Red Sox Seek Younger Fans, Not Just Younger Players

Red Sox Seek Younger Fans, Not Just Younger Players
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You're the Boston Red Sox, one of the most revered brands in sports
You just got bounced out of the playoffs.
Yet the biggest challenge - or as Red Sox President Sam Kennedy views it, the biggest opportunity - lies not on the field but in the stands.
The Sox' early playoff exit notwithstanding, the question remains:
How do you get 21st century kids to look up from their mobile devices, focus on a 19th century sport that literally bears the distinction as America's favorite "PAST-TIME," and become the next generation of Fenway faithful?
The question is bigger than baseball. The real question is how any aging brand attracts and retains younger customers.
As a boy, Red Sox co-owner John Henry, fell asleep to St. Louis Cardinals broadcasts on his transistor radio.
A second co-owner, Tom Werner, fell in love with Fenway when he was a Harvard undergrad.
Your team President grew up a mile away from the ballpark attending countless games at Fenway with his father, a minister with a clergy pass.
So for Red Sox leadership, this isn't just a business problem - it's personal.
"We've seen statistics," said Adam Grossman, the Red Sox' Chief Marketing Officer, "telling us that a child under the age of nine who attends a Red Sox game will atend 57 percent more Sox games over the course of his lifetime than kids who experiences his or her first big-league game at 14."
So what lessons can be learned from the master marketers of the Red Sox about cultivating the next generation of customers?
The Sox' strategy has three main components: provide greater access to Red Sox games; enhance the family experience at Fenway, and celebrate and strengthen the game of baseball in the community.
They make your pitch to kids in a variety of ways, starting with access to affordable tickets. The Red Sox transformed their children's membership club, "Red Sox Kids Nation,'' from a retail merchandising program with a $25 entry-level tier, to a youth engagement platform that now comes with a free ticket to a Red Sox game. Since the program launched in 2015, close to 70,000 kids in all 50 states signed up.
"Red Sox Kid Nation has always been a great value - you always got really good swag," Grossman says. "Backpacks and lunch boxes, for example, discounts on tickets, and experiential opportunities like getting to run the bases. But we wanted to make it easier for kids to connect with the club and experience Fenway Park so we created the free tier of Kid Nation. The program is now much more of a youth engagement platform than a merchandising relationship."
Greater access for kids? Check. But what about harder to reach teens and college students?
The Red Sox created a student ticket price of $9, which gets young fans - college and high school students - into any game all season long.
"I believe students ought to be able to attend a baseball game for less than the cost of a movie ticket," says Kennedy. "And sometimes admission means standing room, sometimes great seats. But if you're a student, you pay $9 and you're in."
And while baseball will always be the primary draw at Fenway, under Henry and Werner's ownership the club has worked to host other marquee events that draw new audiences to Fenway.
You might see a high school or college football game in the fall, ski jumping in the winter, summer concerts or minor league ball.
Futures At Fenway Minor League doubleheader offered ticket prices starting at $5, or a field box ticket or Green Monster seat for just $30. The series ran for 9 straight years, providing a showcase for Red Sox minor league talent and reaching attendance of 30,000 - and the Red Sox figure plenty of those new Fenway fans will come back for major league action.
Of course, if you want to reach kids, you've got to go through the moms.
In 2012, as part of a broader research study, Grossman organized two focus groups - which ultimately led to the launch of the "Red Sox Moms Club," a brand ambassador program with "mom bloggers"-- influential New England-based moms with large online and social media followings.
"They all described themselves as die-hard fans," Grossman recalls. "And they showed up head-to-toe in Red Sox gear. But half of the moms had never been to a game in the previous year, and only a few had been to one or two games.
"We knew we had some serious work to do."
The Fenway brass learned that moms had to divert their attention from game time to nap time -- specifically the naps of the youngest fans the Sox wanted to entice to the park.
"A major league baseball game can be an assault on the senses, for younger kids," Grossman says, "and the families are obviously paying a lot of money to come to Fenway.
"So if they get there and little Johnny melts down in the second inning and they don't have a place to go, they're in trouble."
This bit of marketing guidance led to the creation of Wally's Clubhouse, an "escape route," in the words of one of the mom bloggers, for parents with young children.
Open from the third through seventh innings, kids can do face painting, line up for a balloon animal, pose in a replica Clubhouse locker, or otherwise chill out from the overwhelming experience of being among 38,000 strangers.
The Clubhouse experience gives little ones a chance to reset, so families have a better chance of seeing a walk-off win vs. having to walk out of the park early.
This means that Mom, bespangled in the latest fashions from the souvenir store, has a shot at watching another couple of innings before her little one tells her, "Game over."
"We heard a really interesting thing from one of the moms," Grossman says. "They wanted Wally's Clubhouse to be good, but not too good, because otherwise the kids would not want to go back out to the game."
Any parent who's taken young children to Disneyworld can relate to the shock of watching their little ones scared out of their Crocs by a Disney cast member wearing a character costume.
Oddly, the same thing was happening at Fenway, where Wally, the Green Monster, about as benign as mascots go, was inadvertently terrifying three-year-olds, including Grossman's own daughter.
Enter Tessie.
Tessie, the brainchild of Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Sox co-owner John Henry, is much more relatable for little girls.
And despite the challenges of playing in America's oldest operating ballpark, the club even made major capital improvements to Fenway.
One of those changes was to transform the right field entrance into Gate K (for kids), a special entrance dedicated to children and families, that serves as a gateway to the new Kid Nation Concourse.
The team also made the behind-the-bleachers concourse more kid-friendly, with Fenway team members watching out for little ones and their families.
For parents blanching at the cost of ballpark snacks, there are $5 kids meals consisting of a mini hotdog, cotton candy, and a small juice.
Older kids at Fenway take advantage of Virtual Reality dugouts, where they get to experience standing in against a David Price 95-mile-an-hour fastball.
"Boston Mayor Marty Walsh tried on the virtual reality goggles," Grossman laughs. "We had a hard time getting them off him."
The Sox' reach extends far beyond Gate K. Every Massachusetts Little League team that reaches out to the Red Sox gets a sponsorship, whether it's a banner, a uniform patch, or some other connection to the big league team.
"We're also heavily involved in RBI," Grossman says, referring to Reviving Baseball in the Inner City, a Major League Baseball program meant to grow interest in baseball in urban neighborhoods.
The Red Sox realized that making Fenway Park more accessible for kids was a great start, but bringing Fenway Park to kids throughout the region would broaden their reach even further.
Enter the Red Sox Mobile Showcase, a 15-foot truck with panels that transform into the Green Monster wall and interactive baseball activities.
The truck has made more than 60 stops across New England this summer and fall, reaching thousands of kids in the process.
"When I was a kid," Sox President Kennedy recalls, "I used to stand outside the Sheraton, where visiting teams stayed back then, and get autographs.
"I was totally hooked on baseball from an early age.
"Today, there are so many activities and interests, starting with digital devices, to keep kids from developing a relationship with baseball.
"If we can only get them here once, we believe they'll be fans for life."

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