The Venue As Marketing Vehicle

In his April 2012 Media Post: Marketing Sports column, SLRG President Jon Last reflects on how the Miami Marlins’ new stadium exemplifies how event venues are becoming a more critical element of the marketing mix.

Everyone knows the old real estate adage of “location, location, location.” In Marketing 101, we learned that “Place,” while not defined literally, was one of the “four Ps” that drive marketing (product, promotion and price were the others, for those who forget the remaining three).

I lived in South Florida for 10 years, and while I personally found something redeeming about watching baseball at the stadium that I will always reference as “Joe Robbie,” I readily acknowledge that I also found positive qualities in The Metrodome, which on my lifelong tour of all 30 MLB (and several minor league) parks, was clearly at the bottom of my list. Now as Miami unveils its gleaming new ball park to generally positive reviews, and I make plans to hit refresh on my stadium collection, it gives me pause to think about the impact of location/venue on fan sentiment, satisfaction and the ultimate barometer, event profitability.

One of the leading general-interest sports periodicals ran a compelling set of statistics in its baseball preview issue that cited year one upticks in fan attendance for all recently opened ballparks, of +5% or more. And while the same piece and others are quick to note that such surges were often just temporary, predicated by the home team’s on-field success, there’s no doubt that the game environment and creature comfort demands have helped usher in the nearly ubiquitous onslaught of new venues across MLB and the other leagues. The NFL has taken an intense focus on creating an unparalleled live fan experience, particularly as research (ours and others’) has shown that the decision to give up a full day of battling crowds, traffic patterns and escalating ticket and concessions prices makes the prospects of a comfy afternoon or evening in front of high-definition television a suitable substitute to the on-site experience for many fans.

So, the question that begs to be answered is to what extent do the accouterments of stadiums or other event venues play in driving the overall fan experience and property revenue? As a researcher, I’d ideally love to explore this in a statistically rigorous fashion. We recently completed the first year of a longitudinal assessment of the impact of a variety of golf facility conditions and amenities on female golfer satisfaction and participation, and the methodologist in me can envision how we might structure a similar approach around other sports or venue types.

But absent a specific client request to do so, I can only conjecture from anecdotal experience that while never a total surrogate for the actual competition and competitors, unique venue-specific amenities are clearly a driver of event success. For singular or annual events, I look no further than to the customer segment that we defined at the PGA of America as “event enthusiasts.” These fans brought a different rationale and somewhat varied demands to the set-up of a PGA Championship or Ryder Cup venue than core golf fans, but they were still an important source of the attendee base. Event enthusiasts might not have been able to tell the difference between Tom Lehman and Tom Pernice, Jr. but we learned quickly about their merchandise preferences and configured our retail operations accordingly.

The Clevelander Club, 450-gallon fish tanks, bobblehead museum and 73-foot Red Grooms-designed home run celebration sculpture may not reverse the long-term attendance fortunes of the Miami Marlins absent a winning team, but it will build initial trial. Similarly, one can argue that while enhanced food service options and promotions like “All You Can Eat” and family-friendly zones don’t singularly drive fan satisfaction and repeat attendance, they have kept in stride with or helped usher in a new type of incremental or “substitute” fan base that can afford and appreciate such amenities.

Just as Camden Yards ushered in an era of singular purpose, high comfort, retro-look ball parks, Miami’s new stadium may, along with Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, serve as the launching pad for a new generation of sleek futuristic venue concepts that further narrow the gap between functionality and creature comfort, thrusting the allure of the venue further towards the top of the sports marketing mix. As is often my conclusion, definitive answers regarding the potential impact of various on-site elements can only be derived by studying and testing through solid research and analysis. As a sample of one, I personally can’t wait to make my plans to see Miami’s new marketing asset.