Relationship Marketing and Interactive Fan Festivals: The Women's United Soccer Association's 'Soccer Sensation'

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Sport properties have generally competed against each other for spectator attendance. However, given the increasing overlap with the entertainment industry, sport properties now compete with a much larger number of organizations for consumer interest. Escalating costs associated with attending (e.g. ticket prices, parking, concessions) have limited access to many major league sporting events among average consumers. As a result, sport properties must go beyond traditional advertising and promotion strategies to effectively reach potential consumers, build brand loyalty and strengthen relationships with fans.

Sport marketers cannot rely solely on the quality and stability of the game/competition to engage fans and sustain a position in the marketplace. Building relationships and brand loyalty requires engaging fans through interactive communications and positive experiences that connect the product with the consumer over a long period of time. Unlike most traditional communications, such as television commercials or print advertisements, fan festivals offer a unique way for marketers to fulfil the consumers' intangible need to be an active participant in the sport product/experience. In addition, fan festivals are a platform on which marketers can communicate and reinforce a larger number of brand images and messages. Rather than focussing on short-term sales revenue, the relationship marketing and experiential branding tactics inherent in interactive fan festivals develop the type of long-term associations that sport properties need to maintain and grow levels of fan loyalty. To maximize the value of interactive fan festivals to marketers and consumers, care must be taken to offer quality experiences that address the specific needs and interests of consumers. Therefore, it is important to study the implementation of the concepts that serve as the foundation for interactive fan festivals.

In the early 1990s, professional sport leagues in the United States started a marketing trend with the development of interactive fan festivals. These interactive fan festivals were hosted in conjunction with premier competitions such as all-star or championship games. Each fan festival generally includes various forms of entertainment, food and sport that accommodate fans of all ages. For example, the National Basketball Association's Jam Session offers the following: performances by nationally-known recording artists, game-day type concessions, a three-on-three basketball competition for adult and youth recreational players, and a special kids zone area with toddler-size playground activities. Although most interactive fan festivals are ticketed events, ticket prices are lower than most major league competitions and, once inside, the festival attractions are free. Short-term revenue was not a priority when leagues first created fan festivals. The rationale behind the development of interactive fan festivals was to promote the brand while giving a larger number of fans the opportunity to engage and connect with the sport/event. A secondary reason stemmed from the need of professional leagues to offer an additional piece of inventory when approaching corporate partners.

The Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) concluded its inaugural season with the Founders Cup Championship on August 25, 2001, at Foxboro Stadium (Foxboro, MA). As part of pre-game activities, the WUSA and LeadDog Marketing Group produced an interactive fan festival, Soccer Sensation, to help increase Championship Game ticket sales and to generate excitement for the second season. This case study reveals how the WUSA incorporated relationship marketing, brand management and experiential branding strategies into each element (planning, marketing and execution) within Soccer Sensation to successfully meet its objectives.

Key findings in the study reveal that the interactive fan festival experience provided great value for the WUSA, its sponsors and fans. …