Recently I’ve been considering the ways in which sport is marketed as part of my approach to the area of research I am pursuing. For while it is my ultimate aim to study the transition of professional sporting organisations into the new media landscape, marketing is such an integral part of what separates successful professional sporting organisations from those that are less so.
And indeed if sporting codes weren’t marketed correctly, there would be no media interest anyway, because there would be no customers (fans), and therefore no need for the media to disseminate information about sport.
Before I go into detail, what is starting to become apparent is that sport has unique properties (which I probably won’t go into fully in this posting, but instead the next) that make sporting teams attractive to customers (fans). And although professional sporting organisations still have to follow traditional approaches to marketing, there is an emotive aspect to sport that changes the dynamic between organisation and customer in this instance.
It also strikes me as apparent that there are ways that sporting organisations could use new media techniques to strengthen this relationship and make their marketing efforts more effective. I’ve more or less talked about this before but I will go into this further in a future post as well.
To explore some of what I mean about sport’s unique marketing properties I have paraphrased the following points on how to establish a strategic relationship between a customer and a company from the book, Leading Through Relationship Marketing by Richard Batterley.
In italics I will annotate his descriptions with how I think they relate to professional sporting organisations.
Section A to B
The prospect is unaware of the product or service or has never thought of opening a relationship with the company
The prospect sees some form of stimulation (say a press advertisement) and recognises the product or service may have some relevance for them and considers what a relationship with the company would bring them
How does a professional sporting team become relevant to a customer? Particularly a low performing team who has never achieved a sustained period of success. These types of teams still manage to attract customers who either attend matches or purchase season tickets. There must be a sense of tradition in following this team, or local pride, or empathy on some level that makes sport a unique marketing product.
Point B to C
The prospect’s expectation and anticipation is heightened as they consider their needs.
At this point the prospect realises the product or service offered might provide some value to them and they request further information.
While professional sporting teams tend to attract more customers during periods of success (Hawthorn has the most members of any Victorian AFL club this season after their premiership win), there are still nearly 20,000 people who have signed up as Melbourne members. Melbourne has endured a number of unsuccessful seasons in a row, and any other marketable product that had failed to deliver for so long would surely be finished by now.
Section C to D
Again expectation and anticipation increase the strength of the relationship while the prospect is waiting for the information they have requested.
This is when the prospect expected the information they requested to have arrived. If the company is responding to the initial invitation to enter a relationship they will have provided the information by this point. From here the relationship can take two alternative routes.
Here’s the good news track
Section D to E
Having received the information sought, and it meets their expectation, the potential customer is in a position to make a purchase decision. Part way through this section they cross the decision line ‘I will buy’.
What is a customer’s expectation of a professional sporting team? Is it to win, or to play the game with skill, or to play fairly? This is where sport really seems to become different to other marketable properties. A band whose concerts constantly failed to live up to expectation would be finished, yet a team that fails to win games over a sustained period of time can still expect to see people turning up to watch.
The relationship is cemented! The prospect buys! And now becomes a customer!
In sport the relationship can be cemented even when the product (sporting team) fails to live up to the buyer’s (fan’s) expectations.
Section E to F
In this section of the relationship the customer is enjoying the product or service they have decided to purchase and the strengths of the relationship is growing (assuming the product or service meets their expectations)
How does a professional sporting team meet expectations? Does it need to win a premiership to achieve this? Does it merely need to play fairly? What are fans expectations of sporting teams?
At this time in the relationship the new customer is so satisfied with the product and the supporting service they are receiving they become an advocate and start recommending the organisation and its products or services to others – so convinced are they that the organisation will deliver a similar level of relationship to their peers!
Do sporting fans ever engage in this sort of behaviour? I guess to an extent, but not in the same way that I might recommend that someone buys an Asus laptop or an iPod, or uses iTunes to manage their music collection.
Now, the ‘other’ track!
Section D to G
The prospect still feels that they should have received the information they requested by now – but they haven’t. As a result, their expectation and enthusiasm for opening a relationship begins to slow down – not reverse yet, just slow down: recovery is still possible, but it will not be easy.
With bad marketing this can happen to sporting teams, but I think this is different to another sort of product. While it might mean that someone doesn’t worry about becoming a member of that club and buying a season ticket, it won’t stop them being a supporter of the club.
If the organisation doesn’t deliver the information by this point, the prospect’s initial expectation isn’t met and the gap between expectation and delivery creates frustration and strength of relationship begins to decline
Section G to H
Nothing has happened so the strength of the potential relationship is damaged and takes a negative turn. It is still recoverable – but only just, and it will take a lot of expensive follow up to save the prospect’s expectation of the relationship.
Section H to I
The rate at which the relationship is declining is increased and almost nothing can be done to recover the situation.
It would be interesting to know whether there are people who refuse to continue supporting a sporting team because of continued poor performances. Enthusiasm can wane for professional sporting teams but in my experience it is uncommon to hear about people refusing to support a particular team any longer.
The point of no return! All is lost. The previously potential customer has crossed from feeling positive about the organisation and its products or services to a space where they actually begin to feel negative about them – contact may aggrevate the situation!
Section I to J
And now the situation is declining even further towards the relationship graveyard. The once prospect starts talking negatively to their peers about the organisation and becomes very cynical about failed promises.
There are many frustrated supporters of professional sporting teams, particularly of teams that perennially underachieve, however in my experience these fans continue to attend matches and will still be supporting the team if and when things finally turn around.
Gone. Lost forever. The formerly potential customer has made the decision they will never buy from the organisation, no matter how good the products and services are. Best left well alone!