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(LEAD) S. Korean baseball teams should become more fan-centric: U.S. expert

2016/12/14 14:03

(ATTN: ADDS photo)

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korean professional baseball teams should strive to become more "fan-centric" to enjoy sustained success at the gates, a U.S. sports marketing expert said Wednesday.

William Sutton, a professor at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business, made his points in a presentation during the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) Winter Meeting at a Seoul hotel.

Sutton, former presidents of both the North American Society for Sport Management and the Sport Marketing Association, defined constituents as "anyone who has a real or perceived stake in the KBO League," including players, sponsors, media, fans and cities in which teams are based.

He noted that constituents want "some form of reciprocity." Fans, in particular, would like recognition of their loyalty and investment, and also closer access to their favorite players and teams.

And for the KBO to satisfy its fan base, Sutton said its teams should adopt the "FAN-Centric" organizational chart, which was first envisioned by the San Francisco Giants.

In that chart, "Fans (Our customers)" are at the top, with the departments handling ticket services, stadium operations, public relations and community development all underneath.

"It's an upside-down model, where everyone's job is essentially reporting to fans, in theory," he said. "If the fans are writing checks and they're the reason that sponsors come, it makes sense. This is one area where teams aren't as good as they really should be."

   Sutton also proposed the creation of "Fan Advisory Panels," citing the example of his favorite major league club, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs ask fans on their panel what they think of the team's marketing plans, for instance, and ensure the fans' voices are heard.

Sutton noted that annual fan fests in the offseason should also help create excitement for the upcoming season while allowing fans to have close interaction with their favorite players. They can also be an opportunity for teams to sell ticket plans and merchandise.

"Figuratively and literally, fans want to touch the players and identify with the players," the professor said. "And fan fests provide a safe and managed forum for player-fan interaction."

  In this photo provided by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), William Sutton, a professor at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business, gives a presentation during the KBO Winter Meeting in Seoul on Dec. 14, 2016. (Yonhap) In this photo provided by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), William Sutton, a professor at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business, gives a presentation during the KBO Winter Meeting in Seoul on Dec. 14, 2016. (Yonhap)

Promotional giveaways are also an effective way of putting people in the seats, Sutton said. Major league teams often hand out free t-shirts, bobbleheads and other merchandise on certain days of the week, and Sutton said those games typically draw more fans than others with no giveaways.

"It's not rocket science because everyone likes free stuff," he added. "This is a great way to get fans to come out to games."

   Sutton said the challenge is to reach out to children and casual sports fans under 35 who find other outlets and other things to do aside from going to sports games.

He argued baseball should look to take advantage of advanced technology, even relying on virtual reality to offer fans an entirely new viewing experience.

"Sometimes, it has to be more than just baseball," Sutton said. "Virtual reality is so vivid and powerful that it's going to change everything we do. It can be a threat to traditional spectator sports, but it can be an enhancement if we think about how it can help us. We have to acknowledge and embrace change."

   At the end of the day, Sutton said marketing will still come down to people-to-people interaction.

"Teams have to invest in people, because employees are the first line of contact with customers," he said. "If they're not happy or motivated, they create customer problems. You have to make an impression and reach out to people's heart. And that's what creates long-term relationships and leads to a sustainable, steady growth."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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