Weekly Recap: Kirk & the Quake, Social Media in Pro Sports & Baseball Withdrawals

Happy Sunday night from the library!

Between bouts of studiousness, I decided to recap my favorite readings from the week – lots of good stuff in the baseball, social media and college football worlds.

As great as this weekend was in college football (or not great, depending on how you look at it – the guys at The Solid Verbal aptly termed the ‘Bama-LSU showdown the “Lame of the Century”), I have to admit that I miss baseball. Desperately. There is something about it that’s more constant than football.

Sure, no one’s going to sit on the couch and watch baseball games for a whole Saturday, and unfortunately the season isn’t filled with World Series Game 6-style contests. Football provides an exciting burst every weekend for a few months, but it’s nothing like the steadiness of baseball that can occupy your thoughts from March to October.

My grandpa frequently tips me off to interesting articles, including this NPR story by Glenn Stout that touches on those baseball-withdrawal emotions. It will resonate with baseball fans. Take heart, he reminds us: it’ll be back soon enough.

Speaking of baseball, I was lucky to stumble upon a blog series hosted by the Social Media Club. During the first week of every month, they feature posts on a specialized topic, and November was focused on social media use in professional sports.

Wednesday’s post looked into the Cleveland Indians’ social media efforts, specifically their hugely successful Tribe Social Deck promotion, which launched in 2010 (now named the Indians Social Suite). Rob Campbell, former digital media coordinator for the team (talk about a dream job title), detailed how social media impacted the team. Some eye-popping stats:

  • In a sentiment analysis conducted prior to the implementation of their social strategy, they found that online sentiment about the team was 50% positive, 10% negative and 40% neutral. Two years later, an analysis measured a near 80% positive rating.
  • By using a unique approach to social media-based promotions, the team increased its social media revenue by over 125% this year. They offered their Twitter followers and Facebook fans a ticket discount, but offered them a greater discount if they shared it with friends.

I also learned a lot from Kevin Saghy, a public relations and marketing specialist for the Chicago Cubs. His post looked at how the Cubs enhance the fan experience by expanding online relationships; for example, if someone tweeted that they were at their first Cubs game, someone from their PR team would ask for their seat location and bring them a small gift. How cool is that?! It’s awesome, but he stressed the importance of meeting fan expectations before trying to exceed them – something that can be easily forgotten when you’re rushing to make a big impression.

And now for one frivolous item:

I hate to make fun of this face, because I'd freak out if an earthquake happened while I was on live TV. But Herbstreit's earthquake eyes make me laugh.

A few weeks back, after attending College GameDay in Eugene, my roommate Miranda developed a crush on Kirk Herbstreit. She didn’t express interest during the actual taping, but we had ESPN on the tube later that night and she revealed her affections. Our conversation:

Miranda: Who’s that guy on the far right?
Me: Kirk Herbstreit.
Miranda: Kirk Herbstreit?
Me: (jokingly, but knowing she wouldn’t ask for no reason) Yeah. Why, Miranda? Do you have a crush on him?
Miranda: A little bit! (A minute later, after Googling) Oh my gosh, he’s 42!

You can only imagine how adorable she found his reaction to last night’s earthquake in Stillwater, Oklahoma. “His eyes got so big!” she exclaimed. I know this video has made its way around the Twitters today, but I found it hilarious and had to include it anyway. (I’m so glad Yahoo!’s Graham Watson pointed out how long Fowler’s question was to begin with; the first time I watched it, I couldn’t believe how much he rambled. I wouldn’t have blamed Herbstreit for asking him to repeat it, even without the quake.)

If you’d like to divulge your television broadcaster crush (mine is Brian Williams) or share any interesting tidbits or articles you read this week, I’d love to hear!

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King’s Court: A Way for Seattle Mariners Fans to Feel Like Royalty

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.

Fans who sit in the Mariners' King's Court section receive this t-shirt, featuring Felix Hernandez and his signature wind-up.

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.

King's Court cheers on the Mariners during their 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees on May 28.

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.

Journal citation:

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.

Photo credits:

T-shirt: Image from the Mariners’ King’s Court page

King’s Court: Elaine Thompson, AP photo. Accessed from the Kitsap Sun.