Beyond the “Customer”: How Social Media is Changing Loyalty Marketing in Sports

I read an article a few days ago about the Chicago Cubs’ new loyalty marketing tactic. Despite the recession,  ticket prices are going up in 2010, so the Cubs are rewarding those “loyal customers” who renew their season ticket package with custom caps embroidered with personalization such as “Season ticket holder for 20+ years”. The author of the article concludes:

In our book, Barry and I write about taking care of the customers who have been with you a long time. A lot of times, it doesn’t take much. As the new owners of the Cubs seem to know, a little appreciation goes a long way.

But in my experience, that’s only half the story.

At the start of this year, Klout, a service which analyzes content on Twitter to measure users’ influence on conversation, published a study on the topics that generated the most buzz on Twitter in 2009. The Chicago Cubs were the third most popular topic in the sports team category, behind the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. And they didn’t even get to the playoffs this season, let alone win a World Series!

The Cubs are a national team. For all the season ticket holders every season, there are hundreds of thousands throughout the country who are rabid, loyal Chicago Cubs fans who will never be able to get season tickets. I am one of them. I’ve been a Cubs fan since 1986 and I’ve been to exactly two games at Wrigley Field – because I’ve never lived in Chicago. But that doesn’t mean that my “fandom” isn’t as pure or as loyal as your season ticket holder for the last 20+ years.  Sure, these loyalists have spent a lot more money for the Cubs than I have over the years.  But I might end up paying $1000 for a weekend in Chicago to see one Cubs game  at Wrigley during the summer. Because they are  “customers” does that make them more deserving of loyalty perks? Certainly not. But it makes them easier for the Cubs to market to – at least in traditional marketing.

Most businesses regard their loyal customers as those who have spent the most money with them over time, but there’s something other than cold, hard cash that many of us fans spend each and every day on the Cubs – social capital.  With the rapid rise of social media, organizations are now starting to connect with and reward loyal fans. These loyalists are pretty easy to find and market to if the teams want to connect with them. If you follow me on Twitter you’ve noticed many of my tweets tagged #cubs. You’ve probably also noticed the daily conversations I have with other Cubs fans. Over the last year I’ve developed friendships and connections with Cubs fans from all over the country through Twitter – @ataccini right over the river in New Jersey, @Adambuckled in Indiana, @kerrence in Oklahoma, @ehudmh in Alabama, @Thankphil in Iowa, @mOgulnick who just moved from Illinois to upstate New York, @cubscasthosts, hosts of a Cubs podcast – one of whom lives in California, @wrigleygirl, who’s right in Wrigleyville, and @aleagueofherown, another Chicago gal who runs a blog by the same name – one of the best on the web.  Just to name a few. Want to get to know more? Adam compiled a great list of “Cubs Twitter All-Stars.”

This group of Cubs fans I’ve “met” through Twitter is akin to what I’ve heard the season ticket holder experience is like – the people you sit with during games who you otherwise wouldn’t know but develop a friendship through a shared experience together every summer. We tweet with each other during games and experience the highs and lows of the season together. One would just need to search for tweets about Aaron Miles, the most reviled of Cubs players in 2009, or simply read Ed Nickow’s (@TheCubsinHaiku) blog Chicago Sports in Haiku, to see how our outrage at his inability to hit a baseball brought us together through haiku and laughter. But the great thing about social media is that we can extend our conversations and connections beyond the ballpark: we also tweet during the offseason about Cubs news, trade rumors and other catalysts of angst and speculation. We generate our love for the #Cubs one tweet at a time – and we even get non-Cubs fans to root for the Cubs sometimes!

And who is listening, besides other Cubs fans and our other Twitter followers? Not any official representation of the Chicago Cubs, as far as I’m aware.

The Cubs (and all sports teams, for that matter) need to start listening and tune in to the social capital that’s being spent online by rabidly loyal fans – the ones who make the Cubs the nationally beloved team that they are.  So why not hire a marketing manager who is knowledgeable about social media and wants to interact with fans on behalf of the organization? (Oooohh, ME! ME!) They don’t need to worry about building a community – they just need to tap into the thriving one that already exists. The possibilities for enhancing their loyalty marketing are truly endless: They could organize occasional giveaways of free tickets, stadium tours, or merchandise. Do you know how many fans would go crazy just for a hat that reads “#Cubs fan on Twitter“? Though in a social world, brands such as the Cubs don’t even need to give away physical merchandise to foster loyalty. Recognition is usually enough. They should organize regional Tweetups to connect more fans, coordinate Twitter events to get “#Cubs” trending, interview fans who use Twitter or one of the many Cubs bloggers or podcasters for cubs.com, or give them exclusive content for their blogs.

So it’s really in the Cubs’ best interest to have us continue to generate as much social capital as possible. Social capital builds more passion, excitement, community and loyalty, which turns into ticket and merchandise sales, even if the team is performing below expectations.

A little appreciation does go a long way….

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This entry was posted in Chicago Cubs, Media and Marketing, Social Media, Sports, Twitter and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Beyond the “Customer”: How Social Media is Changing Loyalty Marketing in Sports

  1. Pingback: Top Learn Appreciation Marketing News – January 17, 2010 |

  2. Pingback: Starwood build non-customer relationships | UK Marketing Network

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