Monday, January 10, 2011

Soccer Marketing 101 - In Praise of Sporting KC

If you're a subscriber or a regular reader of the Kansas City Star you may have noticed a small, column-sized advertisement in the sports section of Sunday's paper. It was wishing the local National Football League's Chiefs good luck in their afternoon match up against the Baltimore Ravens in the first-round of the playoffs. Normally, these sort of well-wishes are very common from local businesses and the like, but the "from" was of particular interest to us.

It was from the Major League Soccer franchise, and fellow KC inhabitant, Sporting KC (formerly Kansas City Wizards). This immediately struck us as genius.

This may or may have not happened before, a soccer club supporting their same-city football side, but it was certainly the first time it popped up on our radar. It struck us as something that was so simple, and yet, so tremendous in the potential positive impact that it could have for the newly re-branded Sporting.

We've talked about it before, but soccer has a bit of a complex when it comes to American football. Many soccer fans, us included, are big fans of the NFL, but when it comes to sizing up MLS and the sport, in general, in the U.S. we know that it comes up far short against the gridiron behemoth. American football is massive, immensely profitable, the center of the sporting universe, and American soccer is, well, not.... yet.

This usually leads to a lot of insecurities and unfair comparisons between football and soccer in America. It doesn't help that most of soccer's fiercest critics come from the media that covers and the fans that follow the NFL. There's a real fear that somehow, somewhere soccer might de-throne the mighty throw-ball, and then, "what will we talk about at the water cooler?!!?!?" these sporting conservatives wonder in their newspaper columns, blog articles, and sports talk radio spots.

That's why it was refreshing to see such camaraderie between Sporting KC and the Chiefs.

Smart ad.
Ties between the Chiefs and KC soccer have been close. When Kansas City arrived as one of the inaugural franchises of MLS in 1996 they were originally owned by Lamar Hunt, who also owned the Chiefs. Hunt was one of the MLS owners that bailed out the league in its darkest days in the late 1990s, purchasing the Columbus Crew and Dallas. In 2006 Hunt, in the year before he passed away, sold his stake in the then-Wizards to a local group OnGoal, committed to keeping the club in Kansas City. During Hunt's ownership tenure the soccer club played its home games at Arrowhead Stadium, and today, for some of the bigger match ups (their exhibition game against Manchester United last summer) still do.

Sporting KC's move to "wish luck" to the Chiefs is a smart marketing move. At the surface-level the club associates itself as a supporter of a successful sports franchise in their local area. The casual fan recognizes the Chiefs, its success this season, and, in the future, may draw a connection between the Chiefs and the next time they see something about Sporting in the news.

Sporting's timing is also crucial. Many would think that trying to make a market impact with a soccer team at the height of the NFL playoffs seems foolish, but by inserting itself into the Chiefs/playoffs conversation it gets (albeit, purchased) column inches it would have never gotten otherwise. It reminds fans (non-fans and potential fans) of their team, their new branding, and gets them (possibly) thinking about the up-coming MLS season.

Also, note the black-and-white thingy on the ad. Smartphone users can take a picture of that and it will send users to the website. The curious reader/smart phone user is now not just reading the ad, but pursuing the Sporting site.

Lastly, it builds goodwill with the American football franchise in town. You local NFL team is a good organization to have on your side. And why not? American soccer and American football are not necessarily enemies. Their playing seasons hardly touch, they are clearly two different sports, but they both have the same goal (no pun intended): to entertain people through sports. You don't think that the Chiefs won't return the favor and well-wish Sporting the next time they're in the playoffs? You bet they will.

Is any of this a guaranteed butt in the seat? Certainly not, but its a start.

MLS marketing budgets are not massive piles of money. They have to be careful allocated to make sure they make the most impact with the most people and the right audiences. Sporting KC's ad buy this past Sunday may have seemed odd, but, hopefully, they will see the payoff of this smart move come March when the club kicks off its next MLS season and in June when it opens the doors on its new stadium.

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  1. Dan - How do you have time to find all of these things and still work a day job???

    Good catch, and excellent analysis. If it doesn't work out, at least Sporting KC made a measured attempt. If it does work, then they're geniouses.

  2. Interesting doublespeak indeed. In the launch statement, Robb Heineman stated that Sporting KC wanted to be different that the other two professional teams in the area, thus no "KC" in the logo mark.

    But yet there's still this jock-sniffing ad and the change of the highlight on the background of the webpage.

    Which is it? Is Sporting KC going to be a leader in the larger regional market or are they going to continue to sniff the jocks of the Chiefs and the Royals and struggle in the city?

  3. @Anonymous...but you read the ad & perused the sporting site, didn't you?

  4. Had already perused the Sporting site prior to this, and only saw the ad on twitter.

    Doesn't change my opinion of it as being bad doublespeak and undermining a shitty rebranding effort.


"Anyone who tells me soccer is boring, I'm going to punch them in the face."
- Former Dallas Burn (aka FC Dallas) coach Dave Dir

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