Social data has helped the Boston Red Sox understand fan behavior and create a better media plan for the 2013 season.
After a tumultuous 2012 season, the Sox had some explaining to do. The team finished with a record of 69-93, marking its worst season since it went 62-100 back in 1965. They also pulled off a huge trade in late August, one that clearly waved a white flag and dismayed the organization’s fans. Then in October, the team got a new manager.
There was plenty for fans to be uneasy about, and they began questioning the direction of their baseball team and what the higher-ups in the organization were thinking. So the Red Sox responded—by listening.
Direct to the Fans
“You can’t be out of touch with the tenor of what’s going on,” says Adam Grossman, senior vice president of marketing and brand development for the Red Sox. The organization paid close attention to what their fans were saying via social media, phone calls and letters, not to mention various surveys, focus groups and an annual piece of research. The goal for Grossman and his team was to get a holistic view of fans’ behaviors and reactions.
The result of this careful listening was a “very direct, real campaign” last offseason. Grossman says the team wasn’t trying to sell anything through that campaign and that it simply wanted to make sure people knew that this wasn’t where the organization wanted to be.
This campaign included pocket schedules featuring a photo of designated hitter David Ortiz and the words “162 Chances to Restore the Faith,” a newspaper ad featuring second-baseman Dustin Pedroia and the words “What’s Broken Can Be Fixed,” and television spots with authentic words from one of manager John Farrell’s press conferences.
Tickets, Merchandise and Loyalty
The outcome of this earnest listening and communicating, in addition to the organization’s efforts to field a better team, has been tangible. Most of the Red Sox’s paid media focuses on ticket sales, and in light of the past two seasons’ results, it was no surprise that ticket sales slumped. But the team’s recent on- and off-field labors are bearing fruit.
“We are pacing behind last year, but with the summer coming and the team performing at such a high level, we believe the gap will continue to close,” Grossman says.
The Red Sox also run a number of campaigns dedicated to boosting ticket and merchandise sales. For instance, “Call All Kids” month presented by Hood celebrated kids and gave them unique access and experiences at Fenway Park. As part of this event, kids with A’s and B’s on their report cards got free tickets. Another program is “Futures at Fenway,” a minor-league, family-oriented game with tickets starting at $5. “Welcome Back Fans” in April offered free meals for kids and $5 12-ounce beers for adults during the first month of the season to thank fans for their loyalty.
Email marketing also plays a role in improving sales, as registrants of the team’s official email newsletter receive ticket guide newsletters on Mondays, which feature upcoming games and ticket opportunities; shop guides highlighting gear and merchandise; and MLB Insider emails, which feature news, schedules, video highlights and ticket information.
Wins, Losses and Bandwidth
Beyond ticket sales, the performance of the team also directly influences the kind of “bandwidth” Grossman and his team have in terms of marketing efforts. More specifically, he says that if the Red Sox are in a pennant race in August, they’re able to do more, given the inherent interest in the team and the stronger storylines the its hopeful standing brings. However, if the team is where it was at last season, with the postseason not in play, fun tactics and stunts that they might be able to pull off in August are no longer possibilities because they’d be misaligned with where the team is at that particular time.
“From a brand perspective, a down year isn’t going to erase 100 years of history,” Grossman says. He adds that while the team’s performance may dictate how much the organization can push the marketing envelope from season-to-season, the Red Sox are fortunate to have a strong history and tradition. Regardless of performance, from year-to-year, it’s “still the Red Sox, still Fenway Park.”
In fact, the ballpark plays a crucial role in the Red Sox’s marketing approach, according to Grossman. He quotes Martin Nolan, former Boston Globe editor, to emphasize the importance of Fenway Park: “The ballpark is the star.”
Grossman calls Fenway Park “an enormous asset to us” and the one constant throughout the team’s history. “All great brands have stories and unique attributes” and Fenway Park is a big part of that for the Red Sox, he says.
Fenway Social Pride
Social channels have become increasingly important and effective for the Red Sox. “That’s been a much larger muscle that we’ve tried to flex and build out,” Grossman says.
Though online tactics like social media didn’t really play much of a role six or seven years ago, Grossman says they’re definitely more prominent today. “The social revolution that’s going on is huge.”
In the past, seeing and experiencing players’ personalities had to be done through paper, the media and other traditional means. Social media offers a more direct way for fans to know and interact with players and teams. “People consume sports in a very different way,” Grossman says.
This applies to the devices fans use to watch games too, as tablets, smartphones and even televisions have grown in popularity and functionality. This creates opportunities and challenges for teams and leagues. For the Red Sox, Grossman says the shifting technological landscape forces his team to look differently at the way they approach content.
“You have to sort of fish where the fish are, so to speak,” he says. This means that reaching people isn’t limited to running a television ad—there are many ways to get the message out.
The focus on particular channels changes throughout the year, according to Grossman. During the season, the Red Sox won’t spend much on television, though it will utilize social, paid search and a little bit of print. In the offseason, the organization has to go “a little bit more traditional” to hit as many eyeballs as possible.
While its paid-media opportunities focus mostly on ticket sales, the team also utilizes television and print for branding at times during the season.
The most important campaign for the Red Sox this year has been its “B Strong” initiative, which is a response to the bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon. Grossman recalls the campaigns roots – a tweet from third-baseman Will Middlebrooks that included the hashtag “#BostonStrong.” A front-office meeting discussed an idea for turning this online movement into something visual and tangible. That’s when the “B Strong” patch was created.
Fans backed it up and the MLB helped to get it off the ground, with all proceeds from the sales of merchandise featuring the patch going to The One Fund. On the Saturday after the bombings, the Red Sox players wore jerseys that replaced “Red Sox” with “Boston” for the first time ever, to express a unified spirit with the whole city.
Grossman says the whole response to that week’s tragedies helped highlighted the vital role of Fenway Park and the Red Sox in the Boston community. “Whether it’s one logo or one day or one event, I think that’s why the Red Sox have such a unique foothold in the region.”