A recent episode of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett took viewers to Seattle. Known for its dynamic culture, this is a city where movements begin. More curiously, Seattle is now the host to the newest and most successful underdog in the sports community – the Seattle Sounders, a Major League Soccer team that has sextupled (that’s five times) their business growth in less than 2 years. They are successfully moving more tickets than any other team in their industry, double than their highest competitor. They fill every home game with over 65,000 fans.
So what is behind their growth and what is the brand doing differently than others? Break down the strategy the Sounders took to grow engagement with fans that resulted in dramatic increase in customer experience and sales.
Developing the base:
The Sounders executive team has been building their reputation for years, and they began at the ground level with youth soccer enthusiasts as young as 13 years old. It’s not a coincidence that the business flourished in Seattle, which happens to have the highest per capita youth and amateur adult soccer participation rates in the country. Soccer is generational in Seattle and part of the culture of the community. The Sounders have influenced their brand into the soccer culture making it “cool” to be a Sounders fan.
The Sounders knew to grow a big brand they had to become a major player. They partnered with the Seattle Seahawks, a local NFL team with an existing big business operation. By partnering with the NFL, the Sounders leveraged the operational support and marketing appeal of one of the most desirable brands in the world, the National Football League. With the partnership established, the Sounders brand went from being viewed as a major league team instead of a minor overnight. The positioning was everything. With the major league appearance came demand for major league products and major league tickets. And it’s not what you think, the sales didn’t come from advertisers converting existing Seahawks fans into Sounders fans…It was all organic! In fact, there is only a 2% crossover rate between the team’s consumers. That is eye opening. So what are they doing so differently?
The Sounders are driving more business by incorporating their fans into the brand itself. But not just with products and social engagement – they literally allow the fans to run the business of the team. The Sounders founded a fan council, made up of 41 season ticket holders that are elected by other ticket holders. The council is a coveted seat where they sit in on the decision-making processes of the company itself, from naming the team, to discussing price increases, products and engagement experiences. No where else are fans integrated to such a committed relationship with the operations.
Drink the Kool-Aid:
It’s not just the fans that are fanatical about the Sounders brand. It starts first with the leadership team. They are a team connected with the community and the emotions of the fans. Here is a sports team that at one time during a very heated match against the ALAs, a pitted rival where the Sounders were beaten on their own turf. The executives were so upset by the loss they actually refunded the money they had made from the tickets for that match. We are talking well over $1 million dollars. They are emotionally connected to the team, the brand and community…and the fans can feel it.
An advertisers dream:
There’s a tipping point of which the kids who grew up playing soccer are now at the age between 21 and 35 and in Seattle they happen to have a higher per average capital income. Meaning their fan base is fairly affluent. Which means not only did they have a rich fan base but they have a fan base that grew up playing soccer. All that coming together made for an unbelievably ripe market. To the point where they’re filling stadiums twice as much as their closest competitor, and sometimes outpacing the other major sports.
In the end business is for profit and the Sounders have built an advertisers dream through a series of elements starting by pinpointing their target demographics to Seattle with the highest soccer participation rates. They create a cult-like following by giving the brand to the fans by allowing a platform to engage and even control the business, and the rest is history. In the case of the Sounders, advertisers quickly learned that the fastest way to grow the brand was to let the consumer’s have it.
Jeffrey Hayzlett is a global business celebrity and speaker, bestselling author, Contributing Editor and Host of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett on Bloomberg Television. He is the CEO of The Hayzlett Group, an international strategic business consulting company focused on leading change and developing high growth companies. Connect with Hayzlett on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or email.