The Ultimate Sports Marketing (Activation) Fantasy

In his November, 2015 Media Post column, SLRG’s Jon Last speaks to the ways in which the San Diego Padres and Callaway Golf’s recent “Links at Petco Park” promotion, was an exceptional example of effective sports marketing activation.

Before there was social media, reality television or sports video games, we had “The Amazin” Bill Mazer. Mazer, was a New York area sportscaster, who passed away just a couple of years ago. Growing up, one of the highlights of my weekend was watching Mazer’s Sunday night sports broadcast and his regular “Sports Fantasy” segment.

As the name implies, “Sports Fantasy” was an early-day version of “Pros vs Joes” where an armchair athlete had the opportunity to put him or herself into a clutch or unusual sports situation. Perhaps it was sinking the winning basket at Madison Square Garden while being guarded by an NBA player, trying to catch a touchdown pass from an NFL quarterback, getting a significant lead against a world class runner and trying to beat him to the finish line, or trying to play the final hole of a golf tournament without squandering a two shot advantage. “Sports Fantasy” was a pre-cursor to the participatory fandom that has spawned some of the more creative and amusing promotions, not to mention a prescient look ahead to our increasing zest to provide unique and memorable experiences while building our brands through sports.

I was recently reminded of “Sports Fantasy” with one of the best and most creative sports marketing activations that I’ve seen in some time. One needn’t be a golfer or a baseball fan to have been compelled by the temporary transformation of San Diego’s Petco Park into a unique nine-hole golf course. For those who didn’t see the promotion, staged by the Padres and Callaway Golf, opportunities to partake in this first-of-its-kind experience sold out in a matter of hours. Demand was so high that additional tee times were added, as consumers flocked to the opportunity to hit golf shots from the upper decks, from the top of the Western Metal Supply Building, and from behind home plate into center field.

The Callaway-Petco Park promotion is a great example of a sports marketing activation that meets so many of the essential elements of a great promotion. It’s a perfect primer for any brand trying to break through the clutter:

It stimulates product trial at an opportune time: For both Callaway and the Padres, the promotion puts each sponsoring brand’s product directly in the hands of the target consumer. For the Padres, this comes in lock step with the conclusion of the baseball season; just in time for marketing 2016 ticket packages by allowing fans to experience multiple vantage points in the ball park. And, of course, Callaway can generate attention to their new product launches through a unique demo experience.

It builds media buzz: Be it the uniqueness and novelty of the promotion, and the opportunity to play into our growing “sharing society” social media addictions, you can certainly expect that those fortunate enough to participate were tweeting, instagramming facebooking and snapchatting as they sent their nine iron shots down the left field line. A golf media obsessed with derivatives to the traditional game of golf has eaten this up, because it is both cutting edge and a unique photo opp.

It plays to the desired positioning of the activating brands: Any good sports marketing partnership needs to play to the metaphorical or actual synergies between participating properties. In this case, you showcase one of the more interesting venues in Major League Baseball through a promotion that reinforces the “fun” aspect of a day at the ballpark. Similarly, Callaway leverages a desired positioning as both an innovator in the equipment space, a brand that cares about the every day golfer, and perhaps even a nod to golfers’ never ending pursuit of greater distance, as one attempts to “go yard,” albeit with a 7-iron and a golf ball.

It resonates with consumer imaginations and aspirations: Like the aforementioned “Sports Fantasy,” this promotion plays to fans’ inner Walter Mitty across multiple dimensions. It feeds consumers’ pursuit of unique and memorable brand experiences that resonate and stick.

It’s measurable and facilitates a dialogue between brand and consumer:What wonderful opportunities in a self-contained environment, for both activating brands to capture participant reactions and perceptions, and to foster an ongoing dialogue with those participating. As a sports marketing researcher who has had the privilege of working with both activating brands (but full disclosure, not on this promotion), I’m salivating over the insight opportunities that can be derived through this promotion.