These days it seems that just about every industry is in need of a government bailout. Here’s an unlikely one to add to the growing list: professional sports. With ticket sales plummeting as the recession deepens, teams are struggling to turn a profit while continuing to pay the inflated contracts of their players. The NBA is being particularly hard hit, and the problem is so bad that 15 teams have been granted money from the government for help.
So why is this noteworthy from a marketing perspective? Because one basketball franchise has leveraged unorthodox marketing tactics to actually grow their profits in the recession: the Harlem Globetrotters. Just yesterday, the Globetrotters played a game on top of the Wachovia Spectrum. Yes, that’s right, on the roof. The stunt was a way of bidding farewell to the soon-to-be-demolished Spectrum and ramping up excitement around the franchise in an irreverent way befitting of the Globetrotters. In fact, thanks in part to the buzz generated through promotions like rooftop basketball, the Globetrotters are in the midst of their “Spinning the Globe” tour where they have set box office record sales in 29 different cities.
What’s the lesson here? Even in struggling industries, companies can survive and even thrive through the strategic use of marketing. To be clear, I’m not advocating for purely gimmicky tactics such as if the Inquirer were to come out with an all-green edition on St. Patrick’s Day, but rather for demonstrable actions that support a company’s long term point of view. In a time when many companies are cutting back on their advertising and marketing budgets, there’s an opportunity for others to fill the void, make their voice heard, and seize market share. In 2009, every company – including sports franchises – needs to take a step back and start to think outside of the box or, in the case of the Globetrotters, outside of the Spectrum.