In April the Boston Red Sox installed a virtual reality dugout activation at Fenway Park, an experience that offers behind-the-scenes and first person viewpoints, and represents yet another example of how sports stadiums have become high-tech playgrounds for fans.
The modular replica dugout located in the Kids Concourse (with more being installed throughout the park this season) includes five headsets that give fans a two-minute VR experience showing scenes of batting practices, pitchers mound sessions from up close with the viewer “standing” in the batters’ box and a viewpoint behind infielders as they take ground balls, among content. The dugout, built with authentic materials such as the park’s iconic red leather seating and patented Fenway Green paint, features a large monitor that streams media about the VR experience and other Red Sox content.
The Red Sox also launched a mobile tour this season, one of several tactics the club is using to fill its seats and build its fan base. The club two years ago launched a platform called Calling All Kids, a marketing initiative to engage the next generation of baseball fans and their parents in new and different ways “ knowing that the competition for hearts and minds is greater than it has ever been in all entertainment,” says Red Sox CMO Adam Grossman.
We chatted with Grossman on how the Red Sox club is incorporating experiential into its marketing strategy, offering more evidence of a shift in event industry perspectives that sports teams are thinking less like properties and more like brands.
1. There are multiple generations, and layers of fans, to consider.
From kids to teens to 20-somethings to one-timers and season ticket holders, teams across all sports are finding themselves needing to examine and cater to the different types of fans who attend their games, fans who have different ideas of what their stadium experience should be like.
“We’re seeing, and what all sports teams are seeing, is that fans want more, but also, there’s a diversity of tastes,” Grossman says. “We’ve done a lot of research and tried to segment our fans because if I’m a season ticket holder, and you come one time a year, what we expect out of our individual experiences changes and it’s not on the fans to figure it out and adjust. It’s on us.”
For the Red Sox, the common thread across all experiences created for fan is that the club and fans lean on traditions and its rich history. Grossman explains that any experiential or high-tech tactics still have to reflect the Red Sox brand and Fenway Park. “Something like VR and the dugout allows us to do both without having to choose between a futuristic experience and a traditional one,” he says.
2. Sports properties need to engage inside and outside the stadium.
One of the objectives of the Red Sox Calling All Kids platform is building the team’s fan base at the grassroots level, which means going outside the stadium in order to lure them in. In addition to the VR Dugout, the Red Sox this spring teamed up with partner T-Mobile for Red Sox Mobile, a tour that is hitting 30 to 40 events throughout the spring and summer. The 14-foot mobile experience offers an array of activities, from learning the fundamentals of baseball to a steal-second challenge. The tour tactic provides opportunities for the team’s partners, like T-Mobile, to engage as well.
“It’s very much our jobs to talk to our corporate partners that are so important in what we’re doing as an organization and develop concepts that are meaningful and break through,” Grossman says. “Some of those can be visual within the ballpark or outside, so we’re always pushing ourselves to be increasingly creative and give our partners experiences they would be interested in associating with.”
3. Fans want access. Period.
In addition to the VR Dugout and mobile experience offering additional “access” to the Red Sox, the Red Sox Kid Nation club is helping satisfy the challenge of engaging younger generations of distracted fans. Kid Nation is for kids under 14 who sign up to receive a variety of perks including one free Red Sox game ticket each year, plus merchandise, newsletters and invites to exclusive kid events. There are 60,000 kids in the club across all 50 states.
“We believe if you spend one game at Fenway, it’ll make you a fan for life and we want to make sure they’re getting that opportunity,” Grossman says
On top of that program, the Red Sox actively leverages social media as a digital window to the goings on all over the ballpark—another access point for fans—through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
“All of our games and experiences are an opportunity for us to develop interesting and creative and fun content, so our social media team is around the field, taking pictures, giving pictures to fans and offering a little bit of an understanding of what our players go through,” Grossman says. “That’s a fundamental part of how we approach our communication and our marketing, because we want to be where our fans are and give them that access.” Build (mobile tour and VR Dugout): Turtle Transit, Hudson, MA.