Let’s assume that you are a loyal Phillies fan and I ask you, “Who do the Phillies compete with?” You would likely answer the Mets, Braves, Nationals, etc. As a fan, your primary focus is the team on the field, and its ability to produce wins. The Phillies place in the standings respective to other NL East teams is (probably) the only metric you care about.
Does asking that question to executives on the business side of sports teams, collegiate athletic departments and minor league properties produce the same answer? The answer is no. In fact, on the business side, the Phillies are more likely to collaborate, rather than compete, with the Mets, Braves and Nationals. In a way, the Phillies are teammates with other MLB teams. They are not competing with each other for ticket sales, TV ratings and many other revenue streams. They are all trying to grow the business and popularity of MLB within their respective markets. If the Braves have great ideas on how to stimulate ticket sales, the other 29 MLB teams want to hear those ideas so each can then evaluate if they can implement them in their home markets.
The business operations of most sports properties see themselves in competition with other sports properties within their DMA. Using my Philadelphia home as an example, the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, Flyers and Union all compete for the avidity and loyalty of the local fan base. The low-hanging fruit that they are fighting for is the casual fan. The casual fan loves the team when times are good. However, that same fan is passive during the team’s down-swings. So, the question becomes: how do the Sixers engage with the casual fan, get him/her exposed to the brand and the gameday experience and elevate him/her to become an avid fan of the Sixers ahead of the other local teams?
Let’s take the discussion of competition a step further. It is very common to hear sports executives talk about competing for the consumer’s discretionary dollar and time/attention. Any options for the general public to spend their time and their money should be viewed as legitimate competition to a sports property. Four hours and $100 for a round of golf could be on par with the cost of two tickets to a Major League Baseball game and the time spent driving to the game, watching the game and driving home. As a person in his 40’s, married with two kids and a busy work schedule, I encounter this internal debate very frequently. Do I want to dedicate those four hours/$100 to a MLB game, or do I want to dedicate them to different entertainment options: the driving range, the movies, a visit to the park, a trip to a local museum or the zoo, or simply casual time with friends and family? To be clear, I absolutely love going to sporting events – nothing can compare with the excitement of being at a game with thousands of other like-minded fans. However, I am realizing the competition for my time and money, even as a dedicated and avid fan, is real.
I am very curious as to what the competitive landscape will look like in five to ten years. Will spending my time and discretionary income at a sporting event continue to be a debatable decision?