America's Game

December 17, 2014

Last month, we were fortunate enough to head to the US on a tour to learn about how different sporting codes, their governing bodies and the clubs engage and create new fans.

Over 8 days in New York, Philadelphia and Dallas, we met with the NFL, NBA, MLS and the NHL. To top it off we spent time at Baylor University, which runs one of the most successful college football programs in the US at the moment.

Along with the different leagues, we met with people from Madison Square Garden, Metlife Stadium, Fox Sports, AT&T, the Brooklyn Nets, Pepsi, Dallas Cowboys and San Antonio Spurs.

The Americans are renowned for their showmanship, and they didn’t let us down.

The stadium transforms colours and ‘dressing’ depending on if it is a Jets or Giants home game. A fully WiFi-enabled stadium that interacts with the crowd on social media.

We were able to garner insights across many different perspectives in relation to sports and entertainment industries. With the benefit of hindsight, it feels as though we have learned a lot for brands in other categories too.

We studied game day experiences, stadia and how they operate, and how the leagues manage clubs, sponsorship and activation, ticket sales, digital selling and broadcasting trends.

A key insight – Define your industry

There were many highlights. One of our greatest learnings was the notion of defining what industry you are in. It was apparent at the events we went to, no matter what the score was, people were happy. People were being entertained (even in Philly where the team hadn’t won a game) and that they were enjoying the experience. Discussing this with teams, they see themselves as being in the business of creating memories, not wins or losses.

As marketers, they can’t control what goes on during a game, but they can influence and create talkability by what they do around it: seat upgrades, local entertainment, involvement on the sidelines, competitions and a range of other activities were used to achieve the idea.

How you take your community on the journey is critical

The Brooklyn Nets are a great example of a club that has connected with its community. Having recently moved from Jersey into Brooklyn, the team was hyper aware of the ‘relocation’, and resolved to involve its fans in its marketing efforts. Their first two years of marketing were all about inviting fans to be a part of the journey. Now with a team on the up, they are claiming that they are the true heart of Brooklyn; a physical representation of the city and community on the rise, grounded in what being from Brooklyn is all about: going head-to-head with the NY Knicks. This is great from a rivalry perspective and it seems to be helping them win a lot of fans too.

Brooklyn Nets – Barclay’s Centre, Brooklyn.

The Nets have created a unique atmosphere through lighting and a stunning AV show complete with resident DJ.

Fully leveraging your assets

Another team kicking goals off the field is the Dallas Cowboys. Much maligned for their flashiness (even in the US), the Cowboys are a powerhouse in the business of sport. They have just built a new stadium worth $1billion, privately funded by their extravagant owner and NFL power player Jerry Jones.

The stadium really makes you take stock of how our stadiums operate and how sports and entertainment companies could really commercialise their ‘properties’ more than we currently do in Australia. No opportunity is missed. Both physically and from a digital perspective. One of the great examples is how the Cowboys create an intimacy between players and fans and command a premium for it; there are exclusive bars either side of the player’s race and there are suites that enable you to walk out onto the ‘playing surface’ to feel like you are a part of the game. Something we have lost touch with at our heartland stadiums such as the MCG.

Over the coming weeks, we are creating a fan engagement model that explores some of the theory behind what the Americans are up to and how we can apply it in Australia.