Fan demographics help club direct marketing effortsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Next time you’re sitting in the stands at Fifth Third Field, take a look around you. There’s a roughly 50-50 chance the person sitting in front or behind you is not remotely interested in minor league baseball.
It turns out people love Mud Hens games even when they don’t like baseball.
That’s what the ballpark’s marketing staff discovered when they began in-depth research into Toledo-area fan demographics around 2003, said Scott Jeffer, who until recently served as assistant general manager of marketing, advertising and sales for the Mud Hens. He left in March for a job with the New York Yankees.
Scarborough Research, a division of Nielsen, regularly surveys the 13-county region around Toledo, asking hundreds of questions about consumer preferences and behavior.
Roughly 49 percent of game attendees in the Toledo market indicated they were very interested, somewhat interested or a little interested in minor league baseball, according to Scarborough’s most recent numbers in September, said Mud Hens President and General Manager Joe Napoli.
A fourth option, chosen by 51 percent of game attendees surveyed, was not at all interested.
“Basically half the people in the whole crowd are completely not interested in the game of baseball,” Jeffer said. “People are coming out because it’s affordable family entertainment. They’re there because the hot dogs are tasty, the beer is cold, the prices are affordable and it’s a fun night out where they can see their neighbors. If you ask why people haven’t been to the stadium, they always say, ‘Oh I’m not a baseball fan.’ That’s usually the No. 1 answer. They just assume you have to be a baseball fan to go to a baseball game and, at the minor league level, that’s dramatically not the case.”
Avid fans — those who say they are very interested in minor league baseball — make up only a small percentage of overall game attendees, about 11 percent in the most recent survey, up from 8 percent in recent years, Napoli said.
“For years, teams would promote the hockey and the baseball and what we’ve learned over the last 10 years is that’s not what prompts people to make the decision (to attend a game),” Napoli said. “Is it affordable? Is it fun? Can I get a good meal? Can I get great souvenirs? All of those things factor in, and then they get around to interest in the baseball and the hockey.”
Research has shown that most people who visit Fifth Third Field —which had 30 sellout games last season — are happy whether the Mud Hens win or lose, Napoli said.
“You’d be surprised that even people on the way out can’t tell you who won the game. They won’t know the score. There are folks that can’t even tell you who we played,” Napoli said. “It speaks volumes about the people that work here — our seasonal staff and our fulltime staff — and about how hard they work to provide a good experience.”
Another research firm, Great Lakes Marketing, polls residents on why they choose to attend Mud Hens games. Typical top answers include affordability, family-friendly entertainment and cleanliness, Jeffer said. At the bottom is win-loss record, affiliation with the Detroit Tigers and the chance to see future major league stars or get autographs.
“What we’ve come to learn is that it is truly about the experience,” Napoli said. “When we market the Mud Hens and Walleye we’re coming from this perspective that what motivates a family to come out are the same things that motivate a family to see ‘Disney on Ice’ or the Harlem Globetrotters.”
That’s why Mud Hens pocket schedules feature far more photos of fans than photos of players.
“People don’t even know who players are usually. They’re rooting for the Mud Hens, but they’re not losing sleep if they lose,” Jeffer said. “People who are diehard baseball fans, they’re coming anyway. Not that we’re ignoring them, but it’s the casual fan that’s deciding what to do — that’s the person we try to reach.”
It turns out these findings are fairly typical for minor league teams. In fact, Toledo consistently ranks among the top markets in the nation for interest in minor league baseball, Napoli said.
When surveying the area’s population as a whole, 26 percent indicted interest in minor league baseball, said Mud Hens Marketing Coordinator Tammy Esper.
“That’s off the charts, believe it or not,” Napoli said. “Scarborough surveys the top 75 markets and Toledo continually comes in at either the No. 1 or No. 2 slot as far as the interest level in minor league baseball.”
The most recent numbers put Toledo tied for No. 2 with Rochester and Roanoke, Esper said. No. 1 was a tie between Des Moines and Providence with 27 percent. The average percentage for the cities surveyed was 16 percent.
“The point of all that is even though a little over half of our attendees have no interest at all in minor league baseball that still leads the country in interest level,” Napoli said.
Those results are a point of pride for the Mud Hens.
“Basically what that is saying is we have very good market penetration,” Jeffer said. “The Mud Hens are a big part of the public consciousness.”
When Great Lakes Marketing asks residents about other events they attend in the area, Mud Hen game attendees are apt to list high school sporting events, the Toledo Zoo and the Toledo Museum of Art, Napoli said.
“Major league sports, believe it or not, are at the bottom of the list. Our fans surprisingly do not attend a lot of major league sporting events,” Napoli said. “When you look at our prime audience, which is families, it all begins to make sense.”
Seniors are another major demographic of game attendees, Napoli said.
Nathan Steinmetz, manager of online marketing and ticket sales, uses information culled from the demographic research to guide what he posts on Facebook and Twitter.
“If you look at our message mix, it’s not heavy on the stats,” Steinmetz said. “It’s more about what’s going on at the ballpark and how you can have fun at the ballpark. We realize a mom who wants to bring her kids out to a game looking on Facebook doesn’t care how many homeruns so-and-so has. She wants to know ‘Can my kids run the bases after the game?’ So the research works its way into all our marking efforts, including social media.”
There’s no such thing as too much information, Jeffer said.
“As we’ve gotten more information about our fans and what they like and don’t like, it just make us better, keeps our attendance rising and provides fans what they want,” Jeffer said. “The more personal emotional connection you can make with fans, the better your product will be.”