5 Marketing Opportunities for the Tampa Bay Rowdies

Since November’s election, I’ve essentially tuned out from life that is not inside my bubble as best I can. I could come on here and rant with rage over the ongoings of everyday American life and the ridiculous nature of the political landscape, but plenty of others are handling that duty just fine at the moment.

For me to add fuel to that fire would be making myself redundant, and furthermore, I find myself short of words aside from, what the hell are we doing?

So, I have escaped into the relative safety of my immediate surroundings and social circles, one of which is the Tampa Bay soccer community and thankfully, we have a lot going on these days. If you haven’t heard that the Tampa Bay Rowdies launched a bid in an attempt to secure a Major League Soccer franchise, I probably lost you back at Tampa Bay soccer community. For the rest of you, the #MLS2StPete movement has been going strong for a while now, capped most recently by a record crowd at Al Lang for the home opener against our neighbors and a 3–0 start to the season.

As the success of #MLS2StPete largely depends on having butts in the seats every night, I find myself contemplating new marketing opportunities for the club on a regular basis. Ultimately, the goal of every Rowdies fan this season has to be to push how close we come to filling the place every night.

With that in mind I offer up what I believe to be five solid marketing opportunities for the Rowdies going forward. But before you read on, realize I have no connections with the club aside from being a supporter. I’m not in tune with the day-to-day operations to say definitively whether or not these ideas have ever been considered, or are possibly already in the process of becoming reality. I am simply presenting ways the club can lure more fans and hoping that if they haven’t been discussed, they will be after this.

  1. ) Cross Bay Ferry Partnership

Tampa Bay’s trial run with ferry service between downtown Tampa and St. Pete will come to a close this month as an overall success. Ridership numbers have shown encouraging signs for the future of the service as it ended with county governments actually earning some of their investment back.

Last week, Hillsborough County officials committed to dedicating $22 million to make the project permanent, while on the opposite side of the bay current St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman was advocating for the boat’s permanency as well. Whether it turns out to be predominantly a tourist attraction or has actual commute value during the week, I personally don’t know, but am of the opinion it has that potential.

For me, what matters most is that there is an attempt to connect the ferry with the Rowdies for a gameday offering unlike anything in sports. The two organizations should combine efforts to offer Tampa residents a packaged price that includes to and from fare as well as your game ticket. Fare discounts for Rowdies season ticket holders wouldn’t hurt either.

You might be inclined to point out the issue with the ferry times. As of right now, you can only get a ride back to Tampa at 9:45 p.m., roughly 15 minutes after the game ends. While it’s possible for fans to use the ferry, getting to the ride back is a bit of a mad dash from the stadium, particularly if it’s a close game with any significant amount of stoppage time.

That is definitely an issue, but as has been pointed out by ferry advocate and local politician Ed Turanchik, this is just a trial run. There is only one boat, its service is extremely limited as city governments on both sides of the bay tested out whether or not the ferry was really feasible. A long term implementation of the ferry would undoubtedly include at least one more boat, and would likely increase the number of departure times from each side of the bay.

So if/when the ferry returns, my hope is that we’ll see a service that offers a 10 p.m. or later departure time, allowing fans from Tampa the opportunity to leave the game and enjoy a nice walk along the St. Pete waterfront as they return to the boat, maybe even stopping for a pint along the way.

2.) Rowdies Express

While there is an emerging option for Tampa residents looking for alternative transport in the form of the Soccer Crawler, a 30 person bus that provides a pregame pub crawl opportunity and ride back to Ybor City after the match, there is still more room in the market for shuttling people across the bay.

Prior to taking my current job in the wonderful world of marketing, I spent a brief period of time working as a limo driver. I worked with a group that wanted to establish a shuttle service that would transport fans from the USF Tampa campus to Rowdies games, drop them off and then provide a ride back after the game ended for a flat rate, per person fee.

The idea, which we dubbed the “Rowdies Express,” never got off the ground. But as the Rowdies push for MLS, I believe it’s time for the club to seek out the opportunity themselves. Whether this happens through a corporate partnership with a large shuttle service provider such as Blue One or Super Shuttle, or through a partnership with another transportation provider in the area, alternative ideas for getting fans to the game without driving should be top of mind.

Increasing access to the Rowdies for fans in the surrounding areas, from Bradenton/Sarasota to Land O’Lakes, Brandon and Clearwater, is vital to the success of the Rowdies as a regional brand. Establishing shuttle service from central points in areas such as these, where riders can come to a boarding location central to their area and be shuttled into the game could help with this.

Not worrying about parking, traffic or driving home after a couple of beers will have its allure to fans from distant parts of the Bay. It may take some marketing to get the idea going, but given enough time and promotion, I still believe this could eventually generate enough interest that the concern will ultimately shift from how many riders will actually use it to how many vehicles are needed to handle the demand for routes.

3.) Ride Codes and Discounts

There are transportation options that are affordable for the Hillsborough County resident if they are attending, say, a Lightning game in downtown Tampa. But cross the water and the fare goes up substantially. For the average Joe, spending $50 to go over and back isn’t really ideal or feasible on a regular basis, so a plethora of alternatives has to be available to make the team more accessible.

Aside from the previously mentioned ideas, promoting the club through codes that provide an Uber or Lyft discount may help get fans to the game, as well as coupon codes through local transportation providers. Say, for example, a group wants to arrange a birthday outing for 15 people to travel to the game. One option would be to provide a coupon code for a transportation partner who can provide a private shuttle bus or limousine service to the game. As you can imagine, that presents a clear opportunity for additional business for the previously mentioned corporate partner.

Rideshare discount codes would ease the cost of a ride from far off locations for fans looking to travel in smaller groups. Even 10% makes a difference and will have some allure to fans currently ringing up a $50-$60 charge using these services.

You might notice I seem to have a thing about transportation to the games. That’s because of two things in my personal reality that stand in stark contrast to each other on a Rowdies game day and I’m constantly having to balance them out. 1) I live in Lutz and 2) I love beer, and St. Pete has a lot of good offerings when it comes to that.

I honestly understand the misgivings of people from my portion of the bay who don’t see downtown St. Pete for a professional sports event as viable. I’m crazy about the Rowdies and will attend matches even if that means I have to walk and the most interesting beverage I consume all evening is a soda, but I’m well aware that not all fans share my enthusiasm for the team or sport. They’d rather spare themselves the drive and enjoy the game from their couch with a cold one, free of traffic hassles, parking fees and the cost of admission.

4.) Incentivize Social Shares

The club’s recent launch of a new app where fans earn points for attending matches, points that can be applied to concessions, apparel, etc., is good and seems to be working from an engagement perspective. But, there is one aspect of that which could see fans doing more of what they do best, spreading the Rowdies brand through word of mouth.

Content sharing, be it Rowdies original content or from a related website such as The Unused Substitutes or even Darek Sharp’s Tampa Bay Times articles, is a great way to spread the club’s brand and awareness of how the season and MLS bid progresses. But in the current app, there isn’t much in the way of actual content available. The club should change that, making game recaps, player profiles, breaking news and highlight reels available on the app and make it able to connect to your social platforms. If you share a piece of content, that share should be worth a specific amount of points which you can apply to your overall total in the app, thus the social presence of club related content is gamified among fans.

Am I a fan, shamelessly inventing another way for me to exploit my obsession for more free crap? Yes. Yes I am. But that doesn’t mean I’m not right here.

5.) Diversify the Club’s Content Offerings

This is one is a topic I would have to visit, since essentially it’s what I do all day. The club does a reasonably good job with its visibility in local media outlets and through social media, sharing video highlight reels and player interviews. Those are all good things that the Rowdies marketing team should keep doing, but other elements are needed for an effective, multi-pronged approach to marketing the team and Bill Edwards’ vision for where we want to go.

A documentary that airs via Youtube and the club’s website following this inaugural journey through a USL season and the team’s quest for acceptance into MLS springs to mind as a decent place to start.

Other opportunities include making the proposed stadium experience interactive. With virtual reality being what it is today, a VR experience of the proposed stadium that fans can participate in on gamedays might go a long way toward convincing some skeptics.

A similar approach to the stadium plan on the Rowdies website and the #MLS2StPete page are needed. Making the stadium plan interactive on the site, with clickable elements that tell a story, would be a better, more shareable experience for fans of the plan.

I realize these ideas may seem over the top or even unnecessary, but in looking at MLS, one thing is clear. The league respects good marketing, and covets organizations who know their communities and how to connect to a younger audience. All of these ideas have that in mind and could be seen as strengthening the Rowdies bid in the long run.

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