Yeah, the title of this blog post is a bit weak and kind of a cop-out. But I couldn’t think of anything else clever and click-baiting.
Yesterday, I listened to Lee W. Mowen’s most recent podcast on The Cincinnati and Dayton Sports Podcast, which you should go out of your way to listen to (episode 174 at https://theleewmowen.com/podcasts/). The main feature was about the absence of many real sports in the Dayton area. Does this sound a bit familiar? It should, as I wrote about this subject in April of last year (https://www.gemcitysports.com/daytons-minor-league-sports-crisis/). In Lee’s recent podcast, he went over what’s happened and what he thinks needs to be done to resurrect the city-wide sports scene in Dayton.
I’ll try not to spoil that. Just to be safe, you should listen to his podcast first, then come back here.
What triggered this episode was a conversation and a twitter post. One which reminisced on the good that the Dayton Dynamo did in the two years they existed. I added a comment that the club did everything right except for one thing. It would come to pass that the “one thing” was the worst thing that the club could have ever done. That “one thing” was that the Dynamo sold to a new owner who saw the club as nothing more than a business opportunity. The new owner had no connections to the city of Dayton and no connections to the game of soccer. Thus, when it became clear that running the Dynamo was going to be a losing proposition financially, at least in the short term, the new owner(s) quit early and left everyone else hanging.
But that’s all in the past now. The issue that needs to be addressed going forward is identifying what needs to change about the city of Dayton if the city wants to reclaim its former status as the sports oasis of the midwest. In my last blog piece, I covered locations. Specifically, why Dayton does not currently really have any ideal locations for professional sports besides DayAir Field (formerly Fifth Third Field).
One of Lee’s big points is that a new venue, indoors or outdoors, would go a long way to attracting would-be teams to this area. With this, though, we get into a sort of “chicken and the egg” scenario. Yes, a new facility would be appealing to new professional teams, but there’s no guarantee that those teams will come. It becomes a stadium that needs a team.
Perhaps a more ideal situation would revolve around a team starting from scratch in a low league, slowly build up traction over several years, and get to the point a newer, better stadium is necessary. Better to have a team that needs a stadium than a stadium that needs a team. But, teams that need sizable, professional stadiums in this city aren’t exactly flowing like wine.
More to sports than just sports
Some detractors would list Dayton’s previous failures as evidence that Dayton isn’t a sports town. Looking at many of these cases, however, it appears that the fault is not with the city, but with the owners being ill-prepared. One unmistakable sign that a team won’t last long, or at least, one that won’t make the impact that it could, is the team that puts all of its resources into its on-field product, and little to no resources into its off-field product. This is typical of the kinds of team owners/managers who just want to “play GM”. I envision these as sports fans with more money than the average person. These folks want to live out their fantasy of being an “owner”. The kind that thinks that all they have to do is create a winning team, and then the fame and fortune will come rolling in.
You can usually identify teams that don’t take their off-field product seriously weeks, even months before the season starts. Certainly, you can identify these teams on game-day. The marketing efforts of these teams are virtually non-existent. There is scant activity on the team’s website, which may be disorganized. Engagement with fans and overall activity on social media is virtually nonexistent. They do little to nothing to ingratiate themselves into the community. These teams do almost nothing to promote themselves. No press releases to local media. No fan-friendly events in the days and weeks leading up to the start of the season to build hype and awareness. No appearances at local festivals and the like. Gameday experiences are dull and unremarkable at best, disorganized and chaotic at worst.
Marketing and game-day operations are not things you hear talked about frequently, if at all, on sports talk shows and whatnot. How a team promotes their games and the fun things to see and do at the stadium aren’t as “sexy” to talk about as 105-yard touchdown returns, grand slam home runs, between the legs slam dunks, bone-crunching body checks, and bicycle kick goals. But a team’s efforts in marketing could mean the difference between drawing a sellout crowd and drawing flies. Fans won’t come to the game if they don’t know the team exists, nor will they come if they don’t think they will have a good time. Additionally, solid game-day operations can also be the difference between a fan at the game buying a ticket next week or not. Teams that put no resources into these will have difficulty selling tickets, getting repeat customers, and therefore will have trouble surviving.
Some would claim that not having the multi-million budget of a large major-league organization is a valid excuse to not put any thought or resources into marketing and gameday. To that I say “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. No, marketing on a budget won’t be as snazzy as that of a top flight team. But I see it as more of a chance to be creative. In any case, having a strong, active presence on social media in today’s age costs virtually no money. Just some time, effort, and imagination. The same holds true for writing press releases to the media. You might get into some cost printing and posting team posters to places people go to, but even that can be inexpensive if you do it right.
One word that Lee mentioned quite often in his podcast is “community”. This is also a critical element under the marketing umbrella. Fans won’t feel an attachment to a team if they don’t feel it’s “theirs”. Continuously and actively building and nurturing a community of fans is the gift that keeps on giving for sports teams at the lower league level. If people see a group of fans having a good time together and want to be part of that, it’s free marketing for the team. But to do that, you have to make the fans happy. You do that by listening to them and engaging with them. If the fans don’t feel like they’re part of the process, even a small bit, they won’t feel the profound attachment to the team. That attachment, when shared by others, is what community is sports is all about, and cannot be ignored by team ownership and management.
Will putting a significant focus and appropriate resources into marketing and gameday guarantee that your team will sell tickets like crazy and ensure success forever? Of course not. Sometimes even the best-laid plans don’t work out. But teams that don’t market themselves and don’t provide a quality gameday experience aren’t doing themselves any favors. Better to try and fail than never try at all.
Towards the end of Lee’s segment, he quipped something like “Why don’t you do something about it? Well, I have no money”. Well, we Dayton sports fans may not have enough individually, but what would happen if we pooled our resources together and did something collectively? But that’s another blog for another time…