Mr. Raymond -- who worked on fabric softeners and panty liners at P&G -- and the team's other top executives have nevertheless engaged in a Procter-style treatment of their brand, complete with a mantra of five "brand pillars" and 30 carefully monitored consumer touch points that help the team monitor consumer satisfaction. "It's a lot like what P&G does with brand-equity models," he said. "We know when our cleaning scores dip or when our security wasn't helpful enough."
The Rays have also taken a more microtargeted approach in an attempt to sell sponsorships. They crafted a Take a Player to School Day for a local cellphone provider looking to target moms and have seen the marketer increase its sponsorship dollars since. Chief Sales Officer Mark Fernandez said sponsorship sales are up nearly 35% this season and are on track to double next year.
The team also has taken steps to improve its fan experience by strategizing against the armies of Northeast transplants in the area who flock to the stadium to cheer against the home team whenever the Yankees or Red Sox come to town.
It designated a group of its most hard-core fans to meet with the team's coaches or players before games to initiate new cheers; gave away cowbells to fans, who bring them back and ring them in droves when opposing players are on the verge of striking out; and even used YouTube-style consumer-generated fan videos on the stadium's JumboTron.
The result has been a formidable home-field advantage -- when the fans actually show up, that is. "Our record is 20-2 in games where we have 30,000 or more fans," said Mr. Raymond, raising the obvious question of how good the Rays' record would be if they could draw crowds like that for the other 59 home games.