LOYALTY LOST: Has Baseball Committed a Costly Error in the Way It Markets Itself?

If it happened to Marlboro, can it happen to the National Pastime? In a study aimed at gauging the value of big-league baseball to marketers, New York-based Wunderman Cato Johnson finds Major League Baseball suffering an erosion in fan loyalty – plus an increasing reluctance by consumers to pay premium prices for a product to which they no longer feel a gut-level commitment. While saying the sport still is a strong marketing vehicle, Wunderman president/worldwide ceo Mitchell Kurz warns that ‘baseball has endangered its greatest asset, the customers’ addiction to its product, which we call loyalty. . . . Consumers will pay extra for loyalty, if they think they’re getting a high emotional return per dollar.’ But such an attachment is what’s in peril nowadays. The problem stems partly from such well-known factors as free agency and shifts (or threatened shifts) of teams from city to city. But the agency sees a more basic problem. Baseball has positioned itself as a form of ‘entertainment’ that can appeal to everyone, not as a sport for the purists. (Indeed, current proposals for TV coverage of the playoffs reflect such thinking.) The game can’t thrive on that basis, though, the agency argues: ‘ . . . to succeed, it must develop a depth of involvement in fans that goes beyond entertainment, towards personal identification. That is what’s starting to drop.’ Meanwhile, promotional giveaways have become ‘expected rewards’ that do little to engender loyalty. The NBA won fans back by focusing attention on its big stars, but such an approach is less feasible for baseball ‘since the players are now somewhat of an alienating factor.’ Instead, teams must somehow rediscover their own ‘brand essence’ and promote this to fans, who then (theoretically) will remain loyal to the franchise even as the line-ups change from season to season.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)

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