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Staying Relevant in the Offseason
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These days, it's hard to keep people's attention.  Even when you're in-season, with homes games on the schedule and promotions piled high, it can be tough to rise above the clutter and noise of the real-time news cycle.  Sports teams now operate in a world short on attention and resources.  As tough as it is to maintain a high profile during the season, it's exponentially more difficult to do so when the season's clock expires or its last out is recorded.  Welcome to the offseason- the cold, dark solitude of life with empty stadiums and without the excitement of live sporting events.

While it can be easy to dismiss the offseason as a time to take your foot off the accelerator, the reality of the calendar says it all.  In every sport, teams spend more months of the year out of season than they do playing games.  How you use that time to plan for the relatively short period of time you'll be executing events makes all the difference.  However, the offseason can't just be about behind the scenes preparation.   There is simply too much time wasted and too much momentum to lose if you don't keep your team relevant in the public eye during the offseason.  If you're looking to develop casual fans into hardcore supporters or grow entry level sponsors into major contributors, it requires year-long engagement and awareness.

There are several essential but easy ways to stay relevant in the offseason.  Let's take a look at a few tactics that every team can implement.

Non-Sporting Stadium Events

When there is life at your stadium, people will pay attention. When it sits empty and idle, people will not.  Never fall into the trap of thinking that your venue is just for sports.  Your stadium should be a place for the community to gather year round.  By planning and booking special events there, you'll not only train people to think of your venue as the go-to place for fun, the stadium environment will also remind them of the incredible atmosphere present during games.  Teams have turned to special events as crucial revenue generators during the offseason, so there is no shortage of great ideas.  In the fall, teams can turn venues into Haunted Houses, host Oktoberfest or wine and beer festivals.  During the winter, stadiums have been transformed into snowy, Winter Wonderlands.  Other proven events include concerts and music festivals, motocross races, youth sports clinics, high school and collegiate tournaments and championship games, and trade shows.

Supporting Other Local Teams

While your team may not be playing games, chances are there is another team of a different sport in your town who is in-season.  Instead of viewing other sports teams as competition you can't work with, develop mutually beneficial relationships that grow interest in your community's sports scene as a whole.  It makes a lot of sense for a hockey team to host a tribute night for their local baseball team in the winter, especially since the baseball team can turn right back around and honor the hockey team during the summer.  It's a win-win proposition for both sports- selling tickets and creating a theme night for the in-season team while garnering hard to get offseason attention for the other. 

Dinger with a couple fansMascot Holiday Grams

As the living embodiments of the team brand, mascots are easily the best year round ambassadors at your disposal.  When they're seen away from the stadium, they should immediately evoke all the positive feelings associated with your team and game experience.  The offseason presents endless opportunities to get your mascot out in the community.  One creative way to do this is capitalize on various holidays by giving fans the chance to make special memories involving the mascot.  Whether they go Trick or Treating, pass out Christmas presents, or make personalized Valentine's Day flower deliveries, mascots bring true star power and excitement to everything they touch.  Not only are these great PR opportunities that teams can turn into feature news stories, but they can also be incremental revenue generators. 

Volunteering

Your mascot isn't the only one who needs to be active in the market during the offseason.  The entire front office staff should take the time to give back to the community by seeking out volunteer opportunities or taking on charitable projects.  Sports teams need to be considered pillars of the communities in which they reside and staff members should embrace the chance to lend a hand to non-profit organizations and those less fortunate than others.   When you're actively involved for the right reasons, people will notice and appreciate your commitment.  That type of goodwill is critical to maintaining a high profile during the offseason.

Digital Video Series

One of the biggest challenges of staying relevant in the offseason is simply the lack of content available to advertise; there just isn't as much to talk about.   An emerging trend over the last few seasons has seen clubs utilizing their in-house production capabilities to create their own entertainment content.  In Minor League Baseball several offseason themed, digital mini-series debuted, most often starring the mascot and front office staff.  These types of videos showcase the creativity and entertainment value of the brand, but also give the team something to promote when most fans think the stadium is boarded up for the winter.  By pushing out new, innovative material on a regular basis during the offseason, teams can stay current and remind the community of the organization's dedication to fun and excitement.

Caravans and Expos

When fans don't have games as a reason to visit the stadium, take the stadium experience to them.  Every market has outlying communities, and every one of these towns has a special event they hold every year- food and music festivals, parades, you name it.  Having a presence at these types of events is important in growing affinity for your team.  Especially in the offseason, when you have the time to do it right with proper display booths and interactive elements, making the effort to visit all reaches of your market leaves a lasting impression.   Taking your message on the road is also an effective way to gather leads and build your database, as you'll be interacting with many folks who have never been to a game before.

I eagerly awaited the chance to say helloEngage Season Ticket Holders and Sponsors

Though season ticket holders and sponsors are your most engaged segment of the population, it's still vitally important to connect with them throughout the offseason- without always trying to sell them something.  Sure, the time will come for talks of renewals, but don't forget that these folks are your most loyal customers.  They enjoy being around the stadium and staff, and you can't just come calling when it's time for them to mail in their first check for next year.  The offseason is the perfect time to thank them in a genuine way- with your attention.  Drop by a client's office with coffee or donuts.  Take a ticket plan holder to lunch.  Surprise them with an autograph from their favorite player.  Host exclusive events at your stadium for season ticket holders and sponsors, like holiday functions or watch parties for big sporting events.  These people go out every day during the offseason and talk about your team; it's imperative they understand how much you value them.

Social Media Campaigns

Before the rise of Facebook and Twitter, teams relied on much more infrequent methods of communication.  Now, the conversation between team and fan is constant.   Stories and facts that weren't important or "big" enough to garner space on the website or email newsletter can now be shared as part of a larger, on-going exchange.  Though social media makes it easier to communicate in the offseason, content is not as readily available as it is during the season. 

Coming up with creative campaigns and contests is an excellent way to create compelling material that engages fans and keeps the brand top of mind.  A perfect example is the Carolina Panthers' "Purrsuit" challenge- an Amazing Race styled scavenger hunt.  In addition to connecting fans with sponsors, local businesses and charities, it also allows the team to monetize their social media efforts. 

 

--Scott Carter

Scott Carter has nearly a decade of marketing, promotional, and game entertainment experience. As Senior VP of Marketing for the Fresno Grizzlies, Carter guided the Triple-A franchise to multiple GameOps.com "Best Of" awards including Best Team Operations in 2008 and 2009. A Southern California native, he has also spent time with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and the NHL's Anaheim Ducks.

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