Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Caps off to Red Sox marketing?

Just got another e-mail from my friends the Red Sox. Today, they want to sell me caps. Thanks, but I already have two.

Whatever else you can say about the Red Sox, they sure know how to market. They sell out all their games (three years and counting, even with the dreadful run they’ve been experiencing lately). After the 2004 World Series, they sold official Fenway sod. They’ve put those terrible Coke bottles on top of the Green Monster. They’ve suckered thousands of fans into signing up for official membership in Red Sox Nation, even though the only benefits appear to be a plastic card and a steady stream of e-mails. I ought to know because I’m one of them – a founding member, no less.

I haven’t given up on this season yet. Last night’s win against the White Sox, courtesy of a 10th inning walk-off homer by a local kid, is keeping hope alive in the Nation. But I’m wondering just how long their marketing will carry them if the team starts to really founder. I’m not just talking the current swoon. And I’m not anticipating a return to the cellar-dweller Red Sox teams I cut my fan teeth on. The Red Sox spend way too much on payroll to have that happen. I’m talking about a couple of middling seasons of no play-off play.

Yes, people will still don their Red Sox caps and head to Fenway. The Yankee games will still sell-out. But however brilliant and persistent their marketing is, it will never make up for a rotten showing in the standings. Just listen to what one Red Sox “fan”, trying to unload some tickets, said in a Boston Globe article on plummeting ticket prices a couple of days ago:

In an offer unimaginable only a month ago, Liz Brownell, 24, of Dedham, was using Craigslist yesterday to pitch a pair of $45 grandstand seats for face value for Sunday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. When the Sox were in first place earlier this season, similar seats fetched $150 each.

``Prices have dropped pretty drastically," Brownell said. ``Who wants to pay through the nose to see a lousy team play with third-string players?"
There’s a Marketing 101 lesson here. And that’s that all the marketing in the world cannot make up for a product that’s overpriced and lousy. In the short run, marketing can create some stir and even help sell product. And certainly, there are plenty of examples of the lesser product winning out due to good marketing. (To dredge up one hoary example: Beta-Max, anyone?)

In baseball, the marketers can sweeten the pot with giveaways – give me that cap, don’t try to sell it to me. But what energizes fans is good quality play and a shot at ‘why not this year?’ Just as surely as what keeps people buying any product or service is always going to be quality and/or value, not marketing hype.

Of course, there’s a Marketing 102 lesson here two. Wouldn’t you think someone trying to sell tickets would come up with better positioning than “who wants to pay through the nose to see a lousy team play”? A real marketer might have pointed out that it’ ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

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