On The Red Sox & Branding | The Process Report

On The Red Sox & Branding

By R.J. Anderson //

The Rays are playing the Boston Red Sox’s baseball team this week. Perhaps the “baseball team” part is redundant, but it’s become an important distinction with Boston because they go beyond just playing stickball. Credit their management and ownership group for building up a little empire that generates revenue better (probably) than any non-New York Yankees team in the game.

Everything started with a simple question: How much would you pay to see B.J. Upton play shortstop for a single game? I think I’d throw in $5 to see Upton man his old position during one late season game with nothing on the line. I began to ponder – and frankly the legality of the whole situation is a little fuzzy to me but nonetheless – could the Rays auction something like that off? The team could hold the cards during a broadcast after making sure it was okay with the players so as to prevent something too dysfunctional – i.e. Jeff Niemann catching – from occurring, but here’s how it would go.

During a game, they would auction off players at certain positions. Upton at shortstop, Brad Hawpe in center, Carlos Pena in left field (he played there for Boston; oddly, Rocco Baldelli played third base for Boston too) and so on. People would bid on these. Why? Because people love wasting money. And because there would be other benefits. Like, say, an autographed glove, ball, bat, and the chance to meet the player on the field during batting practice. The person would also have their name associated with that player for the day. Meaning, during the game, some retired doctor from Ocala would ‘sponsor’ John Jaso’s at-bats.

Think of it as fan appreciation day with a buy-in. The Rays benefit because they get money they otherwise would not have and simply because they threw out a silly lineup for a meaningless game. The only snag there could be the opposing team not taking kindly to one of the worst defensive units ever opposing them … but then again, no team protested the 2007 Devil Rays.

It dawned on me that this is a very Boston-like idea. This is the same franchise that not only made membership to Red Sox Nation an acquirable good, but sold quite a few cards. Think about that: not only did they put a price on fandom, but they had people pay. That blows my mind. Check out the backstop ad of one of the Red Sox’s games. On Monday night, they displayed “Red Sox Banking” courtesy of Bank of America. Now, I have no idea what that entails, and I don’t care to find out, but that is brilliant branding.

That’s what it comes down to: branding. Boston has it from grand history and crafty maneuvering. Think about the most basic of differences between the Red Sox and Rays. That being the television broadcast. All of Boston’s games are shown on NESN – a Regional Sports Network (RSN) – owned almost entirely by the Red Sox (the Bruins also own a share). Given the massive popularity of the team, not only are they benefitting from the general ad revenue cut and all, but they benefit from not placing a roof on their earnings potential.

As far as I know, the Rays are pretty much locked in with their television contract to SUNSports – owned by FOX – meaning they can average ridiculous ratings (say, franchise best) and won’t benefit anymore than they would otherwise. Maybe there are some incentives thrown in, I do not know and I doubt I ever will. But there’s no unlimited earning potential like the Red Sox possess.

The differences do not end there. Let’s say the Rays wanted to start their own RSN. They can’t. At least, I don’t think they can. It takes money to start a channel and it takes the satellite and cable providers being willing to carry the channel to make money. Further, it takes consumers willing to pay a subscription fee in order for DirecTV and Bright House to consider the carrying fee. The Rays have solid TV ratings and maybe those would translate to a high subscription rate, but they also have disappointing attendance, which I have to believe correlates better with sub-rates. Particularly since the ratings are based entirely on those who choose to watch the game for no additional costs outside of a basic cable package that includes SUN Sports (along with the electricity fees and so forth).

Given the Rays’ situation, it would probably make sense to partner with one of the other local teams if they were to go in on a RSN. The Buccaneers have the most history in the area, but can’t sell out themselves – not to mention the NFL owns the television rights to their games. The Orlando Magic aren’t exactly local, however the Yankees and New Jersey Nets are the pair that formed to create the YES Network years ago, so it’s not unheard of. That leaves the Tampa Bay Lightning as the most likely. They’re local, they’re in a similar boat as the Rays, and most of their games are aired on SUN Sports already. It sounds like a perfect match; expect their new owner is a part owner of the Red Sox, making a partnership with the Rays a serious conflict of interest.

And why would he go against the Red Sox brand? It’s a moneymaker.

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