While watching a recent NFL game, I realized how loud the visiting team’s fans were. When they got a first down, a roar. A touchdown brought an eruption. This is not new for the iconic teams like the Cowboys, Packers, or Patriots. They each have an avid fan following. However, in the game I’m referencing here, the road team was the Minnesota Vikings…… At Denver.
If you have ever been witness to a Denver Broncos game in Mile High Stadium, you know that Broncos fans are among the best in the league. They have one of the longest sell-out streaks in professional sports and their fan base rivals any team in the NFL. That said, how is it possible that so many Vikings fans could infiltrate the stadium and turn Denver into Minneapolis West?
Many teams run promotions in an attempt to keep the visiting team out of their stadiums. The Arizona Cardinals have one called “Protect the Nest.” Some teams monitor the ticket resale market and threaten to rescind season ticket rights for those that sell their seats to premium games. Even so, listen to an NFL game, any game. Even the younger teams (like Tampa Bay) that don’t have the history of the legacy franchises (like the Bears), have loud pockets of fans at road games. The recent success of the Seahawks has spawned an uprising of their fan’s “12th Man” jerseys at stadiums across the league (these jerseys are routinely in the top ten in sales in the NFL, the only time a non-player jersey has achieved such status in all of pro sports). Keep in mind, the Seahawks are one of the youngest teams in pro football, having joined the league with Tampa Bay in 1976. Only four teams are younger than Seattle and the Buccaneers. No matter the game, fans on both sides will make their presence known.
What does this mean for the sports tourism industry? When strategizing on how sports can positively impact a destination, convention bureaus and sports commissions focus nearly all of their time and resources on amateur sports tournaments. Where does professional sports tourism fit? What do we do to help attract or support visitors coming to our communities that are fans of the opposing team? Given that many sports commissions are 501(c)3 non-profits which are by charter to work only within the amateur sports realm, most convention bureaus are not hindered by the demarcation of pro versus amateur. With that in mind, here are some strategies to consider in marketing your destination to the visiting team’s fan base:
- Timing – Whatever marketing outreach you enact, do so at least three weeks in advance. Most airlines have an early booking window of 14 days when prices are at their lowest. Give the fans time to make the decision in order to take advantage of lower prices.
- Fan Guide – Develop a visiting fan guide for your area teams, one that can be downloaded from your web site and easily printed. Ideally the guide would be limited to 3-4 pages without a lot of color and background design. Clean and usable should be the focus. The guide should outline not only some basic game day items like transportation and stadium facts, but also fan specific information. Include the location of their team’s official sports bar in your city, where the best tailgating spots are for visiting fans, and where they can buy game day apparel (in case they left their lucky Niners hat at home).
- Pre and Post – Like most destination marketing programs, make sure to point out attractions in the area that the fans can visit to extend their stay beyond game day.
We believe that more attention should be paid to the visiting team today than ever before. This applies not only to pro sports franchises as we have outlined above, but also to the alumni bases of visiting university teams as well (and in the case of marketing to college fans, think beyond just football and basketball).
Think back to the last time you went on the road to watch your favorite team play. How easy was it to get the visitor information you really wanted? Was it all in one place? I’m guessing the answer was no. The bar has not been set very high in this area, so there is great opportunity to be the star of the game, by creating and marketing fan specific visitor content. Think what you would want as a visiting fan, and deliver it to your future guests. If done so effectively, these visiting fans will not only cheer for their team, but also for your destination.