The Genius of Seahawk Marketing
NFL football is on a roll. Has been for several years. The amounts paid to the players and spent by the fans is beyond staggering, and the money river shows no signs of drying up.
I was told that in San Francisco, the waiting line for season tickets is 99 years long. I was also told that if you are on the waiting list for Seahawks season tickets, you must pay a fee each year to preserve your spot in the line as you move up to the promised land. I can’t verify either of these, nor do I doubt them. But recent events put those factoids, if true, in the shade.
Many eons ago home teams blacked out their TV coverage if the game was not a sell-out. There was considerable hue and cry over this from the little people, and I believe it was eventually outlawed, but in any case it was superseded by a new problem. Many teams could sell out their entire stadium capacity to season ticket holders, and once again the little people (who in most cases have paid for the stadium the team plays in through taxation) could not see the game in person without the considerable expense of season tickets.
For years there was a quasi-illegal but very healthy black market of sorts of people selling tickets outside the stadium or through various media – tickets purchased in advance with the expectation of huge profits through resale. Expectations that were almost always met. Trying to charge people with scalping was legally untenable, so eventually “secondary marketers” for tickets came into being.
The Seahawks used to set aside 4,000 tickets per game for sale to secondary marketers. Last year, according to the Seattle Times (not the best source, but whatever…) the team reduced that number to 2,000 to have more tickets available to one-game buyers.
And now – the greatest feat of marketing I’ve ever seen. Those 2,000 tickets are now available through “Dynamic Pricing.” This phrase means the team sets the prices according to perceived demand, and according to the Times, those prices are in some case higher than tickets to be found in secondary markets.
In plain English, what the Seahawks have done amounts to scalping their own tickets. This is brilliant! Since the “dynamic tickets” cost much more than the stated price on the ticket, selling even half of them results in a huge profit. With the stars of the team earning $10-$20 million a year, (and the Seahawks have a lot of stars) that money has to come from somewhere. In the case of the NFL, it comes from virtually everywhere. Hardly anyone attends a Seahawks game in outfits devoid on at least one piece of “official” Seahawk wear. In addition, most fans wear their jerseys with pride on game day, even though thousands of them will not be attending in person. Add in fees for parking, concessions, programs, and on and on and the money comes in a flood.
But scalping your own tickets – you have to bow, jaws agape, at the sheer effrontery of it.
I just noticed on the news that the Disney theme parks have adopted a similar scheme, but they call theirs “surge” marketing. I suspect the demographic of Disney advocates and NFL fans is eerily similar.
In truth, I’ve attended a Seahawk game or two. OK – two. Both were pre-season games, and in both cases the tickets were given to me. I was not impressed by either experience. The first time was at the old Kingdome, and our seats were in an end zone. The opposing team was the hated (I don’t know why) San Francisco 49ers. On one play the 49er quarterback threw to a player in the end zone right in front of us. The Seahawk player, badly beaten, grabbed the player by his facemask and threw him to the ground. It was the most obvious infraction in history, and of course a flag was thrown. The crowd erupted in a cacophony of hatred at this horrible call, and behind us a man stood in the aisle screaming insults and obscenities at the other team. I turned around and I can still remember his face, red with rage, as he yelled “We’ll get you in the regular season,” followed by a string of obscenities. My son (who was about 10 at the time) looked alarmed at this nonsense. For the rest of the game we noticed that the crowd cheered lustily for any referee call in the Seahawks favor, and spewed rage at a call against the home team. It made no difference what the call was, even though most of them were obvious, especially when replayed on the huge screen. Yes, he was definitely holding. Make no difference. In addition, whenever the game seemed to get interesting, there would be a pause of several minutes for TV commercials. I thought back to my own (mediocre) experiences playing football, where I played center linebacker on defense and center on offense. There were no long breaks where we stood around waiting for permission to resume play. This is what pro football is about?
Later, we attended a game the year the Seahawks played at Husky stadium. I took my son with me again, and we were both astonished – again. During a lull the “Sea gals” cheerleaders paraded around the field perimeter in golf carts, waving to the fans in the stands. All around us people stood and cheered, in many cases calling out the names of their favorite bodacious young woman. This seemed deeply weird. You are thrilled to know the name of a gorgeous woman who smiles and waves at you – because she’s paid to do so?
Make no mistake, the Seahawks put on a heck of a show. Even in last night’s game, which you will find summarized in the dictionary under “ugly,” the crowd had a thrilling experience. The social media air will be fogged up today with all sorts of complaints about how badly the Seahawks played, many of them justified. This shows the extent of the success of the Seahawks and their marketing. The fans now fully expect a win, especially at home, and anything other than a drubbing of the other team will not do. There will be very few words about an incredible effort by a Detroit team that was outgunned in virtually every facet of the game (on paper) but battled throughout the game and came one punched ball and a non-call by the refs away from a Detroit win that would have put the entire Seattle season in peril.
A part of the show Seattle puts on is a magnificent stadium. Designed for the game to be played in the open air by the teams, most of the fans are shielded from inclement weather, which is virtually a certainty for many of the games. The stadium has been designed from the outset to channel the noise of the fans down to the field, giving a tremendous (and legal) advantage to the home team, provided the “12th man” crowd does it’s “job.”
A marketing irony is that the company Century Link paid a whopping sum for the naming rights to the stadium, but most of the fans and TV sports and news and weather and all other commentators refer to it as ‘the clink,” which was surely not the intent.
The entire “12th man” circus is another piece of brilliant marketing by the Seahawks, as it was not invented here. The fans take their role seriously, and can claim with logical support that they are a part of every victory, even the ugly ones. Perhaps even more so the ugly ones.
I had the chance to stand on the field a few years ago, as I took a break from a motorcycle show in the huge indoor display area used for such events, and I tried to imagine standing there as a player. The noise must be incredible, and intimidating if you’re not used to it. I also experienced one of the large luxury suites reserved for the super wealthy and corporations when I attended (again, I was gifted a ticket) a Supercross motorcycle race. It was impressive for sure.
So at end of the day, you and your partner choose to attend a home game. You get all togged up in various pieces of neon green and dark blue gear, perhaps adding face paint and even a large wig. You then experience an incredible traffic mess on the way there, pay an exorbitant fee to park your car in a high crime area (higher during games) and slowly make your way to your seats with over 60,000 of your friends. You then watch a game with one hour of playing time that will take over four hours to complete by the time you get back to your car. You will pay big city sports cathedral money for any food and beverages you consume. Then you face another horror of a traffic jam to get home, unless you choose to spend another several hours in one of the many restaurants and bars that are there to welcome you. All of them will be loud. You will already be hoarse from yelling for the team, or merely trying to communicate with your partner. If you choose to stay you will spend even more big city money for whatever food and beverages you choose to consume, although they will probably be of higher quality.
By the time your car edges away from the event, your ears will have been subjected to several hours of noise at decibel levels that are harmful. You will have spent hundreds to a couple of thousand dollars for this experience, depending on the importance of the game and the desirability of your seat.
That you enjoy this and are eager to repeat the experience – that is the success of marketing.
This is not to say that Seahawk fans are wasting their money or that they are foolish. We all make decisions on how to spend our money, and few people would agree on everything. That is why money is usually the #1 topic for argument among married couples – different priorities. I spend more money on motorcycles and related expenses than would make sense to anyone who is not enamored of motorcycles. I purchase expensive pipe tobacco from a company in Illinois I have never visited, and have been doing so for almost 40 years. How smart is that? I have lots of good reasons (to me) for each of my expenditures, and I am sure Seahawks fans can justify the expense, which for some of them is a considerable percentage of their income.
Years ago a married couple I knew decided to quit smoking. They sat down and added up all the money they spent on cigarettes each year and it was a truly large amount to them. To enforce their own decision, they chose to “invest” their cigarette money in something they would both enjoy that would constantly remind them of what their cigarette money was purchasing. So, they chose to sponsor part of a late model stock car at Evergreen Speedway! Each week they would sit in the stands and watch “their” car race, with their name splashed across a fender. Interesting choice. Ironic as well, since a night at the Evergreen races involves inhaling large quantities of oil, tire, and gasoline fumes.
So it is not about whether Seahawks fans should or should not pony up the sums – it is about the skill of the Seahawks marketing team in reinforcing the concept.
As a passionate motorcyclist who has own many motorcycles, the industry has been marketing new bikes to me, unsuccessfully, for the past ten years. I have not been seriously moved by any new bikes as a replacement for my Speed Triple. The owner of Triumph of Seattle did a good job a couple of weeks ago when he showed me “leaked” pictures of the new Speed Triple model for 2016. He is leading me toward that bike, and his efforts were impressive. He may at some point succeed!
Having said all that, I do like to watch the Seahawks play, although last night it was a challenge. I love the fact that almost half of the team is comprised of athletes who were either not drafted at all or thrown away by other teams. I buy into the rah-rah coaching style of Pete Carroll, and I am continually amazed by the athletic ability of the players. I am always impressed as well by the player interviews.
This happens a lot, and the Seahawks must have a very sophisticated training school to prepare players for dealing with the media. Richard Sherman is a genius at this, as you might expect of a man who majored in communications at Stanford, but all of them portray a consistency of positive statements and respect for others on their team and for opponents. Even the outliers are fun. Marshawn Lewis has made a career (and a lot of money from commercials and such) out of preferring not to speak. Russell Wilson balances his brilliant and seemingly off the cuff play at quarterback with quotes that make him a shoo-in for a role in a movie titled “Stepford Husbands.” It’s all entertainment, and it is both impressive and fun.
I don’t begrudge them the huge salaries, because there’s no question that they are voluntarily choosing a profession where injuries that will affect their quality of life for the rest of their days are virtually guaranteed. Careers are short, and the statistics for life afterward make grim reading, but we like to ignore that as much as possible.
For the little people, there’s a better way to enjoy Seahawk football. Record the games on your home media set-up, and begin watching about an hour or so in. I use a lot of fast forward to skip the interminable commercials and the many sections of the game that are actually boring. I watch the entire game as sort of an extended highlights reel, pausing once in a while to attend to other things. It takes about an hour to watch this way, including slo-mo replays of significant events. Other than the taxes I am paying for the stadium, this is virtually free. If the game is intense, I may watch almost all of it, except for the commercials.
For the true fan of the game, as opposed to those who thrill to the spectacle of being part of a big city event, consider supporting your local high school team. You can drive to the game in a few minutes, pay for tickets for you and your entire family, let your kids go off the deep end at the concession stand, and spend less than you would for parking at a Seahawks game. You will be home in less time, door to door, than a Seahawks game, and you will have a great time.
That ain’t marketing- that’s reality.
Copyright 2015 David Preston