Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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In part one of our interview, I asked Minnesota United team president Nick Rogers a lot of questions about ticket sales. That final transaction, however, is in some ways the outcome of part two: promotion and marketing.
In the weeks leading up to the home opener, there were more than a few United fans who worried about the team's advertising - specifically, that they hadn't been seeing much of it. Rogers admits that the team's rebranding, which took place barely a month prior to Opening Day, put a damper on the club's ability to advertise.
"With paid marketing, you have to put together ads, you have to get scripts for radio reads, you have to get voice-over talent to do those and producers to make them," he said. "You have to have an actual marketing plan and buy media space that these creative assets are going to go into, and that all takes time, and it took a little longer than we would have liked, than we would have hoped for. Really, the paid stuff only hit a week before our game."
That said, though, Rogers says that the team now has advertising going in every channel you can think of, and hopes to have a consistent presence throughout the season.
Really, the team's goal is to make themselves appear more of a major-league team. Rogers, though, knows that doesn't happen overnight - and he knows that the team will have to earn that status in the minds of fans, sponsors, and media.
"It comes down to the players, and explaining to people that the players are serious talents from around the world," he said. "Some of them - not all of them, but some of them - make a lot of money doing what they’re doing. It’s earning the respect of the local media, to treat it like it’s a pro sport. Hopefully we can get people to pay attention when, for example, we beat the Chicago Fire, or when we beat Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup. I think we have to go out and prove it, that we are a legitimate pro sports team, and then follow it up with some resources behind that from a PR perspective to say - pay attention, we’re doing interesting things here."
He also refers to the team's efforts on the day-to-day operations side as a different approach than in past years. "It's the difference between planning for a decade and planning for the next six months," said Rogers. "If you're planning for the next decade, you'll probably go out and buy a house. Given all the other costs involved, that might make more sense. If you’re planning for the next six months, maybe you're paying a premium to rent something. It might cost more, but you just have to get through the next six months. We’re trying to bring a longer-term view to what we’re doing, and it means doing things differently in a lot of places."
It's not just talk. The team has moved their merchandising operations in-house, rather than outsourcing those as part of a trade deal - and United merchandise flew off the shelves at the home opener. The club also hired a full-time video coordinator, formerly of the University of Georgia athletic department, to oversee and professionalize the team's video operations. "We want it to look like ESPN3," said Rogers. So far, so good; the match broadcast earned rave reviews on Saturday.
Rogers might able to sum up the team's goals in one sentence. "We’re trying to put this on in a way that we’re not just saying this is a professional club - you can see the evidence," he said.
For the future, the team has a few plans on the burners. They've had discussions with potential broadcast partners about getting matches on TV, something that could help promote the club. They've also discussed jersey sponsorships, though they're still looking for what Rogers deems the right fit for the team. "If you're just trying to get through to next season, you will take whoever will give you whatever [amount of money] you can get," he said. "We want it to be the right fit for what our brand is, for the story we're trying to tell - and financially, too, obviously."