Sunday, June 25, 2006

Why I Believe The Railraiders Failed

I had an entry all prepared for this week on Loyalty. It ended up being my longest yet. I’m too windy sometimes; I need to try and prune it down some. Or maybe I’ll just let it fly as-is. I don’t know. Meanwhile I’ll tackle a topic that I originally intended to avoid. I don’t want this to be an anti-Gardens/Ducks/Railraiders site because, as my Loyalty post will explain, I have had some very good personal experiences with the whole crew there and I truly wanted them to succeed. Their quest for a team to start this year symbolized the rebirth of a 1-team town. The amount of new business signing up meant they had a tremendous chance to start anew, holding on to the fans that wish and simply leaving behind the fans that weren’t interested. It was a marvelous opportunity.

That is why I was crushed when they did not get the 2000 season ticket commitments and had to cancel their quest.

I think they did their level best. Certainly they did not intend to fail. But fail they did. Not in the negative context, like a person failing for lack of trying. They had a requirement of 2000 season tickets and they failed to meet that requirement, thus they were unable to obtain an affiliation needed to reactivate the franchise.

Some people blame certain fans. This is wrong and bad. You can never blame the consumer for not buying the product. It is the seller’s responsibility to make people want to buy. Actually, the seller needs to convince people that they need the product. Today’s life has the family entertainment budget spread all over the place. The Railraiders failed to convince people that they needed to buy advance tickets.

So, why did they fail? I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t say exactly why. But I do have an opinion on what they could have done better in order to hopefully meet their goal. I don’t think it would have hurt things; but it surely would have helped.

If you looked for the information, clearly they made no secret that the 2000 season ticket equivalent sales was required. It was in their press releases, it was in their news conferences, ticket sales reps and Gardens staff stated it openly and some fans mounting a strong grass roots campaign preached it. They even maintained the radio show and talked about it there (but how many people were actually listening?).

Despite all that, too many potential buyers had no idea of the need to get season ticket commitments. They had a market of about a million people and only needed 2000 of them to take a season ticket (or 1000 to buy two).

The most interested people did get the message that there was a requirement. But most people did not look far enough to find out. These people were reached only or mainly via the commercial that aired all winter. The premise of the commercial was cute enough – don’t hang on to the past, look to the future of hockey in Cincinnati. But the message delivered betrayed the intent. People remember tidbits of commercial messages in sound bite form (Where’s the beef?).

The main message that people got from the commercial was “The Railraiders are coming to town.” They were told to put away their Ducks, Cyclones, and even Stingers jerseys because “The Railraiders are coming to town.” Good news Cincinnati, “The Railraiders are coming to town.”

No urgency. No requirement. No need for fans to get on board quickly. The Railraiders are coming town.

I’m guessing they wanted to portray confidence in the product. They probably were concerned that anything less would appear too volatile and unstable, not worthy of any risk – or perceived risk (there really was not a risk since the deposit was refundable). But that strategy did not work. I know too many people who are genuine hockey fans and had the financial means to buy tickets; but they had no idea how imperative it was for them to sign up.

These are people who watched hockey all winter, saw the commercial, and could have bought tickets. Ordinarily they would not have bought season tickets. They would go to a bunch of games when the time was right but they didn’t see the need to buy tickets in advance. They got the clear indication that the team would be there for them. After all, “the Railraiders are coming to town.”

I remember when the Stingers needed 5000 season tickets to maintain operations. It was a total grass roots campaign. They had photo-ops of Johnny Bench and Pete Rose handing over their checks. They made the sense of urgency known and they gave regular updates. The message was “Save our hockey team.”

Why buy season tickets when “The Railraiders are coming to town?” It was a tactical decision made early in their ad campaign and they stuck to it all the way through. It did not work. Even the updated commercial gave the deadline but it did not explain what the deadline was. People thought that was the final date maybe for the best pricing or whatever – not that it was critical to purchase by then.

So, the boat was missed. The train left the station. They were decisive in their approach but hindsight shows that it was not the best approach. A full-disclosure campaign, in my opinion, would not have meant the loss of any commitments; but it may have added enough for them to move forward.

Now, in their absence, the Cyclones are coming to town. Only time will tell if that will work. I’m behind them. For details on why, stay tuned for next week’s analysis of loyalty.

This blog is my sole opinion. It may be based on reason and fact; or it may be purely my emotional preference but it is mine alone. I only claim to be perfect most of the time. You are entitled to disagree, and I invite you to do so - somewhere else.


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