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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Despite having a rich history of baseball and the oldest professional franchise, Cincinnati has often struggled with attendance, particularly in recent years.  Even when the Reds have playoff appearance seasons, the attendance increases slightly, yet the only consistently sell out crowds come with opening day.  Once the Reds along with residents of Cincinnati, fans, and baseball enthusiasts in general kick off with their annual ceremonial first pitch of the season, attendance begins to dwindle.  We have been assigned to the task of specifying problems and objectives of the Reds, looking into sports consumer market research related to the team, the city of Cincinnati, and the demographics of baseball fans, discussing our findings from this research, and recommending marketing solutions in order to achieve our goals.  We hope that through our efforts to create more promotional events and more of a community atmosphere at Reds games, we will see an increase in average home game attendance in future seasons.  

Perhaps the best thing the Reds have currently going for them is their annual opening day parade, block party, and of course opening day game.  This tradition each year is something Cincinnati residents look forward to, with attendance numbers increasing each year.  The city is proud of their team and its history, and everyone comes together as a community to celebrate and watch baseball.  Since the teams rich history is such an important part of these celebrations and being a Reds fan in general, we believe it is important to provide a brief background on the Cincinnati Reds.

 

In 1866, the Cincinnati Red Stockings were founded, becoming the first openly all-professional baseball team in 1869.  The team now known as the Cincinnati Reds began its professional campaign winning 130 games in a row between 1869 and 1870, until they were ultimately defeated for the first time by the Brooklyn Atlantics.  The team dissolved shortly after as a few players went to Boston along with the namesake, founding the Boston Red Stockings, who would later become the modern day Atlanta Braves.  The new Cincinnati Red Stockings team became a charter member of the National League five years later in 1876, however they were expelled following the 1880 season for violating rules such as serving beer at games and using their ballpark on Sundays.  The third Cincinnati Red Stockings team was founded the following year and was a charter member of the American Association, the new rival league.   After winning the Association pennant in 1882 and playing for 9 seasons in the league, they decided to leave and join the national League along with the Brookyln Dodgers (Young, N.d.).

 It was during this league switch when the Red Stockings became the ‘Reds' as we know them today.  The Red's had a rocky history during the early 1900s, after it was discovered that the Chicago White Sox team who they defeated in the 1919 world championship were accused of intentionally losing in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate.  It wasn't until 1940 when they repeated as National League Champions and captured their first legitimate World Championship.  It was during this time that the Red's captured many historic feats as they were the first team to host a night game in 1935, Johnny Vander Meer became the only pitcher to ever throw back-to-back no-hitters in 1938, and Joe Nuxhall became the youngest person to ever play in a major league game at age 15 in 1944 (Augustyn, 2016).

During the 1954 season, the Reds decided to change their name to the Redlegs due to the ongoing rise of Communism and the Second Red Scare, however the name didn't catch on and was reversed before the 1959 season.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s it became rumored that the Reds were one of the possible National League clubs being considered to move to New York.  However, during this time, Frank Robinson had come onto the scene and attendance at Red's games was increasing, which ultimately stopped the rumors.  Over time, the Red's farm system had begun to produce future stars of the team, such as Pete Rose, Tony Pérez and Johnny Bench.  They also avoided being moved to San Diego after Cincinnati agreed to build brand new state of the art stadium downtown, and the team entered a 30-year lease in exchange in order to keep the franchise in its home city.  In the late 1960s, under GM Bob Howsam and Head Coach Sparky Anderson, the Big Red Machine was born.  There was a strict team rule preventing players from growing mustaches, beards, and long hair, giving the team a clean cut look and portraying the players as traditional and wholesome.  By 1975 the team had wound back-to-back titles with a star-studded lineup that included Tony Pérez, Pete Rose, and Ken Griffey.  In the first of the two World Series runs, one of the most memorable baseball moments of all time way born when Carlton Fisk hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 12th inning which he ‘waved fair' and barely hit the left field foul pole to force game seven.  The Red's ultimately sealed their destiny the next day and went on to win in 1976 as well, becoming the first NL team since the 1921-22 New York Giants to win Back to Back World Series Championships.  It wasn't until 1990 under Lou Piniella that the Red's would win their next World Series Championship, coming as a shock as they swept the Oakland Athletics in four games as underdogs. (Fleming, n.d.)

After 2002, Cinergy Field was demolished and Great American Ball Park was opened.  Attendance improved because of the new facility, however the team struggled despite big hitting by Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, because of their poor pitching.  Injuries became a common problem with the Reds during the early 2000s as the team generally would start off the year strong but falter as the season came to a close, preventing them from earning a playoff spot for ten seasons in a row, and only finishing above .500 in one of those seasons.  The modern day Reds team has not been very successful either, and as a result attendance is low at Great American Ballpark and does not rank well overall in the league.  

The historic past of the Reds is perhaps their greatest strength, yet there are many external opportunities that have not been capitalized on in order to improve attendance numbers.  The recent lack of star power and success on the field has caused average attendance to fall, despite an increased excitement on opening day each year.  We will now break down the Reds using SWOT analysis in order to better understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that the team currently deals with.

As we previously emphasized, the Reds is the oldest professional franchise with a tremendous history. This qualification is completely beneficial for its operation in the long run.  Moreover, we found the Reds have a very important strength when it comes to social media followings.  The Cincinnati Reds Facebook page currently has around 1.27 million fans (Facebook fans, N.d.).  It ranks 17th in the MLB despite being one of the smaller markets for MLB teams.  Even some dominant teams such as the Cleveland Indians (16th), Houston Astros (ranks 18th), and Washington Nationals (26th ) are in larger markets yet the Reds manage to keep very competitive numbers.  Additionally, the Reds rank 18th in twitter followers with 817,000 as of April 2018.  This ranks higher than Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. who all have larger markets than the Reds (Twitter followers, N.d.).  The last strength the Reds currently have is their relatively new stadium in Great American Ballpark.  They have shown to receive feedback well as after fans complained that the food was not great at the ballpark, new restaurants were added including a high-end sports bar in 2017.  They have added local Cincinnati staples like Montgomery Inn BBQ, Skyline Chili, Frisch's Big Boy, and Penn Station Subs to appease their fan's culinary desires (Vorholt, 2017).

The Reds have a large opportunity in terms of geographical area population.  While the city of Cincinnati itself on has 298,000 residents, the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan area has 2,114,580 inhabitants, which includes counties from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana (US Census Bureau, n.d.).  It is definitely beneficial in the long run for the Reds to build fan communities within these counties in order to improve average attendance.  They also only have one other professional sports team to compete with in the area, being the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL, so there is no real threat of rival fan bases that the Reds have to deal with.  Along with this, they have the opportunity to market their loyalty to the city as there have been numerous offers for the Reds to move to other cities, yet the team has remained in Cincinnati throughout their entire existence.

Generally speaking, the greatest weakness for the Reds is their inability to fill Great American Ballpark.   Their lack of recent success certainly plays a large part in this as the last time the Reds made the playoffs were in 2012, as they lost in the wild card game in 2013.  However even in their more successful seasons, much of the ballpark is still left empty.  In addition, the Reds have traded star players like Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, and Todd Frazier, leaving them with minimal star power to draw crowds.  Since they have not had very successful seasons in recent years, the fan base tends to be older from the days when Cincinnati had star players and won World Series Championships.  This leaves a big gap in the younger generation of fans, a market that has not been successfully tapped into yet.  Furthermore, data shows that the Reds payroll ranked 15 in the MLB in 2018 (Statista, 2018). However, the most important factor related to the payroll and roster of the team is that the Reds didn't sign superstars as free agents in recent years. Their star players Joey Votto and Homer Bailey took near half of the payroll meaning that the team didn't spend much on signing new players (Fox Sports, 2017).   Even though the Reds have an advantage with their tremendous baseball history in Cincinnati, they have not built a clear brand position although they claim, “Since 1876, the Reds have defined the word ‘tradition” (Hyperquake,n.d.). This leaves an important marketing task in the future, as creating new traditions outside of Opening Day will allow for the fan base to feel more connected to the team.  

The most viable threat for the Reds is the small market in the city of Cincinnati itself, however as we previously discussed, new marketing tactics can be implemented in order to draw fans from the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan area.  

According to our SWOT analysis, we propose the Reds implement new brand positioning, marketing strategies, and marketing goals as follows.  The Reds franchise has uniquely positioned itself to pay homage to the tradition of baseball and the roots it has in Cincinnati, while creating an engaging future with fans who won't grow up with the same heritage and perspective that their parents and grandparents did.  Outside of Opening Day, many fans may not be aware of all of this history and we believe the Reds need to do a better job of making their brand focused around the team's history.  The most efficient way of doing this is through social media, in order to attract younger fans and give them insight into the team's history with minimal costs involved.  By promoting events, fans can easily see promotional giveaway days and have a better understanding of when they can attend games.  Simultaneously, social media accounts could provide a ‘This Day In History' post that outlines major historic moments for the Reds, allowing new fans to experience part of the history themselves and get a better understanding of the teams branding.  We believe the Reds can then reposition their branding to “Not only an old team with historic heritage, but also a traditional team rooted in local communities.”

According to our marketing strategies, the Reds' marketing goals in the short term are increasing the number of young fans, increasing the awareness of team information to theses fans, and increasing fans motivations to attend games even when the team is not playing well.  In the long term, the Reds marketing goals are building communities, increasing market size by expanding geography range, and increasing brand awareness and loyalty. As we analyze in the Reds' SWOT analysis, there long term goals are beneficial for its operation in the long run as the current situation at Great American Ballpark is explained clearly in one quote, “The fan you see today is the not the fan you will see tomorrow” (Hyperquake,n.d.).

As we looked into economic and consumer market research we learned that the Red's ranked 26th overall in the MLB in 2017 only bringing in 1.84 million fans during the season.  Broken down by game, we see that only 22,677 fans attended on average which may seem like a lot until you factor in the total capacity of Great American Ballpark, at 42,319.  This means that on average, roughly 54% of the seats were filled, leaving a lot of room for improvement (Ballpark Facts and Figures, n.d.).  While Cincinnati is a much smaller market than cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, with a total population of 298,000 people, the greater Cincinnati area, which includes counties from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, has a total population of 2,114,580 (US Census Bureau, n.d.).  The greater metropolitan area is certainly a population that we hope to attract more of to Great American Ballpark through our future promotional ideas.  When we look at the demographics of Cincinnati, it is evident that a large majority of the population is female, at nearly 53% (US Census Bureau, n.d.).  Further consumer market research shows that when 1,006 Americans were asked about their opinion of professional baseball, 56% of women said that they were ‘not at all a fan' (Ipsos, n.d.). This leaves a large percentage of the population, especially in Cincinnati, that has yet to successfully be drawn to spectate a baseball game.  

Since the largest problem for the Red's from a marketing standpoint is not being able to fill seats, we have decided to create a number of new promotional ideas in order to attract more fans and create a welcoming atmosphere.  As discussed earlier, the two demographic groups that we would like to appeal to most are younger people and females of all ages.  One promotion that we believe will allow both of these groups to feel connected to the Reds and Great American Ballpark is through a deal with local Little League Baseball and softball teams.  Throughout the Reds season, we will invite members of little league baseball and softball teams to attend reds games with their families or other team members.  Groups with little league baseball or softball players will receive discounted tickets, and an ongoing season-long competition will be held where members of teams will get points for each game they attend.  At the end of the season, the two little league baseball teams and two little league softball teams with the most attendance points will be able to compete against one another at Great American Ballpark.  This would be a fantastic promotion to put into place because it accomplishes a number of our goals.  First, it creates a fun competition amongst local teams and attracts both young fans, groups if teams choose to attend together, and families as kids will more frequently ask their parents to bring them to games in order to win the competition.  Having young people at these games will create a long lasting appreciation for the Reds and ideally turn them into Reds fans for life, so that they may bring their children in the future and continue the tradition.  Another key goal that this promotion accomplishes is creating female fans at a young age.  As we discussed through our sport consumer market research, women tend to not enjoy professional baseball and the easiest way to create female fans is by allowing them to develop a love for the game and the Reds at a young age.  

The next promotional idea we have created is college nights.  As we previously stated, the population of the City of Cincinnati is just 298,000 people, however there are many colleges within a fifty mile radius of Cincinnati that have large student bodies.  For example, The University of Cincinnati is just three miles from Great American Ballpark and has roughly 39,000 students, while Miami (Ohio) University is just less than 40 miles away and has another 19,700 students.  We believe these schools along with a number of other local universities are currently untapped in terms of potential ticket sales and will offer 10% discounts on concessions sales for weekend games with the presentation of a valid student ID.  Not only does this create a fun tradition for college students in the area to become a part of, it also attracts young fans that may decide to stay in the Cincinnati area following graduation.  

Our third promotional idea is partnering with Women Helping Women, an organization that helps prevent gender-based violence and serves as a platform to empower survivors of gender-based violence.  We believe that although it is difficult to turn adult females with no interest in baseball into Reds fans, it is a step in the right direction of creating a tightly knit and welcoming community at Great American Ballpark.  We have decided to create ‘Women's Nights', where periodically throughout the season, all proceeds from the 50-50 raffle will be donated to Women Helping Women, and we will honor survivors of gender-based violence.  Through this promotion we hope to help end gender-based violence while also creating a bond with the women in our community, and hopefully create a few Reds fans in the process.  

Our fourth and final promotional idea for the time being is honoring award winning movie director and producer Stephen Spielberg, a Cincinnati native.  By partnering with Mr. Spielberg and his team, we could create Stephen Spielberg appreciation nights where fans can dress up as their favorite characters from movies that he has either directed or produced with the best costumes winning prizes.  Additionally, we could host movie night events where those who purchase Saturday day game Reds tickets would be granted access to Saturday Night movie screenings in the outfield.  There is also a potential opportunity to host new movie premieres for Mr. Spielberg's upcoming releases, making the Cincinnati community proud of their fellow citizens and creating a fun atmosphere for families and friends.  

While we hope to use these promotional ideas in order to fill more seats at Great American Ballpark and create an upward trend in average attendance, we still see our biggest goal as creating a community environment that makes people want to come back.  Two of the most beloved professional baseball stadiums are Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, and Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.  While both stadiums have something we are unable to replicate at Great American Ballpark, being the history of the ballparks themselves and the old time feel, they do carry one tradition that we would like to newly implement at Great American Ballpark.  The Red Sox have the song Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond played during before the bottom of the eighth inning of every home game, while the Cubs have Take Me Out to the Ballgame sung, and often led by celebrities, during the seventh inning stretch of every home game.  Both of these traditions of song are something that fans can rely on and sing along together, in both good and bad times.  We would like to implement the song ‘Shout!' by the Isley Brothers at future Cincinnati Reds home games to recreate a similar environment.  The Isley Brothers are from Cincinnati and their hit song ‘Shout!' is a fun, catchy song that will surely get Reds fans on their feet and dancing, and make everyone feel involved and part of the team.  

We believe that through our new marketing promotions, the Reds will see a steady increase in average game attendance in future seasons.  Fans will feel more closely connected to their beloved Reds team, celebrating the teams history and the city's history, and young fans will grow up to teach their children about the new traditions that motivated them to become Reds fans.  The city, and greater metropolitan area, will rally behind the Reds in good and bad times.  We believe that in the short term, these promotions can stimulate fans' motivations to attend games.  In the long run, it will be beneficial to utilize social media to spread these promotions, as well as the team's brand in order to create awareness and gain loyalty from our new fans.  We believe following the steps we have outlined will be beneficial for the city of Cincinnati and the Reds organization, and will put Great American Ballpark on the map as an ideal environment to watch a baseball game.  

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