SportsBiz Madness 2020: Case Study Tournament

Opening Round Recap

We received over 60 entries from students for our fourth annual SportsBiz Madness case study tournament. As always, we couldn’t be more impressed with the submissions.  Tasked with the development of a promotions plan that would help a new minor league baseball franchise based in Madison, Wisconsin reach a goal of at least 85% stadium capacity for the season, the student response was fantastic.  They demonstrated a clear understanding of the important role ticket sales plays in the financial viability of a minor league franchise, and how promotion and fan experience impact the team’s ability to sell.

We had a number of student teams that submitted particularly impressive responses to the first case study.  Unfortunately, only eight could be selected to advance to our “elite eight” round of the competition where the tournament shifts to a “head to head” format.

Of course, selecting just eight teams from our pool of entries is always extremely difficult. It was very evident that students put forth a lot of effort in creating their responses to the first case study, including a lot of background research on the Madison market, including local businesses and city/community traditions and history.  For example, one team named their franchise the “Sugar Maples”, a reference to the official state tree of the state of Wisconsin.  I was born and raised in Madison and didn’t even know that!  We also saw a number of teams incorporating either cheese, cows, capitals (Madison is the capital city of Wisconsin) or popular area lake fish (Walleye, Pike, Muskies etc) into team names, further demonstrating that the students did their homework on the Madison area.

As we evaluated each entry, it was fun to see the creativity behind all of the ideas for promotions, but ultimately we had to select the entries that best met the criteria established in the assigned case study.  One of the most critical elements (in addition to offering creative and unique promotion ideas) was to provide a clear strategic plan for how promotions would help the franchise bottom line, specifically by meeting attendance goals.  Those who communicated the best and most viable strategies were the teams selected to advance to the “Elite Eight” round.

To challenge the students even more this year, we only allowed a maximum of two pages for their promotional plan submissions. While we would have liked to see more emphasis on groups and theme nights, with a focus on driving sales, students really nailed the creative aspect of the competition. It was a bit surprising to see how few entries incorporated any digital or social components to their promotions planning, but those who did really knocked it out of the park (so to speak).

As we look ahead, eight teams will compete head to head for the chance to advance to the SportsBiz Madness Final Four.  The teams were not seeded.  Names were drawn from a hat and added to the bracket accordingly.  We can’t wait to see what the students come up with as a response to the next case study as they are asked to create a sponsorship activation plan for a brand in the lead up to the Tokyo Games this summer, assuming (and hoping) they go on as scheduled.

HONORABLE MENTION

Before we recap the opening round and announce the teams that will advance, there are a couple of items that need to be addressed.

One, it is important to note that some entries came from twelve different school districts around the country, including submissions from individual students, small groups, and full classrooms.  In some cases, an individual school submitted multiple entries.

Two, the case study was presented in a way that encouraged teams to create a promotions plan that would boost attendance for a new MiLB franchise.  Specific instructions were provided (along with a due date deadline), and teams were evaluated on how well they followed instructions, demonstrated a fundamental understanding of sports business concepts, and their creativity.  Additional consideration was given to how well participating teams researched the market (Madison, WI) prior to developing the brand.

The most common promotions featured in this year’s batch of entries:

  • Star Wars
  • Mother’s Day / Father’s Day
  • Bring your dog to the park
  • 4th of July
  • Bobblehead giveaways
  • Discounted food / concessions promotions
  • Christmas in July
  • Back to School

Of course, this does not indicate lack of creativity, just recognition of what promotions have actually been successfully attract fans to the ballpark.  This suggests participating schools did their homework!

There were a lot of great ideas this year.  We would like to recap some highlights before announcing which teams will advance to the next round of our case study tournament.  All participating teams deserve a standing ovation for their efforts…easily the best case study competition yet!

SHOUT OUTS

“Madison Muskies” – Downers Grove South (Illinois)

Paying tribute to some of the most popular symbols of the Madison area culture, this group of students from Downers Grove South High School opted to name their team the Madison Muskies and to call “Brats Stadium” home, honoring one of Wisconsin’s favorite food groups, the bratwurst. As described in the team’s promotion report: “We chose Brats Stadium because we found that Madison is home to the world’s largest Bratwurst festival and the fans love them and the city of Madison hosts a Bratwurst festival every year.” Great logo too, can see fans scooping up tons of Muskies merchandise this season for sure!

“Madison Bison” – Independence High School (Virginia)

In what might be the very best example of a classic whacky minor league marketing stunt, one entry that came from Independence High School in Virginia suggested a promotion for “Awful Night.” According to the team’s case study submission, one of the promotions on the Bison’s calendar for its inaugural season would encourage fans to wear the other team’s clothing that doesn’t match, concessions stands would serve “uncomfortable foods” and the stadium PA announcer would purposefully pronounce the names wrong. Classic minor league sports promo!

“Madison Lakers” – Wichita East (Kansas)

The Lakers offer several great ideas for some fun on-field promotions. “Chuck-a-Ball” and “Baseball Bingo” would certainly be entertaining for the fans and having each promo sponsored is a great way to generate revenue. We would have liked to see more promotions that would boost ticket sales, however, like theme nights and group sales, but loved the concepts from a game entertainment and fan experience perspective.

Here are the descriptions for the promos via the Lakers’ case study entry:

Chuck-a-Ball: Each fan will receive a foam ball with a number on it assigned to them when they enter the gates. When instructed, fans will throw their ball to a designated target on the field. The one fan that comes closest to the target will receive a prize. Sponsored by Hitters SportsPlex.

Baseball bingo: Bingo cards distributed to fans as they enter the stadium. Each card represents a play that could happen during the game – either offensively or defensively for the Lakers. For example, double play by defense or home run by offense. Keep track of the bingo card and prizes will be rewarded for the game the fan chooses to play; i.e. black out (fill the whole card), four corners, or just plain Bingo. Sponsored by Heartland Credit Union.

Nice job by the students at Wichita East High!

“Wisconsin Wedges” – Independence High School (Virginia)

First and foremost, really liked the name and though students at Independence High did a great job keeping everything “on-brand” with this case study entry. In particular, thought the concept of hosting a “Cheese Parade” to introduce the team and kick off the season was a great idea to get area fans excited about the new franchise. According to the team’s promotion plan: “The parade would consist of cheese themed floats and community engagements. Community engagements will consist of giveaways throughout the parade by the players on the team. Also, we will have a band to help send off the team to the first game. Throughout the whole month, if you visit Chipotle and mention the Wedges, you will receive one free Queso Blanco dip per visit. To promote the upcoming season for the Wisconsin Wedges, players and coaches will show up periodically to Chipotle to sign autographs and talk with the community.” LOVE the tie-in with Chipotle as a sponsor and providing resources to activate the sponsorship will certainly add value to that partnership.

Also loved the second major promotional push with the “Cheese Olympics” during the team’s 4 home game stretch in May, featuring a different event before each game. According to the team’s promo plan, the events included will be the cheese throw, cheese high jump, cheese dash, and cheese bowling. Encouraging fan participation in events like these would most certainly boost levels of fan engagement.

Really creative work from the Wedges front office, well done.

“Mendota 4ths” – Dallas High School (Pennsylvania)

The award for most unique franchise nickname goes to a group of students from Dallas High School in PA who named their team the “Mendota 4ths.” For some context, James Madison (whom the capital of Wisconsin is named after) was the 4th president of the United States, and the city is home to four lakes.

Also thought the team’s idea for a May 2nd promo, which is National Brothers and Sisters day, was pretty clever. The team announced plans to host challenges encouraging sibling competitions between innings, like a three-legged race in which the duo that wins will receive free jerseys, signed by the team’s star player Tim Givens. Between the 6th and 7th inning, brothers and sisters would participate in an egg toss competition. The siblings that make it the farthest distance without cracking the egg will receive tickets to sit front row, behind home plate at the next Mendota 4ths game they can attend.

Some good ideas here…nice job Mendota 4ths front office!

Lake Mendota Badgers – Miami Valley Career Tech Center (Ohio)

A couple of really good ideas to highlight from the Badgers’ case study entry. Absolutely loved the idea of a “fishing tailgate” (one other case study submission suggested something similar), but the concept could be really fun and a great way to lure fans to the ballpark on hot summer days in Madison.

Also liked the idea of celebrating “National Root Beer Float Day” at the stadium for an August home game. Fans love collector or commemorative items so providing a limited edition team cup to help celebrate the promotion adds a nice touch.

Overall, nice job by this group of students from MVCTC!

“Wisconsin Wildcats” – Independence High School (Virginia)

Great idea to engage in a cross promotion strategy that adds value for your fans. Recognizing that the stadium’s close proximity to Lake Mendota is one of the most valuable assets for the new franchise, the Wildcats chose to partner with a local cruise company, Betty Lou Cruise. Fans buying 10 or more tickets would be treated to a free Betty Lou Cruise on Lake Mendota.

Also like the fan engagement strategy of encouraging fans to tweet “cheesy jokes” during games for opportunities to win merchandise, and announcing the winners on the Jumbotron (and via Twitter) is a great way to bring attention to the promotion. Keeping it “cheesy” is clever as well, aligning the social media marketing strategy with the team’s cheese-related promotions. Well done Wildcats front office!

“Wisconsin Snowriders” & “Wisconsin Stingers” – Dallas High School (Pennsylvania)

Both the Stingers and Snowriders (loved this nickname by the way…one of our favorites from the competition) chose to launch “Water Balloon Night” promos, each with a different twist. The Snowriders would allow “everyone in the stands to buy water balloons at concession stands and fill em up with a free-to-use hose and throw them at anyone in the stadium” while the Stingers would encourage families to “purchase buckets of water balloons, or bring their own, and chuck them onto the field at the players after they are done playing. When the game is finished, everyone can jump onto the field and throw water balloons at each other, creating one big water balloon fight.” Fun idea, in theory, but likely too much of a logistical nightmare with some potential liability consequences as well to pull this off. Fun idea though!

A more realistic promotion might be the Snowriders plan to offer a “Slip N’ Slide Day” after one of the team’s final day game of the season. According to the team, Slip N’ Slides would be installed on the field, outside the stadium AND near the lake and fans can enjoy them for free with the purchase of a ticket to the game. Offering $1 hot dogs, drinks and fries as part of the promotion would also help to draw a crowd.

Great ideas from the Stingers and Snowriders…well done!

ADVANCING TO THE “ELITE EIGHT”:

“Madison Pioneers” – Downers Grove South (Illinois)

Cool promotional flyer from students at Downers Grove South, great idea to provide sales material that will help persuade fans to buy tickets to come out to the ballpark and enjoy the Pioneers’ promotions.

Great idea to offer a post-game concert series, and clearly the front office did their homework on the Wisconsin area by promoting a concert featuring an iconic band in the region with the Bodeans. A lesser known band would be a more affordable, making a concert series a more realistic option for the team.

Also really liked the idea of proactively establishing relationships with all the neighboring businesses prior to the season, helping to create the best possible experience for fans but also creating lots of avenues for drawing interest from area fans who are dining and shopping at stores and restaurants in the area. Nice job Pioneers!

“Mad Town Hodags” – Downers Grove North (Illinois)

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what a Hodag was until I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, “In Wisconsin folklore, the hodag is a fearsome critter. Its history is focused mainly around the city of Rhinelander in northern Wisconsin, where it was said to have been discovered. It is also mentioned in several Paul Bunyan stories.” Great job doing the research by this group of students from Downers Grove North, and a nickname like this offers a ton of creative possibilities as you develop marketing strategies for the team in its inaugural season.

In addition to the name, love the social media presence and appreciate the effort to create an actual team webpage and Twitter account. Great use of hashtags to create awareness for upcoming promotions through the team’s social platforms, liked that you created real Twitter posts as well. Nice touch!

Hodags had some really good promotion ideas. All tried and true, historically proven to work at minor league stadiums around the country. Some classics like movie night, fireworks, military appreciation, Star Wars etc. Also like the celebration of several “holidays” linked to team promotions (National Cheese Day, National Hot Dog Day, National Dog Day for Bark at the Park) without the overkill of doing something at every game.

Overall, fantastic planning. No doubt this will be a successful season for the Hodags.

“Madison Mozarella Sticks” – Pinelands Regional (New Jersey):

The Mozarella Sticks (interesting name btw), will offer a great variety of seating options at various price points and targeting different demographic groups, from club level and suites to the “Twisted Path Party Zone” targeting adult fans and budget-friendly “Lawn Lounge” targeting families. All of those strategies are super important to the success of a minor league franchise.

The Sticks were also one of the few teams to submit a plan that included a range of ticket options, from groups and theme nights to mini-plans and flex packages. Great strategy when the goal is to maximize ticket sales. Also, appreciate seeing the attention to detail by including an opponent in your game-day promotional schedule along with a sponsor for each game and target audience. Overall, really well done. Nice job Pinelands Regional High School!

“Mad City Pikes” – Miami Valley Career Tech Center (Ohio):

What really stood out with the Pikes’ case study submission was the team’s overall attention to the fan experience, from parking to concessions and building strong relationships with sponsors. Recognizing that building a fan base in new markets often takes time, but investing as much energy as possible right out of the gate to offer the best possible experience for fans will go a long way in developing loyalty in the long term.

Great idea to partner with sponsors for individual game dates, and like seeing a great mix of sponsored promotions (National Have a Coke Day), creative promotions (Opening Day Merchandise Scavenger Hunt) and community / charity involvement (Cystic Fibrosis Night). Really nice job from the Pikes front office at MVCTC.

“Madison Red Foxes” – Tappan Zee High School (New York)

So many really good promotions with the Red Foxes case study entry, awesome to see the research that went into building a plan with tons of local flavor, tied to the Madison area and its culture. Some of our favorites:

  • CRANBERRY DAY: The team will wear cranberry jerseys as an honor to the state fruit and the farmers market will be outside the stadium the afternoon before the game.
  • PINK (FLAMINGO) OUT: The city bird is a pink plastic flamingo so on May 25th we will have a pink out where the players and fans wear pink to raise awareness for breast cancer, and representatives from the foundation will be present and accepting donations.
  • BACK TO SCHOOL: On August 22nd we’ll have a back to school night where college students that play baseball for University of Wisconsin-Madison will play a game on the field before the Red Fox game.
  • THROWBACK DAY: On July 23rd , the Red Foxes will celebrate Bohemian Rhapsody
    turning 45 this year, and throwback night will feature 70’s and 80’s music and style.
  • BIKE DAY: This game on June 2nd will be sponsored by Pacific Cycle. People who bike to the
    game will not have to pay for parking (which is normally $5). There is also a bike raffle.
  • WACKY WEDNESDAYS: There will be new odd food combinations available to buy every
    Wednesday, such as bacon and jelly sandwiches and melted chocolate on pizza.

Lots of variety on stadium seating options as well, creating a range of ticket prices that appeal to a variety of fan demographics while maximizing revenue for the ballclub. For example, the “Tornado Tables” (tables that seat up to four people sponsored by Tornado Steak House) provides a unique experience for fans while creating a unique sponsorship opportunity for a partnership with local businesses.

Good ideas for group ticket packages as well, love the idea of the birthday parties at games. A package that allows a family to bring a group to a game to celebrate a birthday, meet the mascot, warm-up with the players and have the stadium sing happy birthday will most certainly be a home run with fans!

Fantastic work from the Madison Red Foxes front office / Tappan Zee HS!

“Madison Sugar Maples” – Flower Mound High School, Texas

Nice variety of promotions here from the Sugar Maples front office. Offering a range of promotions allows the team to market ticket packages to fans of all ages, ultimately boosting ticket sales and helping the team to reach its attendance goal for year one. Here were a few favorites:

● Rivalry Night, come support the Maples in the first game against our rival Illinois, and receive a free Sugar Maple hat to show your support for the first 1,000 fans through the gate.
● BBQ night & tailgate, the people who attend the game on this theme night will have the chance to receive a premium pastry brush
● Brewers Night, the first 1,000 fans will receive a Christian Yelich Sugar
Maples bobblehead, and Bernie Brewer will be in attendance. Come
enjoy a fun night with the Maples and Brewers!
● Madison Sports Legend, Wesley Matthews will be in attendance for his
bobblehead night at the Sugar Maples for the first 1,000 fans through the gates! Wesley will also be signing autographs before the game. Come and enjoy the chance to meet Wesley!
● Ghostbusters Night, this is the night of chills and will spook the fans out of their shoes. On that night our team name will Change to the “Madison
Ghostbusters.” We will have custom jerseys and will pass them out to the
10 people who are best dressed as ghostbusters.

“Wisconsin Robins” – Richardson High School, Texas

Cool idea from the Robins’ front office to create a special section of the stadium for former players…will help to establish franchise legacy and shows fans a commitment to the area, sending a message to fans that the team plans to be a part of the Madison community in the long term. Also liked the triple level party deck in right field to maximize the number of premium seats available on game days.

Robins’ promotions schedule also includes all the greatest hits like fireworks, bobblehead giveaways etc. A season jam-packed with a wide variety of promos will help the team to meet its attendance goals.

Also loved the use of digital to generate excitement for the team in the first season, providing fans with a Snapchat geofilter for posting from the ballpark is a great idea. Also, smart strategy to host other non-baseball events at the stadium, helping to maximize revenue for the ballclub. Bringing food trucks to the park could also help draw more fans.

Nice job Richardson High School students!

“Mad City Moonshots” – Downers Grove North (Illinois)

LOTS to unpack here, it is obvious how much time and energy this group of students from Downers Grove North put into this project. The “Moonshots” front office put forth an amazing attention to detail throughout.

Overall, love the stadium design. Some create stuff that will offer really unique experiences for your fans, including the rock wall and hot tub suites. Nice job creating ticket options at a variety of price points, offering affordable seating one one end of the spectrum and high end premium seating on the other. Thought the YouTube video included in the Moonshots promotion plan that featured a mock up of the team’s game day starting lineup introductions (sponsored by Harley Davidson) on the stadium video board was really cool too.

Tons of really good promotions ideas here too, starting with “Moonshot Mondays” to provide discounts on slushies at concessions areas. Discounted concessions items and “themed” meal deals like Taco Tuesdays etc. provide added incentive for fans to purchase tickets and boost levels of perceived value. Liked the idea of a one game name change / rebrand to Mad City Cheese Curds in a rivalry game and an alternate logo unveiling featuring a design competition with fans will certainly be well received in the community.

Overall, fantastic job from the “Moonshots” front office / Downers Grove North students.

Here is how the bracket sets up as we move to the head-to-head round of our SportsBiz Madness case study tournament. Good luck to the remaining competitors!