May 27, 2015

The business of professional sports relies heavily on building and maintaining an actively engaged fan base that will not only root, root, root for the home team, but also become season ticket holders, purchase branded merchandise and be passionate word of mouth marketers. And while their teams’ regular seasons may last between four to six months, a sports marketer’s job is year-round.

AMA Atlanta’s May Signature Luncheon featured an impressive panel of leaders from Atlanta’s major professional sports franchises, who shared their insights into the business of sports marketing: Steve Koonin, Chief Executive Officer – Atlanta Hawks; Derek Schiller, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing – Atlanta Braves, and Mike Gomes, Senior Vice President of Fan Experience – Atlanta Falcons. Moderator: Scot Safon, former Chief Marketing Officer – The Weather Channel. Below are my three key takeaways. Trust me, there were several more – so don’t hesitate to share yours in the comments.

Photo Credit: @HayleyRSchmidt

Photo Credit: @HayleyRSchmidt

Marketers, Know Thine Audience

Don’t assume you know who comprises your core audience; do the research. Koonin pointed out that the Hawks conducted extensive research into game attendees to determine that their target audiences are African-Americans and Millennials. Season ticket holders average 38 years old and live approximately 10 miles from Philips Arena.

Once you’ve identified your target audience, maintain a laser focus on them in all marketing outreach efforts. Everything from the food and beverages served to the in-game entertainment must be on point to attract and retain them.

The Experience Matters

While selling season ticket packages obviously is important, Atlanta’s professional teams are focused on making the experience valuable for casual fans as well. Millennials are less interested in the “ownership economy” model of holding season tickets, but they place high value on receiving a quality experience when they interact with sports teams (and other brands). Schiller referenced the Braves mobile app, which includes offers from participating sponsors to provide added value to digitally minded game attendees…which brings me to my third and final key takeaway.

Let Your Sponsors Do the Talking

Both the Braves and Falcons rely heavily on their corporate sponsors to create experience-rich, value-added fan promotions and contests, both online and in real life, to extend their brand activation. Whether it’s sweepstakes, merchandise discounts or free items – sponsor activations significantly augment what may be more modest advertising budgets.

For the Falcons, Gomes noted that they are focused on partnering with sponsors to make what happens in-stadium a true and authentic experience that energizes fans and motivates them to return.

With both the Braves and Falcons getting new stadiums in the coming few years, we are certain to see an increase in sponsor activation and fan loyalty.