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If You Don't Build It, They Will Leave

In the world of spectator sports, the game facility is really the primary concern of the sport marketer. Since marketers can't control the "core product" (the action on the field or court) strategies are employed to maximize consumer enjoyment through continuous enhancement of the "peripheral product", which consists of everything else that the customer experiences. This is why we now have gourmet food, craft beer, cocktails, party decks, and all kinds of new amenities in the "servicescape" these days. Indeed, marketers have to give consumers good reasons to actually go to the games rather than consume them "indirectly" through media channels.

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And so consumers of spectator sport are far more discerning now than they have been in the past, and if the city and team cannot agree to maintain an adequately spiffy stadium or arena, the franchise will eventually move to a city that is willing do so. Recently, the logistical focus has been in the NFL where we are seeing the Chargers, Rams, and Raiders all leave inadequate facilities and move to greener pastures. This phenomenon happens in every league, even Minor League Baseball.

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Voters in Colorado Springs, a relatively large city south of Denver, recently passed up their last chance to build a new sports complex to house the Triple-A Sky Sox, a team that moved from Hawaii in the late 1980's and that plays in a league that is situated just below Major League Baseball. In short, it's good quality, top-tier Minor League Baseball played by guys who are constantly shifting in and out of the two Major Leagues. But with the worst-rated facility among 30 cities and a lagging fan base, it is certainly tough to imagine that the city would be able to keep this team going forward for any length of time. Alas, the Sky Sox is now playing its last season in Colorado Springs and will then move to a brand new facility in San Antonio, a significantly larger market. Updated stadiums that enhance the fan experience are simply a must in this business environment.

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But it's not over for Sky Sox fans. The Short-Season Single A team in Billings, Montana is facing a similar issue with a poor facility and a lagging fan base. Thus, that team will be moving to Colorado Springs to start the season next May. Granted, "short season" is the lowest level of truly "professional" baseball, and fans will have to watch a far lower quality product with players who are highly unlikely to ever reach the Big Leagues. But the lower leagues have lower standards for the fan experience (and lower prices) than the upper leagues. Indeed the facility in Colorado Springs, although basically a "dump", is far better than the one in Billings, and the market south of Denver is larger than all of the major cities in Montana combined. 

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The ownership of the team will remain the same, and marketers have decided to retire the "Sky Sox" moniker, instead compiling a list of five potential team names from which potential fans will choose. None of the names are particularly clever ("Rocky Mountain Oysters", anyone?), but at least team marketers are taking steps to prepare the market for an entirely new product. Minor League Baseball is largely a family affair and not many much care who wins, but stadium improvements, such as more fan protection from sunlight, better restrooms, and asphalt in the parking lots, will still have to be addressed over the next few years. It doesn't make much sense to decrease the core product dramatically by dropping down to the lowest level league while also letting your stadium continue to go to pot. Hopefully the owners, content to let their Triple-A affiliation move to Texas, have plans to keep up with contemporary market conditions. If not, fans of this lower quality product will be few and far between.


Discussion:  Take a look at the current Sky Sox stadium product online. What can marketers do to improve the fan experience for the new team?

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