Research Aim & Questions
Focus Group Interviews
Analysis and Findings
Conclusion and Recommendations
The sports market in the U.S. is as competitive as ever, doubling the size of the automobile industry in 2009. It has reached an estimated worth of $213 billion (Smith and Streets 2009), with sports both traditional and non-traditional vying for attention (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). In the middle of that sports market sits rugby. Rugby union is a global game played in many countries across the world. It has reached and inspired millions of sporting fans worldwide via its events like the Rugby World Cup (IRB). The sport is considered an emerging sport in the U.S. and consumer loyalty remains hidden in the small rugby community throughout the country. There appears to be many people that are aware of rugby, however, the sport hasn't made a big enough impact to attract more spectators, or even sponsors. There is a small and loyal rugby community in the United States that appears to be growing, but becomes stagnant in growth post collegiate level. The proliferation of a tier I rugby venue in the USA, built on a foundation of brand loyalty and a growing long term fan base through marketing methods and development, is the driving force behind this study.
Football in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth (soccer in the U.S.) has been a long standing tradition with various versions being played. At Rugby School in England, rules of the game were usually decided on before the match began. Due to this before match confusion, no one is exactly sure how rugby originated, but most will agree that one man, William Webb Ellis usually had a firm disregard of the rules of football. In the year 1823, William Webb Ellis ignored the rules during a football match at Rugby School and as legend has it, he picked up the ball from the ground and started running with it in his arms. This arguably began the rich history that was to become rugby union. This new style of play began to spread ferociously, and soon many small towns throughout England and the United Kingdom began to adopt it as a new sport. Many years later, rugby union grew to be one of the most popular sports in the world, so big in fact, it created its own world cup in 1987 and became officially professional in 1995.
Rugby stepped out of the shadows of a 'shamateur' game and onto the big stage of sporting events (Malcolm D., Sheard, K., White, A. 2000).
Since its introduction to the United States, rugby has been an integral part of the lives of many Americans for more than a century, and more recently, the last decade. With the numbers of rugby participants in America growing, the decision to research the marketing and development of rugby in the USA has appeared to be a top priority for many. Why is rugby in America seeing tremendous growth in players, coaches, and administrators? The general assumption is the rugby community in America would love to see the sport thrive in their home country, or that the product of rugby union is an attractive alternative to other traditional sports like basketball, football, and baseball. Rugby has continued to struggle against the giants of the American sporting world concerning marketing prowess and popularity and market share in the sports market (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). There is hope, and recently it appears there has been a push to grow the game of rugby, embrace the brand of USA rugby and help them perform on a more competitive level while capturing the best athletes at an even younger age. As one of the most popular sports in the world, rugby has yet to make a large impression in America even though it continues to make money and develop elsewhere worldwide. The International Rugby Board's Rugby World Cup earned $90 million in 2003 (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). The potential for growth in the United States is abundant, with even more potential to increase that $90 million.
Rugby first arrived in America, mainly coming from the influence of Americans who had studied at English schools during the mid-nineteenth century. In many parts of the U.S., in the mid to late 1800s, rugby was banned as it proved to be "too dangerous" (Britannica). Shortly after, a former scrum-half at Yale university, decided to take rugby football a new direction in the United States. He assisted in the development of a new code, gridiron football or American football and it became increasingly popular, however, very similar to rugby (Clark, J. 1998, www.waltercamp.org). At the same time, baseball began to take shape and increased in popularity while rugby was trying to cement itself into the culture. Rugby soon became a part of the summer Olympics, and the USA won the gold medal in 1920, and 1924, the last team to win the gold medal before it was dismissed from the Olympics (USA Rugby). Around the rest of the world, rugby flourished, but in the United States it began to dwindle for a few decades suffering in popularity to the rise of the 'big three sports in America; American football, baseball, and basketball. After a few dormant decades, "The United States Rugby Football Union was founded in 1975" to begin it's reemergence as a top sport in America (Clark, J. 1998 & USA Rugby).
Emergence of Non-Traditional Sport
With the growth of new professional sports such as soccer and the X-games, it appears there is room for rugby to also grow and compete for some of the sports market share, although there may be the argument the sports market is over saturated and too competitive (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). It is difficult to gain momentum in the sports marketing arena with so many sports and new interests always appearing, adapting, and developing (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). The use of the entire marketing mix; product, place, price, promotion, is a planned and controllable strategy to increase rugby's attractiveness, and brand awareness. This will ultimately lead to greater success by better marketing management. However, development of rugby won't come from marketing alone. It must be developed through more than just the marketing mix, that is only one method to constructing a worldwide game in a new lucrative market. If rugby is to last long-term in America, it will need more than just product, place, price, and promotion. Loyalty and development in the youth establish a greater long-term growth of rugby in America. Promoting the values and culture of rugby will assist in establishing the loyalty and development. The marketing mix is secondary unless it markets these values; camaraderie, sportsmanship, and humility just to name a few.
Development of rugby in the USA is perplexing. The number of players continues to increase from year to year, the number of supporters have remained stagnant and stadiums empty (USA Rugby). This study will contribute to the dialogue surrounding the proliferation of rugby in determining what attracts the attention of the consumer, how and where to create awareness, and targeting the drivers behind a successful marketing strategy to fill the empty seats of rugby matches around the USA. As said before, to fill the empty seats at rugby stadiums, stadiums will be needed. To get stadiums, money is a factor, and money comes from interest. The development of rugby starts at a younger age, and comes from the differences rugby offers to sports fans.
Does more media coverage to the rugby pitch help? What about building infrastructure in the youth movement? Bringing more top teams from around the world to play in the U.S? What about affects of pricing? All sports use some form of communication to attract participants, media, and interest. How can rugby in the USA grow without compromising the current growth and vitality of other sports markets? As rugby continues to develop in the US sports market, strategies that address consumer awareness and long term marketability appear to be failing. The main obstacle to the proliferation of rugby in the United States is rugby itself. As of now, the rugby market is marketing rugby to the rugby community. Expansion and reach into other markets and sport fans bases is vital for the life and growth of the sport.
Rugby in America is constantly evolving, with new advancements being made every month in youth developments, and media exposure (USA Rugby). Many new platforms have been discovered to expose rugby union in America which have proved beneficial, some of which are live internet streaming and the re-structuring of the collegiate system. Over a long-term period, rugby's greatest challenge will be the development of the game starting from the youth cultivating that development and utilizing the culture of the sport. The model used by the governing body, USA Rugby for High School teams, is one example of an outdated system. More high school age children are playing rugby which signifies the creation of new teams in every state. This becomes too difficult to manage and hold a national tournament as was done in previous years. There is less power and authority given to individual state unions to manage their own clubs. This states two different scenarios. First, it proves rugby is growing, but drifts off after the collegiate level. Two, the current system and model is outdated, and needs re-organizing.
There are advantages rugby currently has in America. There are youth leagues set up across the country run by volunteers, a loyal fan base which is willing to spend money on the national team, and travel to see the national team play. There is pride involved as well with the USA national rugby team. What is needed for rugby to grow and develop as a sport, is for the national team pride to spread beyond the existent fan base. There is also a need to instill the values of rugby in the youth leagues at an early age and to parents involved directly or indirectly, that is currently established. This will require time and money which is found in scarcity. To ensure the growth, strategic marketing plans and promotions are necessary to attract the attention of potential fans, but the long-lasting endurance of the sport depends on the youth, the volunteers who coach them, and parents of those youth who participate. It has become a redundant theme throughout the research. Arguably rugby will survive with sustainability through consumer loyalty. Marketing strategy is in place to assist with the development of that loyalty long-term. That long-term loyalty can be built off of the same pride that drives the national team.
Loyalty and a devotion to rugby, and marketing the game to the non-rugby community will achieve the best results. Any development using new and or traditional sports marketing methods are secondary only to the psychological and emotional aspect of rugby. The background of research for marketing rugby is not a new idea, or practice. For rugby in America, different opinions, ideologies, and methodologies are debated for the growth of the sport in a very powerful, lucrative, and influential sporting market. All research done on the subject of sports marketing has shed some light on a new aspect of how to market and grow the sport of rugby in America. The question is, what aspect of marketing and development will get the best results, and the best growth for rugby in the U.S.? The independent variable for sustainable and reliable growth ultimately lie in the development of the youth. Where does the rest of the sporting market fit? There are more sports fans than just youth waiting to be developed into rugby loving machines. The bystander, the baseball fan, the opera lover. Surely, rugby can market and promote to these demographics.
There are many avenues to take in order to develop a sport in a new market. Guillaume Bodet highlights the marketing successes of the rugby club Stade Français Paris (Bodet, 2009). His successes at Stade Français have an American element of show and marketing. It is just one example, and many teams of different sports and cultures have begun using many of the same tactics as a peripheral short-term method of growth. With peripheral side attractions, SF Paris reached a new record for attendance for a domestic rugby match of 79,741 spectators for the 2006-2007 season (which has since been broken). This was in part to the vision of the team owner Max Guazzini, who had developed and innovated a new marketing strategy. Promotion became the norm to get more spectators in their seats. It soon morphed into a common weapon in Guazzini's arsenal.
Examined closely is how the organization of SF Paris targeted "aesthetic and interactive fans who respectively look for the theatrical and emotional dimensions of the sports debacle." (Bourgeon & Bouchet, 2001). Not only did SF Paris successfully attract big crowds, but also developed strong brand equity. There are a number of references to strategic marketing such as segmentation, targeting, and positioning (Kotler, 2004), and 'questions and concerns which market the club...' (Couvelaere & Richelieu, 2005). SF Paris used a variety of methods in its strategic marketing plan to increase its usual attendance of 12,000 to just under 80,000, several times, in under a year. Determining which segment to market was the first method of marketing SF Paris used in their strategy. This requires clustering a market into homogeneous groups which makes marketing activity relatively easy and accessible. There are a variety of interests, why not put those interests in clusters, and market to them all individually and attract them to the game based on their individual interests? Intriguing idea, take what people love most, even most about sports and lure them into Stade Français with those interests. Naturally it's not possible to jam all interests into one game. Over a season, it may be easier to do so. This attracts people of many interests to rugby, and develops the game based on spectators being at the game because of want.
SF Paris was able to determine in which market their club was competing. These three key markets are composed of the rugby union market, the professional sports market and finally, the broad leisure and entertainment market (Euchner, 1993; Mason, 1999). The intensity of competition in the rugby union market can be determined by looking at different levels of the sport. In France, the main competitors are based largely in the south, and more specifically, the southwest regions of the country. SF Paris along with Racing Metro are based in the Parisian center. This geographic difference spawns a 'cultural rivalry between the capital and its provinces' (Bodet, 2009). The south of France has attached rugby to its 'peasant' values of old, as a sport of villages signifying its territory. Second, in the professional sports market, SF Paris only has one other main competitor, Paris Saint Germain (PSG) a football club. There are other sports to compete with, basketball, handball, volleyball, and ice-hockey all have a professional club. Rugby and football have completely different fan profiles, therefore it is hard to see whether they compete (Bodet, G., 2009). The same question could be posed for soccer fans in the U.S. compared to rugby fans in the U.S., are they different and if so, how?
Lastly, in the entertainment or leisure segmentation, SF Paris can be noted as an alternative choice for entertainment on a Saturday night, rather than the cinema, or theater (Euchner, 1993; Mason, 1999). Bodet, reiterates Kotler et al. how SF Paris used segmentation to highlight the difference between these groups of customers. They were able to derive what segment best fit into their company profile, and the company or team's product.
This poses the question, what do rugby fans in America love most about the sport, and why are they going to the games? What will attract Americans to more rugby? Fans go to sporting events for many different reasons. Cities and states will often use sports to attract more visitors. The city of Indianapolis, Indiana in the United States spent $77.5 million U.S. dollars for the construction of a 65,000-seat stadium in 1984. During the world gymnastics championships, spectators spent $37.2 million during that event (Standeven, J. De Knop, P 1999). It must be noted, sports are a big attraction. Certainly the stadium in Indianapolis was a sight to see, but the gymnastics event alone must not have been the only attraction at the time to gain that much revenue.
The main success of SF Paris lies in passive fans, or 'passersby'. The use of peripheral attractions and the likes of cheerleaders, fireworks, celebrity endorsements, appealed to a different target segment; those who are not regular rugby spectators. Bodet, reminds the readers that these theatrical events are what the French call 'show à l'américain'. This statement shows that the peripheral replications are elements of American culture (Bodet, 2009). Bill Veeck (1962) a pioneer in the sports marketing arena, said that being in the sport industry is the same as being in the entertainment business. Instead of selling a product, you sell the anticipation of what is going to happen and you need to give consumers memories to take away (Summers, J, Johnson, M, McColl-Kennedy, J. 2001). This event alone, could prove very effective marketing for rugby in the USA, using American characteristics to market a 'new', foreign sport in America. Following that division and segmentation, SF Paris began to position themselves in the French sporting market.
In a more recent event during the Aviva Premiership in England, the teams Harlequins and Saracens reached a new record attendance for a premiership match. They had played the match at Twickenham stadium in south west London the home of England Rugby RFC, the national governing body of England Rugby. The stadium is large holding just under 90,000 spectators and the Harlequins vs. Saracens match reached new attendance records by putting on extra peripheral events not only during the event as a side product for spectators, but also to promote the event. These tactics are shown to be working in countries where rugby has been established for decades and have an already established rugby following. It must be fair to state that this would only attract at best 'short-term' fans, who may only go to the game based on the extra peripheral events. This could eventually stunt the growth of rugby long-term and create a headache for event planners. Having to constantly create peripheral events to attract new consumers detracts from the game itself. Without an established rugby base, this would only attract 'concert' fans, not necessarily sports fans or potential rugby fans. These side attractions would at best sustain growth of rugby for the short-term. Arguably, it would damage the sports reputation, values, and culture. According to Standeven and De Knop those on holiday sometimes attend specific or traditional sports of the country they visit, and become casual spectators. Baseball in the U.S., hurling in Ireland, cricket in Pakistan (Standeven, J. De Knop 1999). The development of rugby in America won't be able to depend on casual travelers as rugby is not native to the country. The use of 'Show a l'Americain' can produce an interest for new potential fans, but can arguably damage fans' concentration and love of the game itself.
SF Paris was successful using tactics that provided peripheral events to attract more potential fans apart from the devoted 10,000 to 12,000 who repeatedly showed up for rugby matches. Some may agree that these methods could prove useful to USA Rugby. The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL (National Hockey League) use theatrical performances often to promote the sport, and the match. Because of these theatrical displays, there are more spectators in once empty seats. What was it that enticed more people to go to a stadium rather than a night out on the town, as stated earlier? Bodet argues in SF Paris's case, that the number of attendance increased because of such theatrical events at the matches. What kept the audience coming back match after match? There is a failure to acknowledge the reason for which the spectators came back to watch the rugby match. It could be noted that the theatrical and peripheral events had stopped, thus the crowd that depended on those events had nothing to attract them. Simply a lack of focus on marketing the strengths to the game of rugby was an issue, and fans only wanted to come when peripheral events were presented. Were the 70,000+ fans attending the match for their love of rugby? During the mid-1990's the NBA in the U.S. used the slogan 'I love this game.' This centered the attention on the sport rather than the peripheral attractions that were performed at the game. The slogan of the NBA this year? 'Where magic happens', enticing young followers to join the magic of basketball, not the concerts performed at halftime (NBA.com). Rugby will develop a much stronger tie to its followers with a focus of marketing why rugby is great and a strong conceptual message. Was rugby once the product of entertainment which had been replaced by celebrity endorsements, and musical concerts? This brings to question, is rugby the main product, or is it simply a byproduct of the pre, half, and post game events? Sure these peripheral events add to the game, however, it must be taken seriously that they don't add to the growth of the game independently.
According to Bodet, the peripheral events would attract a larger crowd for a rugby match. For rugby to grow in the U.S. without decades of an established rugby fan base or rugby history, it will take a marketing strategy involving the whole of the marketing mix, and challenge the status quo of sports in America with an improved concept, i.e. use what is different in rugby to distinguish itself from other sports. What makes rugby different?
The peripheral events should be dependent on rugby, not the other way.
The marketing mix includes product, place, price, and promotion. Sports attract part-time fans based on this mix. Some examples may include strategic stadium usage; i.e. where it is located geographically. There are stadiums across the U.S big enough for a large rugby match, however, is there a cultural conflict between regions in the U.S.? Sporting venues and stadiums from other sports include that of the MLS (Major League Soccer), NFL (National Football League), and MLB (Major League Baseball). SF Paris used the stadium Stade Français in Paris due to its large size, accessibility by train and local shops nearby. There are also nostalgic events that have taken place from previous football matches, French national rugby matches, and concerts.
- There are constant musical concerts and events that happen at sporting stadia throughout the U.S. without a match being played. Therefore, psychological backgrounds for stadium placement is also accounted for with thinking of past experiences at a particular stadium, like previous concerts, ease of accessibility, and other aspects for potential fans to relate with (Bodet, G., 2009).
Furthermore, the focus on rugby as the core product used is vital. However, the implementation of peripheral elements such as theatrical attractions have been discovered in other American sports e.g. fireworks, cheerleading, mini-concerts, and celebrity endorsements and have proved to be non-detrimental (Bodet, 2009). The main product for which people attend a match is obviously the most important, but there are often times many empty seats in a stadium, equaling lost profits, and lost sponsorship revenue. This signifies stagnant or no growth of the sport (Bodet, G., 2009). Many American athletic teams from the High School level to the professional level, use some sort of theatrical event for promotion. Moreover, merchandise and USA Rugby paraphernalia could be seen to increase the use of emotional and psychological appeal to increase brand loyalty and revenue.
Prices of tickets have an affect on marketing to the target audience SF Paris wanted. Lowering the prices to as much as €5 per match helped increase the number of attendees for SF Paris (Bodet, 2009) and helped attract new spectators, usually not interested in rugby. The low price would induce a 'trial' for the new spectators, as defined in the cost- benefit ratio the value the product offers (Zeithaml, 1988). This would entice families or potential fans on a strict budget to attend more frequently (Bodet, G., 2009). Lowering the ticket cost to rugby matches across America would also entice new potential fans looking for a 'trial' in rugby, as they are not entirely familiar with the rules, culture, or values associated to the game.
Lastly, there are various different ways to promote such events and matches for USA Rugby. The evolution of digital and social media, traditional media, mobile marketing, celebrity endorsements, and sales promotions. Moreover, SF Paris used different branding methods to attract new spectators, and promote itself, which was a re-design of their uniforms, in particular, their jersey's. By switching to a pink color, and later using the pink lilly as a symbol, they attracted a larger feminine base, and some say even the gay community who were seen as 'trendy'. This new style change also represented what Paris was, not the typical more conservative teams in the south of France, it was 'Parisian' and stylish. This promotion of a new logo, design and culture further differentiated SF Paris from the other clubs in France. Furthermore, the advertising of SF Paris took a different path than the usual rugby advertising. Their advertisements were designed to have more in common with American blockbuster posters (Bodet, G., 2009).
SF Paris had begun to differentiate themselves from other teams, not only in France, but in England as well. SF Paris believed rugby to be an elastic product and would grow significantly as a result of a different, yet relevant marketing strategy. As USA Rugby struggles to fill its stadiums, maybe it's time to change its marketing strategy. Why not target different segments such as women, children, a different wealth class, and ethnic minorities? Why not play to rugby's strengths compared to the typical American sport. Going forward, USA Rugby would continue to attract more spectators to its games further inching closer to a tier one sport by implementing a strategy similar to SF Paris as a side attraction. To become a tier I sport and develop long-term, there will be a need to follow more closely to what the NBA has done to build a long-term loyal fan base. Start by defining the game as it is, and distinguish the sport from others.
To compliment this idea, Wrenn J. from CNN, expresses his views of the peripheral aspect of the American sporting market. Americans are seen as sports lovers, but Wrenn points out how they lack the same amount of passion as their European counterparts. What is interesting here, is that Wrenn mentions that even during a loss, the fans are smiling and happy in defeat in American sports. The fans show up late, and leave early and in times of big, important games, they are more worried about the processed cheese on their nachos, beer, and the bathrooms than they are the game. In one particular example, Wrenn paints a picture at an NBA game with the Atlanta Hawks. During an important game, the playoffs, if you lose you're done, and the Hawks hadn't been this successful in years. The game was sold out, but there were gobs of empty seats. Where were the fans? Attending to their appetites and drinking beer, not worried as much about the game. To Americans, notes Wrenn, J., the sport isn't the most important thing. It's the whole attraction. There are cheerleaders generating noise, 'kiss cameras' on the jumbo screens, corporate sponsored mascot races, and too many stops in the game. These side attractions in no doubt, dilute the core product, reducing fan passion. This is in line with Bodet and adding 'show a l'Americain'. It is, or rather, can be a direct contradiction and hinderance to the development of the game of rugby.
In Europe, soccer fans are almost considered religious when it comes to their team or sport. They are more into the core product of the team and game and not worried as much about the side attractions. The game is an anti-social experience, whereas in America, it's about socializing and enjoyment on a different level. The side attractions are there to attract more people to the games, as did SF Paris, and most American sports. However, is too much of this debacle diluting the real reason for sport? The author of this article states: "Being a fan means experiencing extreme emotions from heart-pounding ecstasy to utter despair" (Wrenn, N. 2011). The problem with Wrenn's writing could be the lack of data collected from a wide audience. Although, it may hold true that American sports fans aren't as passionate about their sports as their European counterparts, and that side attractions may be taking away from the the game, this article is opinion based and experienced through the author's own eyes. "America... is a land of choice, and sports fans are spoiled. And the American sporting mentality, although extremely competitive, has generated a calmer perspective for spectators" (Wrenn, N. 2011). Is 'show a l'Americain' really the best way to attract fans for long-term growth in the United States? Redundant as it has been, development of rugby in the U.S. will need to be built on a more solid foundation and not it's peripheral side attractions, although needed for attraction, but not for development.
Part of the growth and development will stem from consumer behavior. Garland and McPherson reflect on the attendance and behavioral segmentation of sporting events, and that of rugby in particular. They conducted their research at 4 rugby games in New Zealand. During these rugby matches and at the end of the research they were able to divide and classify fans into 3 different segments; 'theater-goers', 'fair-weather fans' and 'aficionados' or 'die-hard' fans. Garland and McPherson articulate and reiterate the findings of Tomlinson et al. (1995) how particular research demonstrated spectators at sports events are not homogeneous and have significant differences statistically between regular spectators and less regular spectators. That is to say, sport fans come from a large background and targeting segment. For example, less frequent spectators value more than any other spectator, a party like atmosphere throughout the stadium, i.e. the peripheral aspects talked about in 'Give me a stadium and I will fill it' (Bodet, 2006). Food, beverages, opportunities to socialize, and before, during and after the event entertainment are also important for the less frequent spectator according to this particular article. However, for the more avid fan, or 'die-hard', the live sport action on the pitch was much more relevant. These findings show that factors relating to the team or athletic performance, are beyond the management's control, and peripheral attractions brought in, attract more fans, which ultimately lies in the hands of management.
Garland and McPherson conducted a quantitative research to support their study, and controllable factors include: General atmosphere, food and beverage availability, and quality of the stadium. Uncontrollable factors include: Game live on television, star players and team quality, parking availability, and weather. The method used by the authors and researchers was a two-stage survey research process done by Pol and Pak (1993).
During the research, noted even at a basic level of analysis, the greater proportion of a rugby crowd are seen as 'walk-up' or 'theater-going'. Women were outnumbered my men nearly three to one. The aficionado crowd, or 'die-hards' tend to be older, lower-medium income fans with a low participation in rugby administration. The study also finds that 'fair-weather' fans are young under the age of 51 and from wealthier backgrounds and households. This crowd is generally more active in the rugby community, whether that include playing rugby, or active in rugby administration. Essentially, side attractions will get non-loyal fans to the stadium.
Overall the findings of Garland and McPherson support the Bodet article of 'Give me a stadium and I will fill it' in the sense that there are several factors for which a marketing department for a team or sport have control. These are the peripheral aspects of the game, attracting 'fair-weather' fans and 'theater-goers'. There is also the possibility to attract more women and children to a sport or game according to the findings of the authors. The regular spectators will always attend the matches, as rugby is the product for them, and to fill the empty seats, the marketing team will have to control the rest. Whether controlling the 'rest' is adding peripheral events to the game or distinguishing rugby from other sports using its strengths and core values is yet to be determined. It should be noted that this study also took place in New Zealand, a rugby 'hotbed'. Again, this is a country that has an established rugby fan base and a large following. It may be necessary to add peripheral events as the loyalty to the game of rugby has already been established. In the United States, the results may be different.
Furthermore, "Catering for fan enjoyment of standard services such as seating, cleanliness, food and beverages, toilets, etc. at the venue is of particular importance" (Garland, R., McPherson, T., Haughey, K., 2004). These appear to be such minor issues, and would be important at any sporting event, but not enough to attract large crowds and sustain them through out the season. Think of the marketing strategy: "Come to the match Waikato vs. Canterbury, we have the cleanest toilets than any other stadium." Not exactly the most intriguing peripheral side attraction to reach more fans. Not the best marketing strategy for long-term growth. According to "Sports Business Daily" sports in the United States have dramatic differences in their statistics and demographics, and there appear to be more professional sports in the U.S. What works in one culture may not always be the right model in every culture. That is to say, what happens in the New Zealand sporting demographic with rugby, might not necessarily be true in the U.S. sporting market. Tastes and personalities are different, which will lead to different outcomes. This proves to be the challenge with marketing rugby in a new market.
The sports market is increasingly competitive and retaining spectators is almost as hard to do as attracting new ones. Authors Irving Rein, Philip Kotler, and Ben Shields show through their extensive research how to reach and maintain more spectators in an increasingly competitive sports market. With the emergence of new sports and the overflowing resources other sports may have, it's a challenge to thrive or remain thriving as a sport or team. Marketing sports wasn't born yesterday, in fact, it has been around for generations, and in the past it has been able to reach audiences by the masses through traditional forms of communication. However, today, sports fans have never had as many options, opportunities, places, and events to either spend their money and time, or to participate in as they do today (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). USA Rugby has a tall order in the marketing line out, competing against not only a myriad of other athletic events, but also other forms of entertainment. That is why it is so vital to compete at a competitive level of marketing. Different methods and strategies will make your brand stand out, getting more exposure is needed to differentiate. What is needed is disruption. Rugby has the potential to stand out with the differences the sport offers compared to the typical American sport. There is a need to stand out, and to get fans' attention and entice them to attend sporting events and buy tickets and merchandise and there will be a need to do so with intensity (Rein, Kotler, Shields 2006). The more intense the marketing scheme, however, one could argue that the rest of the market could get overwhelming in competition for their sport to be seen. Free market capitalists need not worry, the need for competition drives better marketing campaigns thus producing greater creative and driving traffic to your sport. Simply look at the side of the consumer and sports fanatic. Believably so, sports fans want to see the sport they love. Why not be the strong, subtle voice that differentiates itself using more than a stadium full of bells and whistles? Marketing rugby in the United States can be more than just shouting from the rooftops. It can be stronger youth leagues, new technologies, guerrilla marketing, and charitable acts done by rugby teams and players.
Despite the amount of money and resources that have been spent to entice fans and consumers, an advantage for profits and market share remain a struggle. Consider football (soccer) in the U.S. or Major League Soccer (MLS). It has tried to establish itself as a major professional sport in the United States, rapidly building soccer specific stadiums in order to cover operating costs, branding facilities, and hopefully survive the marketplace (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). Marketing must start from the early adopters and the innovators on the product life cycle. Those are the fans that get most excited about the sport or product, thus creating a dialogue to the rest of the 90% in the market. This starts a word of mouth craze. Once this platform is set, than come the bells and whistles. Soccer in the United States has the youth league, but did they advertise to the 1-10% of sports fans on the product life cycle? Soccer was able to grow from youth leagues and youth developing into their teen years having known, played, loved, and understood the game. Soccer expands when the soccer playing youth, now adults, introduce the game to their offspring and share their trusted love of the game through word of mouth advertising to non-soccer peers.
To stay competitive, cover costs, and remain intense in the marketplace, developing and implementing a winning strategy is a critical concern. Fans become more intense and harder to reach, attract, and retain. Combatting this uphill battle, a team or sport like USA Rugby will need to rely on transformation and branding, emphasizing marketplace analysis, integrating state-of-the-art communication strategies, and undergoing a change with a focus on connecting with the fan on a psychological, and emotional level (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). 'The Elusive Fan' recommends allocating a team's resources more effectively. Many times the resources used go to waste. "The conventional strategies are in many cases outdated and inefficient. Money is spent in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons. Fans also shift their allegiances more easily and change their preferences" (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). In a new time, today, the fan is ever more elusive, therefore, with so many options, often the decision to connect, disconnect, or reconnect a fan is overlooked. This re-emphasizes the need to build better strategies than the competition.
A precise targeted message can make a team that much more noticeable to such elusive fans. What re-emerging sports have done in the past to become successful again was the capitalization on the proliferation of distribution channels. This has grown their fan bases and have collided with more traditional sports as well as other emerging sports. Going forward, USA Rugby has a chance to open up new channels of distribution and communication that have yet to be tapped, or haven't been used frequently. The Elusive Fan touches on a variety of sports marketing subjects, however, it stresses that the right strategy, built upon a strong platform of objectives can make a team or sport standout.
A conflict has developed with the commercialization of sports. On one hand, sports perform as a multi-billion dollar business where the sport is a product and the consumer is the fan. On the other hand, sports are games that can many times be considered and associated with the "innocence of youth and the spirit of competition and the integrity of the game" (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). The sport here is the product, whether it be innocent and competitive or as a corporate product. If a team is able to sell itself through various channels of communication and a strong message, it will bring in fans. Essentially, rugby will be able to sell itself once there are spectators in the seats. Get people to the stadium, and once they see a game, they'll be hooked, like the NBA's "Where Magic Happens."
-There are other products attached to the core product of the sport other than peripheral attractions. These include what Rein, Kotler, & Shields call the sixth sector, or team merchandise, sports equipment, and athletic gear. The sixth sector becomes even more and more ferocious in competition what is at stake remains large. This side product or merchandise is competitive but it may also create brand loyalty and increase revenue.
Stadiums are obviously a tremendous asset. If a team or sport has a place to call home, it could attract a large audience, and not have to deal with a fickle reputation or the headache of scheduling a place to compete. There is the problem with rugby in the U.S. Being a large country, where would you get the most exposure for the USA national team? Not just in one city. There would be a need to have a handful of 'home' stadiums for a national team to further gain exposure around the country. This could be a logistical nightmare, and very costly, but also causing confusion among fans as to where they would need to travel next to see their team play. Not all sports are expensive, but for the average fan, prices of tickets, travel, and merchandise all add up, and are increasingly becoming a barrier to entry (Rein, Kotler, Shields, 2006). A strategy for a re-emerging or emerging sport like rugby could be to keep fan travel short, and ticket prices low. This will ultimately increase the level of participation. As The Elusive Fan has stated, the use of different channels of distribution and communication are vital. This opens up new 'niche' markets and enables more eyes to see the product.
What the authors failed to mention is the impact of the digital realm of marketing. The best examples arguably rest with live streaming of games on the web, and social media. Live streaming of games on the internet give further exposure to the sport of rugby to fans who didn't have access prior to the game on T.V. There is a form of promotion that poses as a lucrative position.
- Quote paper
- Matt Wunderli (Author), 2012, Marketing Rugby to a Tier. Sport in the USA and Marketing, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/195027