This week we have a very exciting guest on the show, Andy Tretiak, CMO of Sporting Club and Vice President of Sporting Innovations. He joined the show to talk about the marketing efforts for both businesses. Over the past 6 months we have had numerous guests point to Sporting KC as a major influencer, so on this show you will hear firsthand about these efforts and more. Andy gets into how their focus is on building the best experience for their audience and using data to drive their understanding of these experiences. We also discuss how the creation of Sporting Innovations came about and how they now offer solutions to other sports teams to leverage the platforms they have already built. This show is for every marketer who is looking to build an audience through amazing experiences.
I asked Andy in the threes to give us three suggestions for building an audience for both B2B and B2C marketers, here is his list:
- Establish yourself as unique and exciting – your audience should think of you as one-of-a-kind and the only place to get this experience.
- Use social media for engagement – rather than selling via social media, their team has focused on their social media strategy on engaging their fans with content.
- Use data to learn and grow relationships with your audience – by having lots of connected data, you can help grow your relationship with a member of your audience by knowing more about them and how they have interacted with you in the past.
Andy Tretiak is the chief marketing officer at Sporting Club and then also the vice president of marketing at Sporting Innovations. Andy Tretiak, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in marketing?
I had aspirations to be a creative person. I felt like I was pretty good. As I got into the workforce and started working with clients and realizing how talented a lot of my peers were, I slowly realized this probably wasn't my future. When I was at a small agency, I started to do a lot of different things. We were basically a full service agency.
As I started to work with some of those different clients, I really felt like account management and the marketing strategy piece of it was something that was attractive to me and really felt natural. I decided to pursue that and still have the ability to work with creative people, but I didn't necessarily have the tools physically to be able to do that and ended up going to a larger agency, Barkley.
At the time I felt like I wanted to work on bigger clients and spent about three years there. A couple guys at Barkley spun off as sports marketing in agency called Three Wide, and went to work for them for about seven or eight years. We had maintained a relation with Barkley. Barkley bought us, so got brought back into Barkley; wasn't real crazy about coming back in to advertising.
What I wanted to do was apply the skills and my trade in marketing towards the subject matter I really liked. Some of the clients that we had when I was working out of Barkley weren't as exciting as obviously working in sports. When I got pulled back in I wasn't initially as crazy about it, but they say everything happens for a reason.
At the time, the Wizards started to work with Barkley on a database project. I wasn't really involved at that point. We had a CRM department that was working on it. As we started to work with them a little more closely, we started to understand more about what they were doing with the idea about re-branding and obviously opening a sporting park and some of the changes they were making.
They wanted to have some additional resources from Barkley, so I started to work with them because I had a sports marketing background. One thing led to another and they offered me a chance to come over. I jumped at it. I wasn't a huge soccer guy, to be honest. I had the chance to build a marketing department from scratch and re-brand a sports team, which you don't get to do very often and then open a stadium, and got to do it all in one year, and so jumped at the opportunity. Five years later, it's been a remarkable run.
It was a perfect storm in that we really started to build momentum. The team started winning. Our focus on millennials really started to pay off. This groundswell of all these things coming together really helped elevate the brand. Next thing you know, we're selling out all our games and we're competing for championships. It's been a lot of fun.
He owned several teams within major league soccer and eventually decided that he wanted to reduce the number of teams that he owned; in 2006 sold to the group that was referred to then as OnGoal, which featured five families in Kansas City. Cliff Illig, Neal Paterson, Greg Maday, Pat Curran, and Robb Heineman who's also the CEO of Sporting Kansas City purchased the team and felt the future of the team was going to be around building a new stadium, needed a permanent home.
The team had been nomads ever since the inception. They played at Arrowhead. That was tough because they would get decent crowds, 10 to 15,000, sometimes 20 when David Beckham would come. It would look empty in an 80,000 seat stadium.
As they were working through the stadium deal, decided to go to Community America, which was the opposite of Arrowhead in that it was more intimate. You could have eight or 9,000 people there and it would look full, but the sidelines weren't good. Certainly there was a minor league aspect to playing in that stadium. The light at the end of the tunnel was always the building of Sporting Park. We originally probably were one of the most underperforming teams in the country in any professional sport, certainly within the league.
My favorite stat is in 2010 we ranked 19th in total merchandise sales. That was behind two teams that hadn't started playing yet, two expansion teams that were starting in 2011 and then generic MLS polos and balls and that kind of stuff. Now we rank second.
It's been a remarkable turnaround, but we clearly were as low as you could possibly go back then, didn't have a lot of affinity for the brand. It wasn't a great brand to begin with. Soccer really hadn't taken off in Kansas City yet either. Now we're considered one of the model franchises, which is pretty amazing to think how far we've come in five years.
I know myself; I own 50 pieces of apparel. I helped …
We all like the old Ivan Lendl look. That was something that kept coming back to us as we were working on those jersey designs for the third. We felt like argyle could be something that could be synonymous with our brand. It's been great to see how well received it's been. We hope we can continue to use it down the road.
I have a team of two full time designers, a third person that splits between Sporting Innovations and Sporting Kansas City and then I have a director of marketing that works for me. At the same time with Sporting Innovations, I oversee all the marketing and PR for that entity in addition to working on a lot of the product development stuff.
As we're developing new pieces of software and technology that sports teams can use, not only am I involved in helping craft what those will be, I also get to try them out first. We look at Sporting Park as a living lab for Sporting Innovations. The clients really like that. We've tried it. We've gotten feedback from fans before we've tested it in our sports environment. They see the benefits of that.
It's an advantage to us because a lot of entities in that space don't necessarily have involvement in an actual sports team. We consider ourselves sports guys. We're able to provide that insight that only people that work in an industry could offer. That feedback, I think, is even more valuable.
As far as concerts, we don't do a ton of those at Sporting Park. We try to do maybe two or three a year when we can. There's not a lot of avails with how long MLS season is. The change out to convert the stadium from soccer to concert is not easy.
I think that's probably been the most challenging though. It's not a space that we're real familiar with. We're learning on the fly when it comes to concerts. We've tried some things that haven't maybe worked out as well as we thought. We're hopefully going to continue to grow that as well.
How many initiatives do you guys have going on at one time when it comes to marketing the team?
We felt like, from the beginning, we really needed to focus in on getting people to the stadium, understanding what the experience would be like, and really getting the idea around what soccer in Kansas City could be, and how they can take ownership in it which really probably was the most important part. You talk about things that we do that maybe the Chiefs or Royals don’t do. We couldn't market ourselves and create the same experience that they do.
They're entrenched franchises. They're very traditional in the way they do things and have had a lot of success. Certainly, recently when you look at the Royals renaissance and you see the city coming alive, that it's been a long time coming. I'm a diehard Royals fan, so I was right there with them.
There are benefits to the way they do things and benefits to the way we do things. We had to really look at ways that we could differentiate. If we just marketed ourselves the same way they did, we wouldn't stand out specifically when we're trying to focus on millennials, which is hands down our target.
We really wanted to hone in on some things that we felt would resonate with that audience. We had to flip the model essentially a little bit. From that standpoint we spent a lot of time on how we market especially around the creative product. We really want it to be edgy, focused on millennials. We make no bones about the fact that that's our target.
We feel we've got an opportunity to draft a little younger and a little older, but that 18 to 34 sweet spot is what we're looking for. Then around the experience, something we've spent a considerable amount of time on even from ownership down to think about how do we make that experience at Sporting Park unparalleled when it comes to professional sports.
From technology to the way that we've engaged our supporters and really all of our fans and make them feel like they've got some ownership in what we do. We feel that's been successful. We really want to be open with our fans on how we communicate and how they can help enhance what we're doing there specifically around the environment, but also just in how we build the brand. We want them to feel they've got a voice in what we're doing.
A lot of things that we've received in terms of feedback, we've implemented. Some have worked some haven't. We don't certainly use everything that comes across. There's some wild ideas that come out there. For the most part, that's been a big key for us. I would say if there's one thing I would really identify it's the growth of the Cauldron.
I think they had three or 400 people back in the Community America ball park days. Now they've got several thousand. They've got a waiting list in that section which is amazing. They truly set the tone for the home field environment that we've got now. The closest thing I can equate it to is a good college basketball environment.
They set the tone. They're going crazy from the minute we open the doors and they can go get in their seats to even after the game in the Boulevard Members' Club when they've got the drums going after a win. That's amazing to see. I think that growth is a really microcosm of the success that we've had.
I think there was maybe some thought of they want to have their own voice maybe in a different way, but they work really closely together. The back and forth was awesome. We hope to see more of that.
Now we don't really even look at it that way. We've got this huge rabid following in the south stand as well that's great. It doesn't matter which end we're going towards now when we're attacking. Either way we feel like we're in good shape.
One of the things that was born out of that was a lot of clubs and leagues wanting to come to Sporting Park and seeing it firsthand. As that started to manifest itself, we started dawn on us that maybe there's a business there. A few years ago we spun off Sporting Innovations, which essentially is a software company designed to create sports solutions for teams, and leagues, and venues.
It's all about transforming the way that those entities within sports use technology to increase their relationships with fans and certainly drive revenues as well. From our standpoint, the biggest issue that sports teams or venues, or leagues have is attendance right now. They're fighting the battle of the seat versus the couch. The couch is frankly winning right now.
You look at leagues like the NFL, which couldn't be healthier or more healthy financially, but they don’t necessarily sell out all their games anymore. It's an expensive ticket. People want to be at home, watch their 70-inch HDTVs; have their second screen on their lap following the fantasy stats and all those things. If you don't have that connectivity in stadium, then you miss out on that. I think what's impacting that now especially the younger generation is they feel like it's more important to be connected and to be able to participate in the experience. They would rather stay home so that ensures that they can do that.
We want to try to create a new model where they can still do that when they're venue, but they still have the ability to be at a live event, which you can never replicate at home. From that standpoint, that's more of a hardware issue. Then there's the data side, which is probably the most important thing. There's so many systems out there that are providing data to you based on you as a customer or as a fan.
When you come into the venue or you interact with our brand, whether you buy a ticket, go to the merch stand, go to concession stands, post on Twitter or Facebook, or Instagram, or what have you. The idea is we want to create all that data and bring it in to one central resource. When I see you as a fan, I have all that data at my disposal now. The idea being that we can now microsegment and learn more about our fans to create customized experiences for them. In the end, that helps us be more efficient in how we market ourselves and certainly how we sell.
As we're able to create customized experiences, you feel, when you come in the stadium, that experience is different for you. That hopefully generates more affinity and makes you feel like, "I'm more comfortable coming back to the venue now. I’m not missing out on anything. In fact, it's a better experience now than it would be at home."
We use technology in a variety of different ways from interacting with fans through the mobile app that we developed, Euphoria, that really is different than your typical mobile app. We look at it as a mobile companion where it's got information about the game. You're not missing anything. In addition to that we're providing offers from partners and offers from the club that are allowing you to have privileges that you typically wouldn't have anywhere else.
We're able to now take that information, through Dimension, which is a suite of business tools that we've created, with a CRM backbone that allows us to be more efficient in how we market ourselves; I think even more so on the sales side. We're using that as our primary tool now for our sales reps to help manage the process of working with clients and identifying opportunities to sell tickets to certain segments based on demographics, or price, or whatever it may be. It's more of a sniper type of model. Whereas we drop bombs, particularly in marketing where you run television spots, or radio ads, or print ads, or outdoor, even interactive now or digital.
For us, we'd rather try to find 200 people just like you and create a message that's specifically tailored to you with an offer that we feel like you're going to be receptive to through a method of delivery and timing that we feel is going to be most advantageous to you to get a sale and then only send that to you in that way. It becomes more efficient and certainly it gives us an opportunity to learn more. That data becomes very powerful. It's all out there right now. The trick is getting it all into one central location.
This Fan 360 platform that we've developed at Sporting Innovations is allowing us to do that. It's been real receptive or very well received, I should say, among clients and resulting in a lot of prospects as well. We think that business is really going to take off.
A lot of teams probably have looked at it as a one way street where you buy ticket, you come in, you support the team. There's revenue associated with that. There's certainly affinity for the brand. A lot of that comes down to wins or losses. There's a certain loyalty that's part of everything especially when you're look at colleges.
That can wane if you have extended periods of losing or have a bad experience there. The way we look at it, both on SI side and Sporting Kansas City is the experience is something we can always control. We can't always control win or losing or wins or losing. We feel we can always control you having a good time or having a great experience when you come to the games. I think that's really the moral of the story there, both for us and the clients we work with.
For the threes, I want to talk about this audience building aspect. What are three successful events, campaigns, models that you guys have used to build your audience that would help both B2B and B2C marketers?
Do you want to go take your kids to a movie, or do you want to come take your kids to Sporting Park for a game? The way that we market ourselves and communicate, we want people to think that nobody else could do that. In a non-traditional sense, that really comes into play in the way that we interact with fans.
Perfect example, we did a program down in Lawrence, Kansas, when we first started out where we did a pop up training session down at KU primarily because we knew we were getting a lot of fans from KU. College students were right in our wheelhouse in terms of the sweet spot.
We brought the whole team down for training. That was a surprise. We'd started teasing it on social media the night before that we were going back to school and players were excited about that for a couple reasons. Came down and that morning we announced that we were doing a pop up training session. It was a late April day, but ended up being one of the hottest April days they've ever had. It was probably in the low 90s.
Several thousand people came out to watch. The kids were sitting on the roofs of their houses watching practice. Practice is not always the most exciting thing. We had scrimmage towards the end of it. The fans really got into it. Then we had a meet and greet with fans after the game at Johnny's down there. Boulevard brought in beer. All they players were there. They were signing autographs.
It wasn't so much about interacting with the fans there even though it was a great thing. It was more of communicating the message that we were going to do things differently. That really became a microcosm of it in the way that we market ourselves and brand ourselves. I think the creative voice has been important as well.
We really hone in on local as being a big tenant of our brand even down to what we've done with marketing campaign this year with made in Kansas City, highlighting the fact that we've got four players that have really grown up in Kansas City as players. Now they've become stars, but also, celebrating the cultural aspects of Kansas City. We even had Radkey, a local band featured in the spots. We used their music. That feeds into the cultural side as well. Celebrating all things Kansas City is important to us. That would be the first one.
Second one is the way that we use social media. We're very careful about how we use it. It's all about engagement for us. We don't use it to sell. We don’t do a lot of partner activation through social media. It's more to drive traffic to let's say an appearance by Graham Zusi at a Sprint store. You won't see ticket offers coming from us. We want to be very genuine, very engaging, and interactive with our fans.
It's really helped us grow followers. It's been tempting. As those followers are grown, a lot of brands want to tap into that base, especially when it has a huge millennial flavor to it. For us, it's important that we use that as a mechanism to engage to the point now where during the MLS draft, our owner, Robb Heineman will tweet out our picks before they're on TV. You'll get a lot of insight from players and a lot of ways that they interact. For us, it's been a huge, huge opportunity for us to grow that fan base and really show how Sporting Kansas City's different. I think social media's a big aspect of it.
The last one is the data. I think we're very focused in on how we can take that data and analyze it and serve us both in how we market and sell, but how we communicate to fans, how we can learn about things we want to change or enhance at Sporting Park, to just growing relationships. For us, that data is critical. There's so much out there. As I mentioned, with what we're doing at SI, but the way that you can use that as a tool and really continue to hone really what your brand is moving forward has been important.
I think the fact that we've become more data driven is a great lesson for not only sports teams, but really any business in that it's a great opportunity for you to continue to enhance what you're doing and learn about either your customers or your fans.
Outside of Kansas City perspective, I'd say Warren Buffet is someone I've always looked up to, fellow Nebraskan, both born in Omaha. He's someone that truly wanted to achieve in his area of interest and obviously in business. It wasn't about becoming rich. It was about the thrill of essentially winning in his industry and making things better, and really having that entrepreneurial spirit. I think we're all passionate about what we do. I think that's important to do it. It's more about the impact that you're making than the personal gain, which I think is definitely very admirable.
I'd probably say in sports, I like Mike Slive. I'm an SEC guy now because I went to MU. For someone who leads a very traditional sports entity in the SEC conference, he's very, very innovative and looking at ways that they can grow revenues and how they can interact with fans.
The SEC network was something that was panned initially and based on where they thought the revenues could be and now, it's extremely successful after year one. He's continuing to evolve. Now he's leaving but he's really left his mark on something to where you can see what he's achieved with that conference and with those schools, and that's something that will have lasting power down the road.
The other one I would mention in Kansas City is Mayor James certainly. The whole silicon prairie movement now has been huge. We like to think we're a part of that with SI. Really positioning Kansas City as now a tech hub and seeing us start to make some advances in not only the type of businesses that are coming here, and starting here, and really growing the millennial base here, and making it more of a cultural hub even to now with the big hotel announcement, which is going right across the street from our building. He's very much a forward thinker and not afraid to ruffle some feathers to be innovative. That's something that we like to think we're in that same vein as well.
Thanks for coming out, man.