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Sports Business Lessons From A's FanFest

"I love marketing!!!"
"I love marketing!!!"
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESS

At FanFest a week ago I had the pleasure of meeting Rich Campbell, a professor in Marketing at Sonoma State University who has a passion for the A's and for the business side of baseball. Rich is interested in possibly writing occasional articles for AN about sports from a marketing perspective, and with permission from The Business Of Sports, Rich has invited me to publish his recent article about FanFest. The original version can be found here. -Nico

As the calendar moves through February, the glorious words "pitchers and catchers reporting" start to resonate through the sports business community. Baseball is almost back, and as a prelude to the opening of spring training in the favorable conditions of Arizona and Florida, many teams host a "FanFest" to quench their fans' desire to "see" the team before they open camp.

I had an opportunity to attend the Oakland A's FanFest last week and was reminded of three key sports business principles:

Different Fans, Different Needs

The A's provided a variety of experiences for fans at FanFest: autograph signings, interviews with GM (and cult hero) Billy Beane and Manager Bob Melvin, photo opportunities with players and coaches, games for kids, mascot appearances, player introductions (with indoor fireworks), a live radio show broadcasting, and a host of other activities.

Without question, offering a diverse menu of opportunities to engage within the ballpark has become the industry norm - and a fan expectation. The A's did a wonderful job of making sure there was "something for everyone", including interviews with scouts and an Assistant GM , to panels with media members. These are not people who usually interface with fans, but there is a constant need to create new touch points for fans, not just at FanFest but as a part of the evolving fan experience.

Some Fans Love Social Media

Another part of the sports fan experience has become sharing on social media, whether at home on the couch or in stadium. At home, the term "second screen" is used to describe the phone/laptop engagement, although there is increasing evidence that the TV is actually the second screen running in the background while consumers focus on their computing device.

In stadium, the personal screen is competing with the "game" and the video board that is pushing content. While there was no "game" this day, at one point during FanFest, I was in the Bar & Grille listening to Assistant GM David Forst in a Q&A, while an interview with Beane, Melvin and Bench Coach Chip Hale was broadcast on the bar TVs, while Coco Crisp was interviewed by radio host Chris Townsend. - all in the same room!
Yet despite all of this content, I observed fans texting, sharing on Facebook and following an online chat with player Nick Punto via their phones! Teams are aware of this subgroup of fans who LOVE to engage on social media, but their ranks are likely growing.

Sports Brands Are Strong Brands

This recent article suggested that the concept of "brands" is in its twilight. And in many ways I agree. As social media has increased consumers' access to information (including on line reviews), brand loyalty has been reduced in many industries - but that is certainly NOT the case in sports. The 20,000 fans that came to the A's FanFest did so despite bad weather conditions, an ownership group that has tried (unsuccessfully) to move the team for years, and a reputation for operating on a shoestring budget. AND THE EVENT STILL SOLD OUT!

In some sense, sports teams are benefiting from the scrutiny they have endured the last hundred years. In other industries the process of customers sharing information has increased exponentially in the last 15 years via the Internet. But the conversation about sports franchises -- both positive and negative -- has been playing out in newspapers, on talk radio, in barbershops, in bars and on playgrounds on a daily basis as long as we can remember. So, team brands -- and their customers -- are in some ways inoculated from negative information. It's part of the experience, and always has been.