The history of professional sports is marked by legendary luminaries who have literally originated entire paradigms in marketing their franchises, all of which can act as textbook examples for today’s event marketers in any field.
George Preston Marshall
The late ‘30s were that limbo time between the Great Depression and the onset of World War II when the country was still in the economic druthers. For what today would barely buy you a season ticket, Marshall purchased the Boston Redskins team in 1937 and moved them to Washington DC. He was well acquainted with the necessity to build a tradition that fans could forge loyalty to, but at the time the prospect of a bunch of padless, helmetless guys running each other into the mud wasn’t appealing to too many Americans.
Marshall approached songwriter Barnee Breeskin, the conductor of the orchestra at the Shoreham Hotel in the nation’s capital, and asked him to write a march about his team. Although it was originally entitled The Washington Redskins March, it is not well known to all football fans as Hail To The Redskins. The team astoundingly quadrupled its attendance in the first three years from the advent of the tune. Almost eight decades later, every Redskins game resounds with a rousing rendition of the song which is now just as much a part of the team as the colors or the helmet logo. Marshall knew that creating awareness of an event requires a clear and memorable hook, and his march was the best tool.
At about the same time as Marshall was creating new marketing approaches in football, Veeck was a dominant figure in the national game of baseball. He was the owner of the Chicago White Sox, the St. Louis Browns, the Cleveland Indians, and two minor league teams as well! As Mr. Baseball, Veeck had an innate ability to understand the baseball fan’s primary driving motivators and rare was a game where Veeck wouldn’t be mingling with the fans in the stands, chatting away, and deriving insights into their fandom.
What he was doing in the stands is essentially what online event marketers do today through social media. We discuss with our audiences on a one on one basis what motivates them and cater our offerings to suit. Veeck discovered that most of his Chicago fans worked afternoons in the city’s huge stockyards, so he started scheduling his games in the Windy City to start at the unheard of time of 8:30 am! When the fans showed up, he would personally serve them cornflakes and coffee, held giveaways of lobsters and other desirable goods, and was the first team owner to set off fireworks when his team scored a home run. Veeck’s event marketing genius was in understanding his audience and catering to what they wanted.
Fast-forward to the present day where a sport that was effectively undreamed of in Marshall and Veeck’s time has become a major industry sector which harvests hundreds of millions of dollars from entranced fans all over the country. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is now the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotional corporation. Starting at a minor event in 1993, in the past two decades UFC has become a primary mainstream media sport shown in over 130 countries.
White’s genius is in his ability to leverage just about every outlet available to his sport to raise awareness and build excitement. While many other sports leagues are attempting to censor the least savoury tweets and posts from their athletes, White spurs them on to benefit from controversy. He even set up a quarter of a million dollar fund to reward his most active tweeters, regardless of how offensive their tweets are. White’s own vocabulary is NSFW but he strikes a chord with UFC fans who see him as one of them!
Although these marketing pioneers did not have the benefit of mobile or social media marketing, they were all able to appeal to the fundamental aspects of human nature to attract audiences which over time allowed their organizations to become among the most storied in American history.