Using Grassroots & Digital Marketing to Defeat the Three A’s for Sports Franchises

Modern sports franchises are more sophisticated than ever in their ability to diversify revenue streams and maximize secondary, and even tertiary, methods of income. We’ve seen broadcasting rights explode in valuation, according to Bizjournals, and are now witnessing the opening of an entirely different revenue stream, real estate, according to Sports Illustrated.

However, as Americans’ entertainment preferences evolve, sports franchises are still battling the same old issues that threaten their primary source of revenue: their hometown fans. Traditionally, sports franchises have relied on the backing of their hometown fans to drive and create revenue, whether it be through straightforward avenues like season tickets, concessions, and merchandise, to extended avenues like both in-stadium advertising and sponsorships.

In general, we can boil down the challenges sports franchises face in establishing and nurturing their hometown fanbases into three categories*: Awareness, Apathy, and Anxiety. And, we can utilize grassroots marketing strategies to address each of these pain points.


While this pain point is most commonly felt by new franchises, most teams face at least some awareness problems in their home markets. People don’t just need to know the team exists, they need to be familiar with where they play (both physically and on television), when they play, and most importantly, their story.

Building grassroots campaigns are effective here because they build and cultivate the foundation of a fanbase. They succeed because they take the product to the people, making it easy for fans to learn about and engage with the brand. Atlanta United, one of MLS’s most successful franchises off the pitch, partnered with community organizations to build soccer pitches throughout the city of Atlanta, an initiative that not only benefits their community, but also allows them to reinforce their brand literally at the ground level of their hometown.


Sports franchises are not unique in their battle against consumer indifference. Even once they pass the first hurdle of awareness, they all have to compete against the challenges of disengaged fans. While this can be difficult for some clubs (after all, there isn’t a marketing strategy that guarantees results on the field), there are ways to combat this challenge and build goodwill amongst fanbases.

When we looked at content creation principles, one of the pillars we explored was community. We can build digital and grassroots strategies based on this concept of community that brings fans closer to the team. Minneapolis City SC, a fourth division soccer club, has built a cult following in the Midwest because of campaigns like their jersey vote, which allows fans to vote on designs for their club’s jerseys for the season.


The sports industry will always have to deal with its place as a leisure activity, meaning that it will always be subjected to the impacts of economic anxiety. Because of this, it’s essential that sports teams look at fans for their lifetime value and not just the one-time payoff of getting them into the ballpark. We’re looking to grow affinity and turn it into loyalty, which we can’t do if we price fans out of experiencing their team in person.


We can see the downside to an aggressive pricing strategy with US Soccer’s lagging attendance at Men’s National Team matches, which was down 43% in 2019 versus 2015, according to Forbes, and can be largely attributed to skyrocketing ticket prices, according to The Guardian.



The flip side to this can be seen in efforts by other teams, like the Miami Marlins, who have well-documented attendance struggles. In 2019, the Marlins introduced a special $3 o $5 concessions menu which offers fans a number of food options at reasonable prices. Doubling down on this strategy, the Marlins announced in early 2020 that the menu would return for the 2020 season and that they would introduce a new pricing scheme for their on-site parking garages, which together significantly lower the barriers of entry for families looking to get to a game together.

Ultimately, whether you’re marketing men’s deodorant or Major League Soccer, the first step of Marketing is to consider your consumers’ needs and desires. Regardless of how the sports industry continues to evolve, teams that keep their fans first will always stay ahead of the curve. Targeting the Three A’s of awareness, apathy, and anxiety with innovative grassroots and digital campaigns that meet fans where they are can set any team in any market up for success.

*It is worth mentioning, though, that these pain points apply most directly to franchises that do not necessarily have decade upon decade of brand equity built up.

Alexandra Reyes:

Guillermo Page:

Nery Abreu:

Alexandra Reyes:

Guillermo Page:

Nery Abreu:

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