How P&G Inspired Cleveland Indians to Offer Fewer Bobbleheads

Old-School CPG Marketing Practice Comes to the Business of Baseball, and Fewer Bobbleheads Result

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Cleveland Indians fans can expect an injection of new blood this season from former New York Yankee Nick Swisher, speedy outfielder Michael Bourn, and ex-Red Sox skipper Terry Francona. One thing they can't expect: lots of bobblehead giveaways this season. In fact, while the Tribe in the past has planned five to seven promotions featuring bobbleheads -- wobbly figurines of beloved team players -- the 2013 season will bring just two, according to Alex King, VP-marketing and brand management for the Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians used marketing-mix models to sell seats
The Cleveland Indians used marketing-mix models to sell seats

Marketing-mix modeling, a data-centric marketing approach that's still novel in the sports world, drove that decision, he said. "What we found is, it's most incremental for us to have more giveaway nights and fewer giveaways per night," said Mr. King, a former P&G exec who grew up a Cincinnati Reds Fan. So, rather than give a promo to every attendee, only the first 10,000 or 15,000 might get them.

Mr. King hails the consumer-packaged goods sector, where marketing-mix modeling -- a process by which marketers look at hundreds of data inputs to predict the impact of a specific marketing effort or media buy -- are a way of life. But although baseball has embraced the use of data and complex statistics to evaluate player performance, the use of data analytics for marketing is still rare.

Mr. King suggested some baseball insiders looked at him cockeyed when he introduced the concept. "It was somewhat of a risk for me but it was worth it."

The Indians organization began working with marketing-mix-modeling firm ThinkVine before last season. Unlike other marketing-mix-modeling systems, ThinkVine mimics a market rather than employing actual consumer data. The company built a marketplace of 5,000 simulated consumers living in the greater Cleveland area, some die-hards, others infrequent visitors to Progressive Field.

Around 40 variables that could affect attendance and how much fans are willing to pay for tickets are added to the system, including weather-forecast data; the win/loss record for recent games; star players from opposing teams; player injuries; and whether other entertainment options such as blockbuster-film releases might have more appeal.

"It's a mirror image of what actually happens in the marketplace," said Damon Ragusa, chairman and chief strategy officer of ThinkVine.

The Indians did a segmentation study to determine who its most profitable fans are. The next step was to determine the best days of the week for particular giveaways, such as jerseys, and how to flight media buys. The organization compiled marketing and promotional information from the previous five years -- things like PR impressions, TV and radio ad buys, digital spending, promotion dates, and how all those efforts translated into daily sales for each game day.

"It was very much digging things out of file drawers," said Mr. King, calling the process "a huge win just being able to catalog what we've done in the past."

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