Friday, August 27, 2010

Part II

TigerBlog gets somewhat freaked out anytime he watches "The Silence Of The Lambs," especially the part where Buffalo Bill says: "It rubs the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose."

The first time he saw the original version of "The Hitcher," which ended around 11 or so (this was back in the mid-'80s, so the exact time is a bit vague), TB stayed up until around 2 a.m. watching reruns of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" on Nickelodeon before he was calmed down enough to go to sleep.

For sheer scared-out-of-your-mind fictional terror, though, nothing TB has ever seen compares to the episode of the old TV show "Superman" when the Mole Men came out of the giant oil well.

The basic premise was that the world's deepest oil well is drilled in a small town, and Clark Kent and Lois Lane head off to check it out for the Daily Planet. What nobody realizes is that the well was dug so deep that it entered the home of the mole men, who are short and hairy with giant heads.

Anyway, the mole men come up through the hole into the town, where they terrorize the locals (inadvertently). Eventually, Superman saves the day for everyone, but not before one of the mole men is shot, the rest of the mole men break out their special weapon to get revenge and ultimately the well is destroyed by the mole men after they return to their hole.

After the first time TB saw it, he got in trouble because he told his friend Anthony Morelli from down the block that the mole men were going to come out in his backyard that night, and Anthony never got to sleep. Even this very day, TB got the chills a bit from seeing a picture of the mole men after a Google search.

The episode was scary enough, but it was even worse when the first 30 minutes were ending and it became clear that this would be a "to be continued ..." situation. How cruel was that?

It was a lot crueler than when TigerBlog finished off yesterday's Part I on the marketing of Princeton athletics.

As a quick recap, TB asked some basic questions about marketing, mostly focusing on the idea of whether or not there is a huge untapped audience out there that would attend Princeton sporting events or if that audience is tapped and Princeton is drawing at what could be considered a successful rate.

Through the years, Princeton has operated under the assumption that there are all kinds of people out there who would come to events here (ticketed and non-ticketed) and that all we have to do is figure out the best way to reach them.

To that end, we have tried essentially everything, never really sticking with anything for long. Big fancy color printed pieces featuring the top players that get mailed out. No, wait, feature the kids at the game and the experience of attending the game and not the players themselves and then print it and mail it out. No wait, print it but stuff it in local newspapers.

No, that's not right. It's all about schedule cards, simple information, saturating the area. No, forget all that and try getting into a mailer like Valpak. Don't print it at all. Send it electronically. Put it on the web.

Cut prices. Raise prices. Stress season tickets. Forget season tickets. Stress groups sales. Faculty and staff. No, students. No, make it local families with kids.

Focus on the tradition of Princeton athletics. No, don't do that. Make it all about the future.

Slogans? We've had a million of them, it seems. "We Want Your Tail In Our Seats." Remember that one? Or this was a good one: "Football. Family. Friends. For $5." Or how about: "Getting Into Princeton Has Never Been Easier?" And on and on.

And then how to approach it? Pour all of the resources into football and market the other sports from there. No, don't do that. Treat everyone equally.

We need print ads in newspaper. No, we need radio spots. No, we need TV. Or a billboard. Yeah, a big one on the Turnpike. No, we don't need third-party advertising at all. We need databases that we can target directly.

And money? There's no money for a TV commercial, but nobody realizes how much it costs to mail out a brochure to 60,000 people or so.

And in the end, what affect did any of it have? Has it, as current Bradley Director of Athletics Michael Cross used to say during his Princeton days, "moved the needle?" Sometimes TigerBlog has wondered if it would be better just to take the money spent on all these different ideas, go up to Nassau Street and pay people $5 each to go to a game.

One area that we have been severely limited in has been market research. There have been, in the last 23 years (one in 1987, one in 1998), two efforts that TB knows about to gain information about fan interest and behavior towards Princeton athletics.

In reading through those two, the basic conclusion is this: There are hundreds of thousands of people who can't wait to come to games at Princeton, if only the people at Princeton could figure out how to reach them.

And so, clearly, Princeton has tried to reach them.

This past summer, Princeton had an intern named Dan Coleman, who was here as part of a class at Temple. While here, Coleman was part of a group that put together two surveys, one to be emailed out and another for a face-to-face "can-I-ask-you-a-few-questions" audience.

The emailed one went to 17,000 people, a group that included ticket buyers, local youth sports groups, summer camp participants, people who had expressed interest in Princeton on the website and others. Of those 17,000, 216 filled out the survey, which isn't quite a huge feedback but is still better than nothing.

Princeton also requested permission from seven local places (malls, movie theaters) to do its face-to-face interviews, and the only one to agree was the QuakerBridge Mall. Coleman spent four hours there and was able to interview 97 people.

So, scientific or not, Princeton had some feedback. And what did it show?

Let's start with the QuakerBridge group, which was more random than the email group, which consisted of people who had at least some level of connection to Princeton.

Among the more interesting responses among the 97 surveyed:
* 70% didn't realize that Princeton had 38 sports
* 86% didn't realize that 33 of those 38 sports charge no admission
* 81% didn't realize that Princeton charges $30 for season football tickets and $8 for single game
* 39% (by far the highest total) said that game time was the No. 1 factor in determining whether or not they would attend.

In other words, this appears to support the idea that Princeton has not reached the audience out there. It also says that Princeton is competing against kids' games, activities and other events for fans, as TB interprets the answer of "game time" to mean "a time that doesn't conflict with what we're doing."

Of the emailed group, just under 50% lived within 30 miles of Princeton, including 36% who said they lived 0-15 miles from the campus. It also appeared to be an older group, as 74% said that they had children and 62% of that group had children over 16.

Interestingly, 68% of those who responded were not alums.

This group, unlike the other, had nearly 60% who realized that Princeton does not charge admission for most of its events. Nearly 85% had been to at least one Princeton football game, and 50% had attended more than five in the last five years (28% had attended more than 10). More than 60% said they like to watch college football on TV.

In terms of ticket prices for football, 57% thought Princeton season tickets were at least $50, with 33% who said they were at least $75. In terms of staying in touch with Princeton, more than 70% go to more than once a week.

The issue of game times for this group was also interesting, in that 61% liked the idea of having football games start at 1. Logic, at least applied by TB, suggests that this runs completely contrary to what the other group was saying, in that 1 p.m. games are probably in direct competition with the majority of the kids' activities that prevent that group from attending.

For the email group, time of game ranked fourth among the most important considerations of attending. Watching the game itself was first, followed by weather and then ease of parking.

The email group also was asked for general comments, if they wished. Among them:
* "we love the 6 p.m. starts for basketball on Saturdays. Is it possible to move them even earlier?"
* "can you move the basketball start times on Saturday back to 7 or even 8?"

Some love the band; others hate the band. In other words, you can't please everyone.

On the other hand, several comments referred to the great atmosphere for kids at games and how much they love attending, and this is really up there near the top of what Princeton's goals are for its events.

So after all this, do we have any answers to our questions? Is there really this huge untapped audience out there, and is the onus on us to figure out how to reach it?

Or is attendance here at the top end of what the market will support?

TigerBlog, along with the rest of Princeton athletics, has no clear answer.

On the other hand, TB feels that after everything that's been tried through the years, the answer to the most effective way to market the 38 teams is by putting on the best possible events for the local community and then letting them know about the affordability (or in the case of 33 sports, the lack of admission charge) and accessibility of Princeton University.

And then develop reliable databases for people who are interested in each particular sport, and then contact them directly. Let them know what event is coming up, and have that come directly to their inbox. Combine this with a strong presence on Facebook, and don't rely on newspaper ads or radio spots or other things that might be expensive.

That, for 2010-11, is the focus. And if that doesn't work, hey, we can always start over.

We've done it before. Many times.

Question: Is there a huge audience out there that wants to come to Princeton games and just hasn't learned about them?

TigerBlog has no idea.


Anonymous said...

Are there any precedents or analogs anywhere in college athletics where a school's marketing has had a material impact on attendance? I see billboards advertising other college football teams (Rutgers and Army) and I doubt they have any more success reaching potential fans than Princeton has had.

It seems that there are relatively few things a college can do in the short term to bump up attendance. In the long run, there are two: a winning team helps (think men's lacrosse and hockey after improvements in the W-L record) and creating a tradition and social event around certain higher profile games (football games against Harvard and Yale, basketball against Penn, men's lacrosse against Syracuse and Cornell).

If you can point to any examples anywhere in college sports of marketing that works in the absence of this kind of long-dated tradition or an improvement in wins and losses, I would be surprised.

Anonymous said...

tiger blog:

i found your blog via link from big green alert.

you write well.

Anonymous said...

Memories of that scary mean doctor on Lost in Space, the show that came on TV right after Bat Man, were bad enough and now you bring up the Mole Men?!

You are not a kind person TigerBlog.

Regarding marketing Princeton athletics, I think (and remember, I too was scarred by bad late 60's TV and I did not even mention Dark Shadows...) there are other possibilities.

Sitting in a stand isn't the only way to support a program. Sitting in the stands and being on campus aren't the only way to show support. Admittedly an important way, but not the only way.

Look around. The clues are hiding in plain sight.

Anonymous said...

Mole men scared me too and "to be continued" was brutal. This reader was hoping that TB might find a tasteful way to reference the recent 40th anniversary of the publication of Deliverance (1970)and the movie (1972).

While on the topic of marketing, what about marketing TigerBlog - an underappreciated gem in the Amazon of Princeton U communications?