I had the pleasure of going to an SMU Basketball game this past week. It wasn’t a huge game from a standings perspective. It wasn’t a big rivalry game. It wasn’t a game between 2 powerhouse teams. It was an important game as every game is for an up and coming team like SMU. But there was no one outside the two teams that were really paying attention to the outcome. Bottom line, it was a game on the schedule.
It was a game on the schedule for every one but SMU basketball fans. For SMU basketball fans it was their chance to show off to any and all newcomers who walked into the gym. President Bush (43) was there. Dejuan Blair, Jae Crowder, Casey Smith and others from the Mavs were there (I had no idea they were going to be there). I ran into friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Mavs season ticket holders. It was a fun night to see and be seen. All in an arena that sits 7k .
I love watching any basketball game where I want a team to win (SMU), but will still sleep well if they don’t. I truly get to be a fan. (And no, I don’t scream at the refs. Thats for Mavs games only !). As I watched the game and people came up to me they all asked the same question. They didn’t ask me what I thought of the team and how it was playing. They didn’t ask me what I thought of the coach, Hall of Famer Larry Brown (although the media did ask me about him ). They didn’t ask me about the pro prospects of any player on either team. They didn’t ask me if I thought the team “Played basketball the right way”, a Coach Brown hallmark. They all asked me what I thought about the atmosphere at the arena.
They all wanted confirmation that this was truly a fun atmosphere. That it was now fun to go to an SMU game. They had a student section that was standing, yelling , taunting and cheering. Loudly. Continuously. They had fans that chanted defense. They went nuts as SMU broke open a tight game when their point guard came alive and starting hitting big shots.
Atmosphere. The electricity you feel when you walk into an arena. The uncertainty and anticipation of what will happen before , during and after the game, and most importantly the communal feelings that can only happen when thousands , if not tens of thousands of people share their emotions. That is what makes going to a game special and the smart people at SMU knew it.
There were no special apps that some programming whiz at SMU created. Nor was anyone asking for advanced stats. There was not a single consideration for any unique technology anywhere that I could see. None was suggested or presented to me. There were promos and replays and stats on the high def jumbotron. No one complained that it wasn’t enough.
While I saw plenty of instagrammed pictures from the game, they all seemed to come from before and after the game. The entire time the student section was standing up cheering I looked for phones. Was anyone using one ? Were they holding them up like they might do at a concert to get footage ? Nope. It’s hard to look at your phone or hold it up when you are clapping, stomping, screaming and pointing the entire time
Everyone in that arena knew exactly what was going on. They knew what the Seahawks fans knew. They knew what Mavs fans know. They know that they are not just observers, they are participants. Teams take pride in their “6th man” or their “12th man”. The fans that cheer them on and provide energy to help them rally through fatigue. The only people who take more pride than the teams in their 6th man are the fans themselves.
So how can sports marketers learn from all of this ? Here are some guidelines.
1. Know where your team is in their “lifecycle”.
Not every team is up and coming ala SMU. Not every team only has to fill 7k seats. When a team is first turning the corner, fans tend to not trust it. They expect that their team will revert to their past . I know it drives everyone in pro sports crazy when their team finally does well and fans don’t immediately respond. It is easier to engage fans when the team is turning a corner and winning is new, but you have to work hard at selling the fun of coming to an arena. The more seats you have to sell, the harder you have to work. Fans want a reason to get out of the house and have fun. But they are not going to find you. You have to find them.
If your team finds itself struggling, or if its expected to win you are in the same boat. Your hardcore fans are going to come. But you have to work harder than ever before to create value for you fans. It is during these times, when you can’t control what happens on the court, that you have to work hard to improve the game experience. Not by providing apps or stats. Fans who like those things know where to get them from other sources already. Not by focusing on creating online communities. Online communities are like talk radio. The same 200 people call and participate in both.
You have to invest in things that are universally fun for your customers and prospects. EVERYONE remembers their first game. EVERY parent gets unlimited joy from watching their child enjoy a sporting event. You have to make sure that the entertainment that you provide is not only family friendly, but also engaging for all the 6 to 12 year olds in the audience. If you think those kids care about basketball you are delusional. If you think those parents care more about basketball than keeping their kids entertained for 2 hours, you are delusional and should quit your job immediately. All you have to do is remember this – EVERYONE STANDS UP FOR T SHIRTS.
2. Know who your long time fans/customers are.
The delta between sell out and empty is typically 5k fans. You have to know who your ongoing season ticket holders are and respect and appreciate them. You can not do enough to reward them. It is hard to personally respond to 5k or more account holders, but it is something you have to work at. The greater the renewal rate the fewer the tickets you have to sell next year. Fans know when you care. You can’t fake it. It is hard work, but it has to be done. Know your customers and treat them like gold
3. Price to the market, not to maximize revenue.
The sports industry is changing. TV is becoming a growing revenue source while ticket sales are a declining percentage of total revenues of TV sports. IMHO, it is far more important to know the price points that will enable you to fill the arena than to know the price points that will max out your total revenue. Why ? Because winning matters. It is important to have fans in the stands. They impact your winning percentage. And personally, I believe that winning increases long term profitability.
It is also because fans know the pricing trends of your tickets better than you do. THey know how to use travel sites to get best pricing. They know how to use ticket sites to get best pricing. Teams try to be democratic when it comes to game pricing. Thats an inefficiency that some fans and many ticket brokers know how to take advantage of. We hired a full time Data Analyst to continuously examine and review online pricing for us. It has resulted in us changing pricing for 7k season tickets for this coming year.
The market told us that for season tickets we need to price to the current actual pricing market in order to attract new season ticket customers and to maximize our season ticket renewals. We paid attention . We did it only for season tickets because those are the tickets we have to price in anticipation of the next season. Our hope is that for single game tickets the game experience, our team performance and big games will push our prices even higher and make our season tickets and even more attractive value .
4. Fans buy tickets where they like to buy them
The Mavs have found that some of our customers prefer to buy from a given secondary provider than from our site. They have a credit card set up there. They buy not just Mavs, but other Dallas teams, concerts and other events from a single source. That convenience, from their perspective make it a better choice. Yes, we try to offer better service, premium value, etc. But just like I buy from Amazon just because that is where I buy most of my stuff from, some fans have a preferred source of tickets. You have to be there and make it easy for them to buy.
5. Selling is the most important job at a team
Everyone majors in sports marketing. There is no more worthless major. Every school seems to have a major in sports management . Why do the schools and kids think that across the tens of thousands of graduates from these programs there is going to be a job than even comes close to paying off their student loans. Do the math.
Lets say there are 120 top pro teams. This article says there are about 12k sports marketing grads each year. The competition for jobs at pro teams is so brutal that we don’t have to pay much. Yet schools keep signing up kids. If schools want to have any value to sports teams they should offer degrees in Sales. Not sports sales. Just sales. Teach kids to sell and they can get jobs anywhere anytime. Teach kids sports management and you improve their chances of getting a job at Fridays.
At the Mavs we value customer satisfaction and sales. We want you to have an amazing time at a game. We want our advertiser/sponsors to get amazing value from their Mavs partnerships. We want to have enough great salespeople to reach out and communicate all of the above. Every team can not have enough great salespeople.
6. Spend money on fun.
No team is going to go undefeated every year. You have to make sure that even during games that don’t go the way of the home team that your fans feel like you are doing all you can to entertain them. At the Mavs we spend a small fortune on entertaining videos and in game entertainment. From the Mavs Maniaacs to special half time shows, to Seats for Soldiers, we want our Mavs games to be special occasions. We NEVER cut corners on in game entertainment. In fact we probably spend more on in game video and entertainment than the rest of the NBA combined.
If you have a limited budget and the choice is between fun or anything else, choose fun every time.
7. Why I wrote this blog post now –
I decided to update my thoughts on sports marketing after a great experience at the SMU game and being part of this very condensed Businessweek article . The article was a response to 2 blog posts I had written on the topic in 2010 and 2011 and included a counter argument from the owner of the Sacramento Kings. To make up for the article’s brevity, I have included my entire response to the reporter’s questions below
From the reporter:
When i first got t0 the nba in 2000 i felt the same way as vivek does today. we had the first wired arena. Then i learned what our product really is and why people come to games. It hasn’t changed.
Tell him to watch what happens at college games. Tell him to watch a Duke or Pitt basketball game. kids are jumping up and down. They are participating. Look at event driven entertainment like tough mudder. go to a fun wedding. People are looking for reasons to put down their devices. There is no shortage of reasons for people to use their devices. They want reasons to not use them. That is why I’m investing in eventized entertainment like LA Slayride. that’s why attendance is going up.
No question people use their phones and devices at games, but they use them when they are bored. They don’t want more reasons to use them. They want fewer
With all due respect to vivek, the nba isn’t cricket. cricket is boring and there is a ton of down time. The nba doesn’t have a lot of down time. and during that downtime it is our job at the mavs to create entertainment that makes people forget to check their phones. And if you really want to piss off a parent who brought their 10 year old that doesn’t have a phone and the parent doesn’t want them to have a phone, push the use of a phone and make the kid feel like he or she is missing something !
People come to games because they want unique experiences. no one remembers the shooting percentage of their favorite players. They don’t remember jump shots or dunks. They remember who they are with. They remember how they feel.
They also remember the energy in the arena. what makes Sacramento special is that their fans take pride in being loud. They work hard at it. It’s tough to clap when you have a device in your hand. it’s tough to yell when you are talking on your phone. think the seahawks 12th man would be a point of pride if they asked them to tweet rather than blow out each others eardrums ?
Sure fans will always use devices. And yes its smart to remove the friction in any business process, but you have to understand what makes going to an nba game unique. it’s the energy. it’s the participation , it’s being the 6th man and supporting your team. its high fiving or hugging the person. next to you that you dont know, because your team just hit a big shot . Most importantly it’s the look on the face of your child , or your date and the everlasting memories that are created from games. Doesn’t everyone remember their first game with a parent ? Has anyone in the past 5 years ever supplemented their memory of that event with a device mention ?
The mavs use as much if not more tech than anyone. But we use it in creating advanced animations that we premiere on our huge high def screen in the arena and post and promote to kids on youtube and our website. Look at the. mavs website and compare It to any other team. We always look to push the tech envelope where it makes us more valuable to our fans and customers
We use technology to tell people of all ages what they are missing when they are not at a game. Not to remind them that they can do the same stuff at home on their phones while watching the game on tv
fyi. I will probably use this in a blog post.
58 thoughts on “My 2 cents on Sports Marketing and what I learned from SMU Basketball this week”
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Comment by Barbara Friedberg -
Reblogged this on sportsmangement and commented:
I have read several articles on stadium attendance, whether it is the NBA, NFL, College, etc. and what the organizations are doing to have a more fun atmosphere. I believe if an organization puts a good product on the field than the atmosphere will be exciting. If you have a bad product, no one is going to have fun and no one is going to come to the stadium.
Comment by dewitt76 -
Great info !
Comment by Balazs Rau (@jomagam) -
Thanks for the tips for sports marketing.by new yamaha golf carts blog writer club from Tampa.
Comment by Andres Patrick -
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Please Mark, take a look at the New York Islanders… A once proud franchise with a zealous and hardcore fan base that, in better times, sold out every single game. Unfortunately, nearly 30 years of MISMANAGEMENT has resulted in apathy at best and for many of us, anger and frustration at managements ability to screw up such a wonderful thing. I know basketball is your thing but please check out some YouTube of Isles in the early 80’s when they one 4 cups in a row. The fan base was electric. The Brooklyn move is a non-starter. A new owner could work a deal to keep isles in Nassau County as new developers there own the Barclay Center. You could turn this club around. The foundation of young talent is there with Tavares and others…. Please, take a look…. http://ptbinjurylaw.com
Comment by edpalermo13 -
Great insights! Done “correctly”, sporting events can continue to evoke our gut-level, competitive instincts in a positive way like no interactive technology can even approach. (BTW, I just watched Mark on the spiced honey Shark Tank episode – very nice!)
Comment by Bill Brocker -
I’m a bigger guy and one of the most annoying things is the tiny seats and generally how uncomfortable the arena’s typically are. Also, let’s say you get food – where are you going to put the food? I’m fat, so that means, guess what? I’m probably gonna inhale a hot dog, okay, probably two. But that’s okay though, because “I’m covered”.
But at most games you have to sit in uncomfortable tiny chairs made for elves, holding an ice cold beer/soda in one hand while you have a stale hot dog in other attempting to feed your food addiction and mask psychological disorders developed from your childhood. During this process, you basically can’t move, cheer or do anything until the food has been completely consumed. As a result I NOW have a tendency to NOT EAT OR DRINK now when I go to games because I want to be free.
Thinking about it, I would suggest that a big (haha) part of recognizing your audience would be to weigh them. Are they huge? What kind of seats would accommodate them? As a growing portion of Americans are getting fatter, this has a lot of implications for events in general. Fatter people are typically more lazy than their thinner counterparts. It can also be genuinely painful for these large Americans to walk for long distances, let alone up 100 flights of HARD, CONCRETE stairs. Combine this with having to sit on a tiny rock, while you hold an over-priced hot dog in your hand – and is it any wonder why the lazy, fat Americans just decide to stay home?
Whew, that was tiring. I’m gonna go warm up a hot dog and watch tonight’s Thunder game!
Comment by Robert Timsah -
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Really ironic article considering I have been to 6 different NBA arenas in the past year and BY FAR my worst experience was at a Mavs game. Took my brother in law to his first game and he had the opposite experience that you are trying to create. He was super excited for the game, but between having to print mobile tickets at the window (and being charged $10 PER TICKET), awful selection at the Team Store and mediocre food, it wasn’t too long until the inevitable “I’m Bored” came out.
Not exactly how to cater to young fans.
Comment by packerbreakdown -
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Mark what is in your DNA? How are you this force of entrepreneurial nature with instinctive and ambitious skill with your every breath and thought. How does one become the business beast you’ve become?
Comment by Tim Fisher -
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People go to a game for an EXPERIENCE. It also helps for your team and team members to have PERSONALITY. This is what humans want, to connect. Humans connect with other humans through shared experiences and exciting, interesting personalities.
The alternative is to give your fans the same old thing with no human expression and see what happens to your fan base then.
If you have a losing team, at least let the fans see you fighting to your death. Fans can respect that. Fans don’t respect a team that doesn’t care and doesn’t play with “ganas.” Humans respect desire, passion, heart.
Comment by Kevin Woolsey -
This is interesting, I operate Ticket Monster, a secondary ticket marketplace, that sells Mavs tickets among all other events across the country. Some interesting points here. I am also a huge fan of Shark Tank.
Comment by TicketMonster (@TicketMonster_) -
“No one remembers the shooting percentage of their favorite players. They don’t remember jump shots or dunks.” – Mr Cuban do you feel you are taking the sport out of the game? I must admit I don’t know the NBA too well but I am a big soccer fan, and no half time show videos or entertainment will ever match the elation of my team smashing it into the back of the net, and jumping up and down with the stranger next to me.
Comment by Nilan Jethwa (@NilanJ) -
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I bookmarked this post when I saw you first wrote it and just came back to it today. Not disappointed! Great insight from somebody who actually knows.
Comment by alissajean -
Reblogged this on RollerDerbyJesus.com and commented:
The minute you charge admission you are in the entertainment business….everything Mark Cuban says here is applicable to your league and games. And you can let Brown Paper Tickets do a lot of the work for you.
Comment by Jerry Seltzer -
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Love your business wisdom and sales is probably the most important skill you can learn out of college (or even before). The experience factor is exactly correct. It’s the reason why people pay big money for concerts vs. downloaded the song on iTunes. Technology will continue to improve, but actually “connecting” doesn’t.
Comment by Scott Asai -
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Cuban! This is great stuff. You have provided me with ways to help sports promoters think about the kids too!
THIS IS FOR THE MAVS…
Comment by Ellen Kelley -
Great stuff… your mini-Mavs DO need entertainment. I have something for YOU!
Comment by Ellen Kelley -
Hey Cuban, it’s Ellen Kelley! THANK YOU. This blog provided me with great quotes for sports marketing from “the great Mark Cuban”… really. So now, here’s something for you…
Comment by Ellen Kelley -
Many schools offer sales degrees. Come up to Western Michigan University (where I teach) or go down the road to Baylor as we are the #1 and #2 ranked sales programs in the country by one recent ranking. We don’t teach people about selling, we teach them how to sell and then they go achieve amazing things in just about every industry! Your post was sent to me by an alumnae who works for a MLB team. Does community relations now, started in sales.
Comment by Jim Eckert -
Mr. Cuban- I am the coordinator of the sales certificate program at the University of Missouri and I appreciate your passion and appreciation for sales. I was a traveling sales rep before “retiring” to academia and stress always that selling is a noble pursuit that will lead to a world of adventure and fulfillment. The ability to sell has lead me to every success I have had. I still “sell” every day in my classes. While our program is only in its third year, I have former sales students with the San Diego Padres and the Charlotte Hornets to name just a few sports teams. You have an open invitation to visit my classes at any time to convey your take on sales.
Comment by Wayne Keene (@SalesProfKeene) -
Reblogged this on Aardvarksports’s Weblog.
Comment by aardvarksports -
Reblogged this on Colorado 2 California and commented:
Say what you will about Mark Cuban but he absolutely gets it as a businessman/sports marketer.
Comment by blucas85 -
I don’t agree so much with number 6. Mavs Maniacs and every second filled with entertainment/noise gives me tired head. A good tennis match can be filled with just as much excitement and drama as the light/sound overloaded typical NBA game. The SMU presentation is more about the setting and crowd noise than the same old timeout giveaway contests that they have been running all season long.
The turning point for SMU was the UConn first home game where they had the opening of the new arena and demonstrated that they were a tournament contender. As far as NCAA BB goes in the area, there has for a long time been a large pent up demand for a nice setting and a team with a chance to enter postseason.
The same goes for the large pent up demand for big time NCAA football. Look at Ford stadium. Its a nice setting. The two most memorial games in that stadium have been high school playoffs. One involving a fox on the field and the other involving a 4-down game ending goal line stand. These were playoff games where the winners had a chance to win it all. The stadium would fill up for SMU games if NCAA football had a similar type playoff system and SMU had a good enough team to be considered a playoff contender (we are talking 16-32 playoff teams in that scenario).
Comment by ben carver (@druglesfarbanks) -
I think a lot of the discussed value of the smartphone applications has been primarily driven by developers, and not by need or want. If it drives business, that is great, but has the research shown that it does? The fan at the game differs from the fan at home. And both sets probably have differences within it. It has changed the atmosphere at college football as well. Every break in time, students are pulling out smart phones, especially when the arena or field lacks other entertainment.
BTW, I bet the Sport Management department at SMU and athletic administration at SMU, which has several sport management alums, loved your thoughts on sport marketing degrees. If any university has access to a sport marketing/administration department, and isn’t using them, then they don’t understand the best way to use resources. That goes for using the journalism, communications, and marketing departments as well.
Comment by W. Anderson Mack -
I couldn’t agree more, I recently brought my 6-year old son to his first Celtics game, and (partly because the Celts are not so good this year) I don’t think either of us remember a single play from the game. What we’ll never forget is getting a chance to sit in floor seats for the 1st quarter, and being close enough to reach out and high-five the players. I’m not sure which one of us was more awestruck by the experience, but I know he couldn’t stop telling his friends at school the next day how awesome those seats were. I might have told a few folks at work too…..
Great insight Mark, thanks for sharing!!!
Comment by Jim Sampson -
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I, for one, sure am glad I had my mobile device with me when my Saints won the Super Bowl! My mobile device is what I use to capture those special moments with family & friends…it just so happens that it’s also how I share those memories. It isn’t the technology/device that’s the problem…just how some people use it.
I’d also like to talk to you more about #5 and ways I/we can help you showcase the amazing time fans can have at your games. We may also be able to help your advertisers & sponsors find even more value from their Mavs partnerships. Cheers!
Comment by Josef Holloway -
fans font need help using their cameras to take pictures and the mavs are set as well
Comment by markcuban -
Forget hoops, or sports for that matter….this is a priceless marketing piece for any entrepreneur.
I just published a post on my blog explaining why I post so many travel pictures on a blog aimed at online entrepreneurs. Like you said, I am spending on fun. I have spent plenty of money on fun and also time and energy on fun, selling the atmosphere around what I do, and helping to inspire folks based on my dreams and life.
People want a feeling. In sports they want a winner more than anything but if you can make them feel good, win or lose, you will never, ever lack for fans. In business terms you will never lack for customers or clients if you package and sell a fun experience.
Love how they are doing things at SMU. Even though I live all over the world I follow the high school basketball scene in NJ, where many great players ball, and LB and SMU are making serious inroads with a number of All Americans. Why? They are selling LB of course but the experience you speak of at the arena and on the campus.
Mark, thanks man! Helps me to see that I am on the right track.
Comment by Ryan Biddulph (@RyanBiddulph) -
It was great to see you at the SMU game. I know you were rooting for us then, I’ve love to see you there as a fan in the coming home games. Maybe you can make it to the UCF game this Saturday at 3PM.
Comment by Jordan Taylor Mathis -
Mark, great article. Definitely agree with you regarding all the sport marketing jobs. You are right. At the end of the day you better know how to sell: tickets, shirts, concessions, 50/50 draws. These are tangible things that actually drive revenue. All that other stuff you can learn. Thanks for telling it like it is; I wish some of these colleges offering these programs would do the same.
Comment by Craig CHRISTIE -
Mark, since you are went to Indiana University do you think that you could get an Indian SMU match-up at the American Airlines Center?
Comment by dfw175 (@dfw175) -
You didn’t even mention the charity tickets that you provide to High schools that help fill the upper seats with young, energetic fans that seem to dress alike and will most likely become lige long and paying Mavericks fans when they are of income earning age. That, my feiend, is pure genius.
As a season ticket holder (and thanks for the metal plackard we just received) I appreciate the new price point and am using it to bu more seats this coming season as a marketing expense for my company.
I’ve always been a huge Mark Cuban fan and you continue to impress us.
Comment by schaun4 -
Thank you !!
Comment by markcuban -
Reblogged this on Ben Perreira.
Comment by Ben Perreira -
I’m from NYC through out the years it’s clear Mark really cares about the fans experience. I checked out the YouTube marketing link he provided, and I must say I’m hoping to go to Dallas to see a Mavericks game live ASAP. Looks like a lot of fun! Great job!
Comment by rblanco22 -
I get what youre saying about the feeling at the games its electric. But ive never identified with the fans that watch games on tv. Except when the Saints won the Superbowl. That was a once in a lifetime thing I couldnt miss. Otherwise I get bored too quick sitting on the couch.
Comment by hypocrisyrealized -
Reblogged this on Stats in the Wild and commented:
From Mark Cuban: “Everyone majors in sports marketing. There is no more worthless major. “
Comment by statsinthewild -
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