America’s summer sport, baseball, has collided with fall’s chill. Football is now top-of-mind.
However, there’s one baseball story worth recapping, at least for retailers. It was easy to miss. This wasn’t about box scores, but marketing. Sports teams tend to market very well, and there are retail lessons to be learned from this year’s baseball season.
First let me emphasize that retailers are also strong marketers. They are creative and good at adapting ideas from other retailers. But therein lies a possible limitation. If some retailers only borrow ideas from other retailers, they are missing out. Retailers vying to differentiate in this hyper-competitive environment might benefit from taking marketing ideas from a different field — the baseball field.
Major League Baseball teams presented great marketing in 2018, but for really big league ideas, keep an eye on the minor leagues. One New Jersey minor league team called the Somerset Patriots regularly hits it out of the park with an outstanding range of special events and other efforts. It’s on my radar because the team is local to my area. I’d call its approach marketing on steroids. (Wait, did I really use steroids in a baseball reference?)
The Patriots are part of the Atlantic League, an independent minor league begun in 1998. The team advanced to its sixth straight postseason this year under the current manager, fueled by winning performances by numerous players. But just as important was the team’s superb marketing performance, which helped it lead the league in 2018 attendance.
Marketing was driven by a range of strategies, including robust social media, a mobile app with access to a rewards program, and outstanding special events. The events were crowd pleasers, whether or not fans cared about a baseball game. Here’s an events sampler, and consider how these might translate to retail:
Superhero Day plus Ballpark ComiCon
SpongeBob Squarepants appearance
Fireworks and Fortnite (gaming on the concourse)
Giveaways from T-shirts to backpacks
Run the bases
Meet and greet with a New York Giants football legend
Bark In The Park bring your dog, with a pre-game Pooch Parade
XPogo Stunt Team high-flying performances between innings
OK — maybe retailers won’t conduct a pooch parade up front store aisles. However, given the range of events, there’s opportunity for retailers to steal more than just home plate. How would these translate to retail? Senior Wednesday (or Thursday or Friday) could focus on retail health solutions for the older set. Superhero Day could be a terrific Halloween event. Fortnite and gaming themes are smart ways to get on the radar of the youngest consumers. Augtoberfest is a standout idea for summer parties.
The Patriots also often introduce multiple events and promotions for a single game. These appeal simultaneously to different audiences so there’s something for everyone.
Marc Russinoff, the Patriots’ vice president of public relations, explained to me that fans pulled in by one promotion are often pleased to encounter other opportunities, “whether it’s food options, another special event, or impulse buys.”
This is a one-stop-shop approach (sounds familiar?) Plus, marketing and events underscore the team’s role as a community player, which of course is also a big retailer strategy.
Can retailers get excited about reaching out of the box for ideas in this way? Absolutely. I checked with Coborn’s, a highly innovative Midwest independent grocer, and a winner of the prestigious National Grocers Association Creative Choice Marketing Award. The retailer’s vice president of Marketing, Dennis Host, said sharing can go both ways: retailers can get ideas from sports teams, and sports teams from retailers. He should know. Coborn’s has a front-row seat as a partner for events by local sports teams.
Whether translating ideas from sports or some other sector, a few bold retail marketing moves can produce differentiation and boost customer loyalty. When that happens, as they say, it’s a new ball game.
David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker. He currently is the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries. To read last month’s column, click here.