After years of watching the Seattle Mariners wallow in mediocrity, fans might finally have a good team to root for. It’s still early in the season, but the M’s have a winning record and are riding a wave of momentum after winning their weekend series against the New York Yankees.
Part of this momentum stems from the Mariners’ impressive starting pitching. Rookie standout Michael Pineda has been lights-out, and Felix Hernandez, who won last year’s American League Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher, has continued his success.
However, while the team’s fortunes seem to be looking up, game attendance still reflects that of the days when the Mariners struggled to beat even the worst teams in the league. That tide is turning, though, with one terrific promotion that has been a boon to the Mariners and a great case study for effective promotional campaigns.
Professional sports teams have long used bobblehead dolls and free t-shirts to entice fans through the stadium gates. Even a less-than-exciting matchup can draw a crowd if a free gift is offered. A 2000 study by Mark McDonald and Daniel Rascher in the Journal of Sport Management found that promotions at Major League Baseball games increase short-run attendance by 14%.
With this in mind, the Mariners decided to capitalize on Felix Hernandez’s popularity and success. They took his nickname, King Felix, and created King’s Court, a section in the Safeco Field stands for which fans can purchase reduced-price tickets. Fans who sit in the section receive a free King Felix t-shirt (which, I must say, is awesome).
The first King’s Court promotion was held during Saturday night’s game against the New York Yankees, and it was a runaway success. A day after its initial announcement of the promotion, the club tweeted that the first section was sold out and another would be added.
Not only was the promotion itself a good idea, but the execution was also spot-on and holds lessons for future PR practitioners like myself. In reading more about the promotion, I pinpointed three lessons that this promotion holds for current and future PR practitioners who want to launch a successful campaign:
1) Capitalize on the best player you have.
The best “player” doesn’t necessarily mean the best athlete on your team. It could be your company’s best product or the best feature of that product. If your client makes ice cream and knows most of its customers prefer Rocky Road, your client should offer customers a discount on that specific product. It might encourage them to purchase more Rocky Road and/or more cartons of another flavor.
No fans would sit in a special section named after one of the Mariners’ more pedestrian players. Understanding what or whom the fans love and capitalizing on their willingness to support that product or person will lead to a more successful promotion.
2) Accommodate your customers and clients.
The original King’s Court section sold out quickly. Rather than saying “better luck next time” to the fans who still wanted to purchase King’s Court tickets, the Mariners opened another section for the promotion. While I don’t know exactly how many more fans purchased tickets in the second section, The Biz of Baseball blog noted that Safeco Field was filled to 79% capacity that night, larger than average attendance for the team.
It’s rarely possible to please every single person in a situation, but doing your best to accommodate customers, clients and guests can never do harm. Give people what they want, like another free sample or a discount on their favorite product.
3) Respond to your fans.
Some Mariners fans who were watching the game on television had not heard about the promotion by gametime on Saturday. When asked what the section of yellow shirts was all about, the Mariners responded with an explanation and a link to the site where he could purchase his own tickets. By not only informing fans of the promotion, but also giving them easy access to the ticket link, the Mariners are encouraging participation in the promotion and helping grow ticket sales.
They also tweeted Sunday, the day after the game, and asked fans for their thoughts on the section. The replies showed that fan response was overwhelmingly positive and that many fans want to buy King’s Court tickets later this season. Asking for feedback shows that the Mariners care about their followers’ opinions and are looking for ways to improve the King’s Court experience. You can do the same by asking event attendees for their thoughts via Twitter or by sending customers a survey to gauge their satisfaction with your service. Customers want their voices to be heard, so giving them an opportunity to express their opinions is key to a successful promotional campaign.
Hopefully, the excellent promotion execution continues and King’s Court becomes a tradition for Mariners fans. Even if the Mariners’ performance on the field starts dipping towards mediocrity again, I’m sure King Felix and his Court will give many fans a reason to keep coming through the Safeco Field gates. I’ve already talked with my dad about when we can head for Seattle to don the yellow t-shirts, enjoy a baseball game and become a part of the King’s Court.
McDonald, M. & Rascher, D. (2000). Does Bat Day Make Cents? The Effect of Promotions on the Demand for Major League Baseball. Journal of Sport Management. 14, 8-27.
King’s Court: Elaine Thompson, AP photo. Accessed from the Kitsap Sun.