Lead The Charge1 Nov, 2010 By: Thomas Haire Response
Ken Derrett and A.G. Spanos have made good use of DR marketing as part of the mix that has supercharged San Diego’s NFL brand.
The effort has been successful. “The response, you never know,” Derrett says. “You have your focus groups, and you have your players and fans help you. When the uniforms launched, the sales were great. Though it wasn’t done for that reason — it was done because our brand needed a change.”
At the same time, creating an atmosphere of fun and excitement around the team and the gameday experience was a crucial step to driving this plan forward. Derrett says, “You want to put your best foot forward with all the things you do inside the stadium. We’ve tried to dig deeper around the stadium to create what we call ‘mini-experiences.’”
These include on-field opportunities, opportunities to meet former Charger greats, a premier suite club and the Power Party, which Spanos brought with him from NFL Europe. “It’s a giant tailgate party, open to the public, that we started seven years ago,” Derrett says.“Qualcomm Stadium has such a large parking lot, and it was getting filled early. Anheuser-Busch sponsors it, and the area accommodates nearly 5,000 people. It’s free to get in, with no age limit. We have the radio pregame broadcasts from there, the Charger Girls are there, there are plenty of TVs showing the day’s other games, former player autographs, and food and beverage for purchase. And it’s just a five-minute walk to the stadium gates.”
While these changes revitalized the Charger brand and image among fans, the team still needs to sell tickets and merchandise. And that’s where direct response marketing helps the franchise hit its goals.
“You have the offseason, which is the season ticket push,” Derrett says. “You’ve got to remember there are always peaks and valleys in the industry and in our league.”
Spanos adds, “We are on-air with stuff leading into and coming out of the NFL Draft (late April) pushing season tickets. That’s usually the first big splash. Then you fast forward to the end of July when we go with single-game tickets on sale. You try to let those season tickets have as long of an exclusive window as possible because that’s the bread and butter.”
Still, Spanos says balancing branding and response remains a constant struggle with each new year. He contends, “What we find, year after year, is that we’re constantly going in and trying to get it more targeted to what we’re selling as opposed to just how great the Chargers brand is, how exciting it is — which is all good. It’s that old ‘sales vs. brand’ debate.”
‘Lead the Charge!’
The team’s 2010 season campaign — Lead the Charge! — kicked off in spring. “I work very closely with A.G. and a couple of our creative folks, not just on what’s the message for this year but, ultimately, what we are trying to communicate,” Derrett says. “The power of the NFL is that it’s a great experience.”
Spanos says the Charger name has led to some great buzzword campaigns in years past and 2010 is no different. “We sat down with Morris, our creative agency, and started throwing out thoughts, words, what will define this year,” he says. “It’s difficult because your team isn’t settled at that point. You don’t know what key additions or losses you’re going to have. So you have to pick things that are going to speak to the team and the kind of product fans are going to see on the field. We ended up with ‘Lead the Charge.’ We have a great brand that allows for good slogans — Taking Charge, Lead the Charge, Re-Charged. We’ve played off that word many, many times.”
Derrett says, “It’s an invitation to the fans. Home field has been so important in this league, and home field advantage is playing in front of a great crowd.”
The campaign has also been a major part of a new merchandising partnership with Dreams Retail that has freshened the Chargers’ online store, and created more aggressive marketing outreach. Still, with a soft economy wreaking havoc across ticket sales for many teams in all professional sports leagues, Spanos and Derrett made sure the campaign focused heavily on retaining current customers, while also highlighting the discounts that come with season tickets.
Derrett says, “It’s a good deal. It’s $8 off per ticket, per game. And it’s the best way to get tickets for every game. You push and push that. Even when single-game tickets go on sale, you still have to hold some back for season sales because you have some people who are undecided, still on the fence. Through that whole period, what we were doing more this year than in the past, was look after our current business. Yes, new business is crucial, but in this environment, you better look after your existing customer, and the response we’ve gotten has been phenomenal, all things considered.”
Spanos adds, “What can we do, added-value-wise? What can we give them? Simple things, like opening up training camp exclusively for season-ticket holders, stadium tours, facility tours, a draft party for club seatholders. We needed more touchpoints.”
Partnerships Help Measure Success
How are fans and consumers reacting to the campaigns? Spanos says, “Our season ticket base is down slightly from last season, but we tracked higher on new sales, so it’s an interesting situation. It’s a little disappointing because we’ve had those five division championships. The product on the field has delivered, but the economy is just tough.”
With ticket sales off slightly, what other ways are the Chargers working to give their fan base what they want — and how exactly do they measure success?
“We’ve evolved our campaign the past couple of years,” Derrett says. “We’ve now started to focus on targeted advertising where these season ticket holders are residing. We know 26 percent of our ticket base resides in L.A., Orange County and the Inland Empire. We were able to buy direct mail and also targeted spots through cable systems, hit DRTV in specific areas and be able to be more focused vs. more mass. Southern California is a big piece of geography. We continued that on with some things on the digital side, with SignOnSanDiego.com, OCRegister.com, LATimes.com.”
Calling ticket sales a “broader space” than more targeted merchandise marketing, Derrett says there have been a few spikes. “The initial day of single-game ticket sales, the first day of training camp,” he says, mentioning direct mail, digital and DRTV pushes around those times.
Also, when it was announced that the Chargers’ first regular season home game in September had not sold out by the 72-hour NFL-imposed deadline to lift its local TV blackout rule, the team jumped on it. “We sold 5,000 tickets in that 72-hour window,” Derrett says. “There was interest in both the public and the media, and we worked closely with our ad and promotion teams to push sales in that window.”
On the merchandising side, Derrett says, “We’re getting there,” when asked about measurement capabilities for a sales outlet that’s grown tenfold in the past nine years. “Every morning, from our online store, we can see the page views, the orders, the revenue,” he says. “We just started with a new online partner, Dreams, and did our soft launch during training camp. We’ve seen a couple significant spikes with E-mail offers that were also promoted heavily on our pre-season TV and radio broadcasts. We had big results around those two three-day efforts, and overall sales have been up since we kicked off.”