The Digital Dilemma

More than ever before, advances in digital media have made sports teams, players, and coaches accessible to fans through a huge variety of mediums. Fans can watch live games, post-game press conferences, and video content from weekly practices, interact with players and coaches on social platforms, and stay intimately informed with the happenings of their favorite team on a day to day basis.

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On the surface, these advances are incredibly helpful to sports properties in that they are helping teams connect to their fans in a more engaged way than ever before. However, the rise of the digital age is a movement that presents a unique challenge for sports properties. Given the fact that live streaming capabilities make it possible for fans to watch a game from almost anywhere, sports properties are having an increasingly difficult time with selling tickets to the actual live event.

Take, for example the NFL. Over the past four seasons, total attendance of NFL games has dropped an astounding 10.5% (SBRNet Statistics). The introduction of live-streaming options, such as NFL Sunday Ticket, that make it possible for fans to watch every single one of their team’s games at a relatively cheap price are driving fans away from buying tickets and attending the live event. Financially, this is an alarming trend for sports properties. Game day revenue, from tickets to merchandise to in-stadium sponsorship deals, is a massive part of how sports properties make money. Teams, leagues, and franchises are attempting to combat this trend in three primary ways.

  1. Pricing Strategy

The first, and perhaps most practically obvious, way in which sports properties are attempting to fight this trend is by becoming increasingly flexible in their pricing strategies. Historically, the NFL had imposed a rigid pricing scheme for its franchises that priced each individual game at the same, high level, regardless of the quality of the opposing team. For example, a fan would pay the same amount to see the Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Giants as the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, the league has recently allowed its teams to adopt flexible pricing schemes in an effort to attract more fans to attending the live games. These teams, such as the St. Louis Rams, have reported a double-digit increase of percentage of single-game ticket revenue as a result of this change in strategy.

  1. Enhancing the In-Game Experience

An additional way in which sports properties are attempting to drive up attendance numbers is by giving fans more “bang for their buck” when they buy tickets and attend games. More than ever before, properties are integrating additional benefits to the in-game experience in a variety of ways: tailgates, concerts, giveaways, and discounted promotional material are all examples of how franchises are adopting this strategy. Locally, the Birmingham Barons, the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, have made this idea an integral part of their marketing strategy. Weekly promotions, such as “Thirsty Thursday” and “$0.50 Hot Dog Night”, and special coupon deals that come with the physical tickets are bringing in fans by the droves. The success of this strategy is evident—Birmingham’s total attendance in the 2014 season was 437,000. The next highest total in the Southern League was only 312,000.

  1. Marketing The Intangible Experience

Anyone who has ever attended any significant live sporting event knows that there is something about the experience that any sort of live streaming software fails to replicate. Whether it’s connecting with other fans, hearing the roar of the crowd, or experiencing the sights and sounds of the day, the intangible aspect of live sports is a big part of what continues to draw fans to these events in an age of easy digital access. Sports properties are beginning to integrate that emotional connection into their marketing strategies.

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The Miami Dolphins have made this idea a central aspect of their marketing campaign for this season. The Dolphins have interviewed several fans about how attending Dolphins games has made a significant impact on their lives and have used these testimonials in some of their promotional material. This material is designed to help fans make a more personal connection with the idea of being a part of the fan community and, hopefully, reminds them of the magic of attending a live event.

This blog post was written by Samford University student and Brock Scholar Brooks Hanrahan.

Sources:

Dynamic ticket pricing makes successful debut in NFL. (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2015, from http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2015/10/26/Leagues-and-Governing-Bodies/NFL-dynamic.aspx

Football-NFL Attendance: % by Frequency of Attending. (n.d.).

Jreed@al.com, J. (n.d.). Regions Field welcomes its millionth fan as attendance keeps rising for the Birmingham Barons. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/06/regions_field_is_getting_more.html

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