With a season-ticket waiting list of more than 13,000--and growing by the hour--the Indianapolis Colts marketing team can
settle into cruise control, right?
If you think that's the case, consider owner Jim Irsay's attitude about the team's post-Super Bowl parade Feb. 5.
When some staffers and city officials mentioned canceling or postponing the parade and ensuing pep rally due to the team's flight delays from Miami, Irsay said absolutely not.
When city officials recommended Colts players cruise the downtown parade route in buses due to the single-digit temperatures, Irsay herded them onto floats borrowed from the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade.
Irsay's insistence surprised some, and many players appeared in the arctic temperatures sans winter coats. But sports marketers said the move shows how much Irsay has grown in recent years as a businessman.
"We owed that to the city and our fans," said Tom Zupancic, Colts senior vice president of sales and marketing. "Many of our fans had been waiting for the team to appear, many of them out in the cold weather. We wanted the players to be out there and accessible where people could see and touch them.
"We had to do that parade, because Jim Irsay wanted the people of Indiana to know this whole thing has been about bringing the [Super Bowl] trophy home."
On the fly
Despite the Colts' success, the franchise's marketing team is feeling two-minute-drill type urgency.
The marketing staff held daily strategy meetings the week after the team's triumph over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
The Colts have already planned a 50-city tour with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, covering every corner of the state and a few key out-of-state markets, including Louisville, Zupancic said.
Tour stops and dates will be announced later this month. Fans will be given an opportunity to have their photo taken with the Super Bowl Championship trophy.
The team is also planning to grow its youth outreach campaign, including more football camps and a new statewide campaign aimed at addressing childhood obesity and fitness. The Colts are calling in current and former players, cheerleaders, coaches and other team officials to take part in the initiatives, which will include dozens of outings between now and training camp in August.
This month, the Colts will unveil a new Web site with enhanced interactive features.
"We have to seize the opportunity before us," Zupancic said. "We will do even more grass-roots marketing to let the fans who have been with us through the lean years and the good years, see us, hear us and touch us firsthand. It's important to take this experience to people's back yards."
Local sports marketer David Morton thinks the Colts' grass-roots campaign is a smart one, and he said the team would be wise to affix some of its personable players to the campaigns.
"Think about how many thousands of people stood outside in what temperatures to see what," Morton said, referring to the parade. "That's because people love their heroes."
Unlike the Indiana Pacers, who have struggled recently with a cast the community is not apt to embrace, sports marketers said the Colts have assembled a team the community identifies with.
"It's more important than ever," Morton said, "now that they're champions, that the players remain as accessible as ever. In addition to other problems, the Pacers players haven't been terribly visible or accessible in this community."
The Colts have not planned an extensive print, TV or radio marketing campaign, Zupancic said.
"In the past, we've done TV commercials and those types of things, but we didn't feel we had a real impact on fan affinity," Zupancic said. "To really have an effect on fans, we feel we need to go to their neighborhoods."
Zupancic expects only a slight increase to the team's annual marketing budget, which sports marketers placed at $2 million to $5 million.
Raising ticket prices
The Colts are on such a roll that few fans have complained about a 10-percent ticket-price increase for next season, team officials said.
"In the NFL, going to the Super Bowl can be expensive for a team, and it's natural they'd want to recoup those costs," said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis. "But from a marketing standpoint, jacking up those ticket prices now could send the wrong message. It's a delicate balance."
While seven of the last 10 Super Bowl champs have enacted double-digit-percentage increases on ticket prices the following year, the Pittsburgh Steelers opted to show fan appreciation by not raising prices after last year's Super Bowl victory.
Only eight of 32 NFL teams raised ticket prices as much as 10 percent last year, while the league average increase was 5.6 percent, according to Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based trade publication. The Colts are still in the bottom half of the league in ticket prices, Zupancic said.
Demand seems to be going up in all areas for the Colts.
The inventory of club seats is almost gone, even though the team will grow the number of pricey club seats from 4,000 in the RCA Dome to 7,000 in Lucas Oil Stadium, which is set to open in 2008, Colts officials said. Club seats at the RCA Dome for next season cost $194 per game, and will increase to $220 to $260 in 2008.
Preparing for hard times
With the RCA Dome already sold out for next year and inventory for Lucas Oil Stadium going fast, some marketers are asking why the Colts are pushing so hard.
"Everything ebbs and flows in the NFL," Zupancic said. "You need to build your loyalty for the down years. You need to build your fan loyalty to endure year in, year out, 365 days a year."
Sponsorship sales also continue at a rapid clip. Zupancic said the Colts are closing in on selling all 13 founding sponsors for Lucas Oil Stadium. Team officials said those sponsors--who get to help design and theme parts of the stadium--will bring in $10 million annually.
ProLiance Energy and Lucas Oil are the two founding sponsors that have been named. Other deals are done and some are in the final stages, said Zupancic, who expects to identify the sponsors soon.
Since much of the ticket and merchandise sales is shared among NFL teams, ancillary revenue from premium seating and local sponsorships is key to helping the Colts keep up with their big-market brethren.
Zupancic thinks the team's grass-roots marketing will be just as effective at drawing in corporate sponsors as fans.
"We want to create a lot of touch points for our corporate partners," Zupancic said. "That's how we let them know, they're not just a sponsor, they're a partner, and they're a big part of our success.
"The money we bring in from these marketing opportunities are important in allowing us to sign the types of players that keep this team competitive," Zupancic said.
The Colts had a player payroll of $96 million this year but signing soon-to-be free agents fresh off a Super Bowl triumph is bound to push the team near next year's $109 million salary cap.
To compete, the Colts feel they must reach out beyond metropolitan Indianapolis.
"We're going to really intensify our regional marketing," Zupancic said. "We're going to really be reaching out to places like Fort Wayne, our largest regional market, and Louisville, our second-largest outside Indianapolis.
"It's more important than ever to reach those fans that have maybe seen us on TV, but never seen us in person. We want to make it real for all our fans."