Marketing the Cubs: A Focus on Fan Engagement
“The Lovable Losers.” “There’s Always Next Year.” For more than a century, these phrases were ones that personified the brand image of the Chicago Cubs. Following decades of failures to capture the elusive World Series title, the Cubs began setting into motion strategic marketing efforts to refresh and redefine the Cubs brand experience.
Explore how the Cubs marketing machine’s focus on fan engagement has shifted the tide of the brand’s perceptions and examine what future sport marketers can learn from this strategy.
Redefining the Core of Cubs Baseball for Loyal Fans
Alison Miller, vice president of marketing for the Cubs, had a weighty responsibility on her shoulders when Crane Kenney, the Cubs president of business operations, charged her with refreshing baseball’s beloved brand, according to Jameson Fleming of Adweek. For Miller, the challenge was about redefining the core of Chicago Cubs baseball, including its messaging.
In 2013, Miller worked to develop a campaign called “Committed,” one that would connect with the club’s loyal fans. According to Carrie Muskat, writing for MLB.com, print, online, radio and out-of-home advertising focused on telling stories from Cubs fans about their dedication to the Cubs through photos, videos and essays. “This campaign showcases the emotional connection of our fans who are part of that journey,” said Miller, “and the Cubs’ commitment to building a championship-caliber organization from top to bottom.”
Reflecting values of authenticity and humanity, the “Committed” campaign shifted perceptions from the refrain “There’s Always Next Year” to one that rallied both the team and its fans with a focused goal for the future: securing a World Series win, Muskat stated.
Concurrent with the “Committed” campaign, Miller and the club also focused efforts on the home of the Cubs itself: Wrigley Field. During the Cubs 2014 season, the club celebrated the 100th birthday of the ballpark with a “Party of the Century.” Recognizing the attachment that fans have with Wrigley Field and Wrigleyville, Miller sought to play up these icons of Cubs history during Wrigley Field’s centennial celebration. In Fleming’s Adweek article, Kenney noted that leveraging the strength of the ballpark brands themselves provided other opportunities to engage with fans during the club’s rebuilding period.
Connecting with a New Generation of Cubs Fans
The Cubs World Series–winning 2016 team had youth on its side. Writing for ESPN, Darren Rovell observed that Kris Bryant, 25; Addison Russell, 23; and Anthony Rizzo, 28, bring a certain level of marketability to the Cubs brand persona, especially among a younger generation of fans.
This youthful vitality also isn’t being ignored by companies seeking to create associations with Cubs players. In Rovell’s ESPN article, Tyler Beckstrom—a marketing representative for agent Scott Boras, who represents Bryant, Russell and pitcher Jake Arrieta—observed, “The companies that were scared away from individuals and were investing in safer team and league deals are now seeing the value of the individual star again, which has a lot to do with these dynamic players that can transcend and grow the game with a younger generation.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred backed up this assertion. In an April 2017 Chicago Tribune report, Manfred stated that young stars such as Bryant and Rizzo are essential marketing elements: “That sort of personality is really crucial to marketing the game, and marketing the game to young people.”
Scoring Success with Audience Segmentation
Borrowing from the e-commerce and retail industries, the Cubs marketing machine employs a data-driven marketing strategy that connects with audience segmentation.
Writing for DMN, Keith O’Brien detailed the approach that Kelly Linstroth, the Cubs assistant director of relationship marketing, and her team take with data analytics. The Cubs classifies fans by seven distinct brand segments. These brand segments follow from engagement itself: How does this segment want to interact with the Cubs? O’Brien observed that the Cubs consider qualifiers such as fan passion level, frequency of actions taken while at the ballpark and feelings about themselves as fans.
Further analysis of audience data then allows the club to assign fans to their respective audience segments—with the top three being the die-hard baseball fan, the fan here (there) for the atmosphere, and the Cubs loyalist that wants the team to do well before the individual decides to become more involved. As O’Brien noted, messaging follows from the audience segments. Baseball enthusiasts receive baseball-directed messaging, while those who connect with the atmosphere receive messaging directed toward activities and concessions at Wrigley Field.
Kevin Saghy, the Cubs manager of communications, reported to O’Brien that social media also assists with staying on the pulse of the fan experience: “Our social media strategy is geared toward engagement with these fans while also allowing for varying allotments per platform of posts that support the business through direct sales efforts.” The club uses Twitter, for example, to offer customer service and connect with fans through favorites, replies and retweets.
What Can Sport Marketers Learn from the Cubs Marketing Strategy?
Writing for The Mx Group Blog, Suzanne Martin acknowledged that taking the Cubs from “The Lovable Losers” to World Series champions involved more than player acquisitions and coaching alone. Understanding the audience, pursuing effective marketing spending and creating a compelling brand narrative are key components to building affinity with an audience, she said.
Of the many jobs available to those with a sport management degree, marketing is one of the most dynamic. For future sport marketers who study the Cubs marketing strategy, it’s the fan engagement aspect that deserves attention and recognition. Miller and the Cubs marketing team paid particular attention to the Cubs fans themselves. Campaigns such as the Cubs “Committed” effort exemplify this focus on the fans. Coupled with actionable data that supports fan needs and motivations, sport marketers can adapt Linstroth’s approach to audience segmentation to better deliver content and messaging that connects with fans at every level, from die-hard loyalists to fans who follow along simply for the atmosphere and experience.
Pursuing Sport Marketing
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