What “Everyday” Marketers Can Learn From Sports Marketing

I’m a big believer that, whether you’re a sports fan, a player, or neither, there is a lot to learn from athletic competition. Good athletes generally work hard, have dedication, and a passion for what they do. Hijacking Seattle Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll’s widely-known philosophy, I think you should compete at everything you do. Whether you’re competing with someone at work, against yourself, or just for the very sake of performance, you should always compete. Sports breed competition, and a lot can be absorbed and translated into everyday life by observing all forms of athletic competition.

I bring this up because recently I attended a marketing luncheon at the Washington Athletic Club hosted by the Puget Sound American Marketing Association (PSAMA). This event centered around groundswell marketing and building on branding opportunities. The luncheon was highlighted by its guest speakers, Jeff Richards, the Managing Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy for the Seattle Seahawks, and Gregg Greene, the Senior Director of Marketing for the Seattle Mariners. The main focus of this luncheon in particular focused on the challenges and opportunities sports marketers face marketing their respective brands. And just as I have learned so much in my life by observing athletes and coaches at their peak, I learned a few more valuable job-related nuggets by attentively listening to two sports marketers at the peak of their professions.

Source: psamablog.blogspot.com

Moderated by Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer (who I had the pleasure of taking a class with as an undergrad journalism student at the University of Washington), Richards and Greene answered Brewers well-thought-out questions, and the luncheon attendees also got their chance to ask the duo some interesting questions of their own.

Before I attended the event, I was extremely excited to learn about what it was like to work on the marketing side of a professional sports franchise. For any sports fanatic like myself, working in sports in nearly any capacity (especially marketing) is a dream. And because I wasn’t blessed with the ability to be a professional athlete, getting an opportunity to work closely with coaches, players, and a team brand is the only dream I have a shot of ever achieving. But another reason I’ve been so enthralled with the idea of working for a high-level sports team was I naively assumed that once I was in that position, it would come easy to me.

Why did I assume this? Reflecting on this question has left me reaching out in the dark and usually wrapping my fingers around nothing but air. Maybe it’s because I’m so absorbed with sports on a consistent basis and my understanding of most sports is so innate at this point in my life that I somehow assumed working for a team would also come without much effort. Maybe it’s my simple ignorance toward understanding the unique challenges that come with working for a sports franchise or team.

Source: PSAMA

While I certainly don’t understand all (or many) of the mechanisms that go into working for a sports franchise yet, listening to Richards and Greene discuss their roles within the Seahawks and Mariners organizations made me realize my previous assumptions were almost entirely incorrect.

One key difference between sports marketing and other types of marketing, such as product marketing, is that sports marketing is generally built around an event–one that marketers can’t control every piece of. Greene described a thought-provoking example of the difference between the two. Take, for instance, a can of Pepsi and a soccer ball. When you market a can of Pepsi, you can market it by already assuming the customer knows what they’re getting. They know the Pepsi is going to be a sweet, carbonated liquid. There aren’t any unexpected variables or surprises you have to prepare the customer for. What you see, or drink, is generally what you get.

But with the soccer ball, or let’s say, for example’s sake, a soccer game, you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. You can’t promise wins or losses. You can’t anticipate how many goals are going to be scored. You can have faith in the product that you’ve placed on the field or court, but ultimately you can’t control many variables. That’s the difference between marketing a product that you know will be consistent, and one that, despite any preconceived expectations, could go in a number of varying directions. And doing that well can be extremely difficult to master.

But of course, sports marketing and other types of marketing do have their undeniable similarities. One way in which they fall in line with one another is that both (should) focus on the fan or customer. Just like we all focus on our clients and customers (again, that’s what we should be focusing our energy and attention on) sports franchises succeed in marketing their product by focusing on their fans. There are all types of ways sports franchises and teams do this–fan appreciation days, discounted tickets, and merchandise giveaways to name a few. Even the product that is put out on the field is put together to win games (at least, that’s the goal) so that fans are happy and have something to root for.

In particular, we as marketers can all learn how to keep our customers (or fans) happy and engaged, and develop those relationships into company success, by looking at what the Seahawks have done with regards to the “12th Man.” The 12th Man has become a calling card for the organization, and it’s focus is solely on Seattle’s faithful and rabid fan base. The slogan of this year’s team is “We Are 12,” and the fans are a focal point of everything the Seahawks do. You see 12 flags all over CenturyLink Field, on top of the iconic Space Needle, and all throughout the city of Seattle and the surrounding areas. The Hawks have fully embraced the power of the 12th Man.

That embrace, dating back to December 15, 1984 when then Seahawks President Mike McCormack retired the number 12 jersey in honor of the fans, has undeniably enhanced the team’s performance on the field.

Because Seahawks fans are so loud and passionate about their team, since 2005, opposing offenses have been flagged for more false start penalties inside CenturyLink Field than any other stadium in the NFL.

And while every team has an advantage playing at home, the Seahawks home field advantage is that much greater than nearly every other team in the NFL. In the NFL, historically, the home team wins about 57 percent of the time. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have won more than 68 percent of their home games dating back to 2002. The Seahawks have placed an emphasis on their fans and the 12th Man, and that focus and translated into a more competitive product on the field.

Whether you’re in marketing or not, we can all learn something from the Seahawks and their unwavering focus on their fans. I urge you now to take what the Seahawks have done with their emphasis on the 12th Man, and find ways to incorporate that focus into your own customers or clients. Just like the 12th Man has allowed the Seahawks to be a dominant football team at home, your customers can help drive the success of a company.

Attending the recent PSAMA luncheon is something that I will not soon forget. Listening to Richards and Greene talk about their roles within the Mariners and Seahawks organizations was eye-opening. I’ve learned a lot in my life observing athletes and competitors, and this continued with two sports marketers. And hopefully, you’ve now learned something useful, too.


Written by Luke Severn

Luke is a marketing coordinator at Kaufer DMC. He loves the Arctic Monkeys, David Fincher movies, and the Portland Trail Blazers.






Published September 12, 2014 by Luke Severn.
Categories: Branding, Sports Marketing