Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

We've all heard the expression "addition by subtraction" used, frequently in reference to sports teams. But this past week, I wonder if I didn't encounter my first genuine example of "subtraction by addition".

I'm an ardent and lifelong supporter of the New England Revolution. Stuck it out through some crappy years, and more pertinent to this post, some crappy marketing campaigns to accompany the crappy years. Those of us in the fandom recall vividly the "Get Your Kicks" campaign (gag).

For the majority of the team's existence, the front office has chosen to market itself almost exclusively to the soccer moms/youth teams demographic. I can't fault them on this - in theory, a family of five is going to spend more at a game than five 20-somethings. I thought the campaigns were cheesy and more than a little annoying, but they kept at it for a good few years.

In recent times, however, with the team's sustained success and growing (and vocal) diehards' groups, the team has started to market to that 20-something male demographic with images like this one:

In case you can't read the fine print: "The Fort experience is not intended for children nor is it for the faint of heart. So grab your scarf and warm up your vocal chords and get ready for the most raucous experience in New England sports!"

Definitely a step in the right direction, as far as the diehards like myself saw it. This was an ad campaign that would appeal to the soccer fanatics, the 20-somethings with disposable income (that season ticket works out to $10/game), and wouldn't put off the soccer families that sit on the other side of the stadium.

But last week, the team issued an audition call for its new "street team", the Rev Girls:

The New England Revolution will hold interviews for the Rev Girls, the Revolution’s new promotional squad, at 10 a.m. in the East Fidelity Investments Clubhouse at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 21.

The team’s newest marketing initiative, the Rev Girls will run promotions at games and nighttime events and make public appearances on behalf of the team.

Women interested in interviewing for a roster spot with the Rev Girls must be at least 21 years old, and must bring positive identification with them. Prospective team members must also wear form-fitting clothing to the interview, and also bring both a headshot and a full-body image. Successful candidates will also be available for the entire duration of the Revolution season – March through November.

Those interviewing for a Rev Girl spot should come dressed and ready to meet the staff. There will no facilities available to prepare for the interview.

This is an appalling display from the team on several different fronts. Not only is it chauvinistic to a degree we haven't seen from Kraft Sports Group before ("form-fitting clothing", "no facilities available to prepare", "the hottest promotional group in town"), it's also an extremely poorly-constructed attempt at grassroots marketing.

Sending out 10 or 12 B-rate cheerleaders to the local Uno's is neither going to increase ticket sales, nor is it more than a token "we're trying" when it comes to word-of-mouth. And even if the street team does experience some modicum of success, it's completely unquantifiable - you can count how many people use free vouchers, but the team isn't making any money on them. And if it's not vouchers - you've got nothing to show that the street team's work has had any effect.

Word-of-mouth marketing doesn't need to be complex, nor does it need to be contrived, nor does it need to pander so blatantly to one demographic at the exclusion of others. How many soccer moms are going to bring little Suzy Kicksalot and her U-12 teammates when the "tits 'n kits" team are strolling through the concourse? How about if they meet the street team at their local restaurant? Is soccer mom Kicksalot going to be interested in going to a game when the promotional group is wearing two-pieces and and a push-up? Not to mention that the people they want this program to reach aren't going to respond to a couple of tchotchkes handed to them. They'll show up at a soccer bar, start plugging the Revs, and get shouted down by the guys watching the English leagues on TV.

It's this simple: college outreach. I proposed a college outreach program in my full-throated attack on this "street team" nonsense on BigSoccer. It's not all that difficult to envision. Contact each of the colleges within, say, a hundred miles of Gillette Stadium. Offer $15 ticket-bus-and-personal-pizza vouchers to the students, one bus per college. Don't do it all on one night, do it throughout the season. Each week, a dozen or so schools are sending buses full of tabula-rasa-brand-advocates. Each school could do more than one game - although much of the Revs season falls during the summer break, there are a handful of games before and certainly high-level games after.

Get butts in the seats. Give them a quality product, a good time, and an easy trip to and from the venue, and you'll have several thousand new Revs fans who want to come back. You can't fall in love with the local team on TV, you have to do it in person. New England Revolution holds the monopoly on live men's soccer, and yet they do nothing to market this. They need to get out there and demonstrate that we have a supporters section like their favorite European teams do, but the only way to grow that is to become a part of it.

What's more - all of this, the college outreach, the immigrant outreach, this can all be done without running the risk of alienating soccer mom Kicksalot. Throwing some full-chested bimbos at a bar and calling it "word-of-mouth" marketing is a failure both to maintain the audience you have and to reach the audience you want. It's a pathetic display of "sex sells, ergo, we need sex", and it's a step backward from the excellent "Defend the Fort" campaign.

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't seen the defend the fort ads, but seeing them now I find them absolutely great! It is not just soccer moms that will be offended by the rev girls promotion. It certainly turns me off to think the front office is using the "bimbo with boobs" approach when there are so many other ways to appeal to both men and women in their early twenties and such.

    Having said that, some might equate it with the "kicker cutie" label they put on Twellman et al. The difference IMO, is that I don't go to the game cos x player is "so hot" I go to watch the tactics, the passion and all the action on the field, as well as interact with other passionate fans. If there IS a cute guy on the team, well woo hoo, if not, who cares. I'll still be cheering my team on as best I can.