Colts, Pacers join hands

September 3, 2008
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elephantsThe Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts have long been thought to be competitors. They compete with each other for fans, sponsors, public and private support for their respective playing venues among other things in this small-market city. The prevailing thought is that there’s only so much money in this market and the two local major-league franchises fight over it. Officials for both team are quick to dismiss that notion.

But when the Pacers flourished in the 1990s, the Colts struggled to sell tickets, suites and sponsorships. When the Pacers ran to the NBA Finals during the inaugural year of Conseco Fieldhouse, the Colts were just starting to grow their fan base. Momentum to fund Lucas Oil Stadium was a few years away. Now the tide has turned, and while there’s a long waiting list for seats at the Colts’ new home, Pacers officials are busy trying to sell tickets for their upcoming season. No doubt, a lot of that has to do with the teams’ play.

But more than one sports marketer has suggested that both teams could benefit from a little cross promotion. This isn’t just about the Colts helping the Pacers. It’s about small-market survival for both teams. Fans are fickle, and the shoe could be on the other foot in a hurry.

Colts owner Jim Irsay and Pacers co-owners Herb and Mel Simon have a cordial relationship, but overt cross-marketing efforts have been the exception rather than the rule. In the land of professional sports, there’s nothing unusual about their relationship. Maybe it’s time for a change.

This Friday, the Colts will ring in the opening of their season with a celebration on Monument Circle in conjunction with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which will be in the Pacers-run Conseco Fieldhouse Sept. 4-7. The event featuring Colts cheerleaders, ticket and merchandise giveaways and the team’s traveling museum is bound to draw a crowd. And the traditional march of the circus’ pachyderms from the Circle to Conseco Fieldhouse might just lead a few people to the Pacers’ front door.
  • The Colts-Pacers connection seems tenuous here. Are the Pacers players appearing with the Colts on the Circle Friday? It's always nice to see players from local professional teams attending hockey games, or at least it used to be. I literally ran into Rick Smits in the concourse at an Ice game one time. Man, is he big. I haven't seen any cross support from the Colts or Pacers lately.
  • Don't know about Ice games, but Manning and Harrison have been seen at Pacers games. So has Dungy. Booger McFarland sat near me for a Pacers game once.
  • True cross-promotion has to be about more than players attending each others games and getting their mugs on camera doing so. The teams need to have co-branded events, and their needs to be some targeted marketing at each team's games and events for the other team. That kind of long-term, strategic effort would help build brand equity and fan support for both teams in good times and in bad. The risk is that if the teams tie themselves to one another, and one of the teams or its players does something in a bad light, the other team may get dragged through the mud by association. But that's probably a risk worth taking.

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