Sample Marketing Campaign: MN United

MLS is in a massive growth position right now, and I see MN United becoming the next Orlando FC when they officially launch as an MLS team next season.WildWoman

But I’m biased.  Having grown up in playing soccer in MN, I’m beyond excited about the new team and stadium plans.  So excited in fact, that I couldn’t stop from writing elaborate marketing campaigns for MN United on a recent fishing/backpacking trip in Yosemite with my family.

My ideas ranged from crazy to compelling, here are the two most cohesive creative concepts from my notes:

Setting the Stage: Seating Identity

This concept is fairly simple, although it can easily drive multiple ticketing, sponsorship and fan engagement campaigns.

Imagine each seating section as a tourist destination with a personality; evoking an emotional response and sense of unity to serious and casual fans alike. These personalities are interactive.  Fans are encouraged to personify their seating themes during games, bringing the new stadium to life.

Seating Identity Objectives

  • Fans enjoy a one of a kind in-game experience that playfully articulates what it means to be Minnesotan,
  • Gives the ticket sales team creative messaging tools, data analysis parameters, and the opportunity to run section-specific ticket promotions without focusing on price point alone,
  • Offers more in-game sponsorship opportunities: section-specific promotions and giveaways. Perfect for first-time sponsors who aren’t quite ready to invest in a stadium-wide campaign,
  • Digital integration can include educational resources for schools and community involvement info (Mississippi River cleanup programs, etc.),
  • Increases merchandise catalog.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 11.29.24 AMEach seating section that is currently outlined on MN United’s ticket sales site will be given a name and cohesive visual identity that corresponds to an area in Minnesota.  This visual identity will be developed by globally recognized designers and will be included on everything from section-themed ticket stubs to locally-designed T-shirts (presented by XYZ sponsor, of course), and stunning section-themed murals in the entrance ways.

We want fans of MN United to feel the same sense of pride, curiosity, and fun as they do when visiting the MN State Fair or Mall of America.  We want our local fans who live down the street from the stadium to feel as though they’re going to a world class event – with the collector’s items to prove it.

Since I am not a graphic designer, the images I have selected are mere examples to illustrate a ‘postcard’ style of design.  I chose the old postcard look to give it a ‘tourist’ feel, but the designers we hire will certainly have a more visually savvy approach.

Ideally, each section theme will be progressively developed based on fan demographics and engagement data (SEM, email campaigns, and social data analysis).  As I mentioned earlier, these personalities are interactive and must be given space grow from our fans’ voices.  My suggestions are the beginning of a rich conversation.

Seating Concept Themes

Red – Prairie:

PRAIRIE1Think of a prairie during a lightning storm and you’re onto the energy we want MN United fans to feel in the Prairie seating. This section should be driven by the vibrancy and sense of open freedom that blossoms on the Minnesota plains.

Who calls the Prairie their home?  Golden Gophers, of course!  Discounts for college students are given to this section.

Image by MN native, C. Calvin Grabhorn.

Supporters – Us, Together

giphy1The Supporters section is where our brand can be it’s boldest, although it must always include a sense of ‘US’ and ‘TOGETHERNESS’.  Enjoying a match isn’t just about what’s happening on the pitch, or what part of Minnesota we like the most…the Supporters section is about US, TOGETHER.  Fans are loud, proud and emotionally connected.

We want to create a space that encourages fans to participate in the energy that the Dark Clouds, True North Elite, and Wolf’s Head bring to matches, without feeling intimidated.

MN United is currently ROCKING their fan engagement in this section and is a major inspiration of why I am applying for this position.

StPaulYellow – Capitol

I realize that this is not an image of the MN State Capital, but I love how it captures the tranquil beauty of St. Paul in a single image.  The yellow seating section is classy, refined, and at the center of the action. The state capital exemplifies this feeling of ‘in the know’ power.

Purple – Iron Range

IRONRANGE1Loyalty, grit, and hard work are the true pride of the Iron Range. This is the section where fans go to experience the meaty underbelly of MN United’s team.   Email campaigns and Iron Range themed info booklets help fans learn each player’s name, injuries, and potential.

The Iron Range isn’t flashy like the Supporters section, but fans of each section often drink beer together before a match.  Iron Range seats don’t clear out during a bad season, nor do the heated opinions of fans who sit in this section.  Fans who sit here are more likely to interact with the team and each other through long-form digital communication – blogs, podcasts, and long Facebook posts.

Teal – Farmland

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 1.19.41 PMSimilar to the Iron Range, but with a little more country flair, the Farmland section is for fans who work hard and play harder.  This is where fans can cut loose and enjoy a day in the sun (even if it is technically snowing).

The Farmland is the most family-friendly section, complete with a Land O’Lakes booth that gives out free samples of ice cream to kids under 12.

Email campaigns to these fans will focus on upcoming promotions.  Fan pictures and puppy videos (dogs wearing MN United kits – like! like! like!) appeal to this section’s fanbase on social media.

Green – Lake Superior

LAKESUPERIOR1Like the Prairie, Lake Superior seating is a force to be reckoned with.  The fans of this section  may be ‘fair weather fans’ but when they show up, they are highly engaged and here with the agenda to win.  Even when MN United loses, each fan in this section leaves feeling as though they’ve won something.

The entertainment value of this section is second to none – there is always something to do, both on and off the pitch.  Promotional give aways, games and fan relations employees are constantly moving through this section to make sure that everyone is a winner.

Maroon – Mississippi Valley

MISSISSIPPI1Lake Superior’s waters may run deep in fan engagement, but the Mississippi  moves fast and with a controlled intent.

This is the section where fans tend to purchase tickets at the last minute on their phone. They hate lines and love local microbrews.

Hence, this is the section where the food and beer lines are the shortest.  An in-stadium app helps direct fans to the closest restroom and beer stand.  Fans who have bought a ticket a week before a game get to vote on what kind of micro-brew will be sampled in their section.

Last minute ticket discounts to matches should be texted and emailed to the fans of this section, whereas last minute deals would only insult the fans of Lake Superior who prefer to receive deal offers long before the season ever starts.

Image by MN native, C. Calvin Grabhorn.

Dark Blue – Uptown

UPTOWN1This section is for the urban, tech-savvy cool kids.  They’re not tech-savvy because they don’t want to wait in line for beer, but because their social life depends on it.  In fact, waiting in a long line is a perfect time to catch up on their Snapchat feed or Pokemon training.

Promotional campaigns will focus on upcoming international exhibition matches and the accompanying art prints.  A social media campaign about fan-fashion will likely be a hit in this section.  Local celebrities are encouraged to sit here.

The Uptown section provides a local, culturally engaging atmosphere that hosts promotions like LGBT Night or Twitter meet-ups.


Yas queen!

A coupon to Chipotle after the game does not impress them as much as free admission to the Walker Art Center.  Make sure to serve Spyhouse Coffee lattes instead Caribou drip coffee, the extra cost is no problem for fans in this section.  Restrooms must be spotless, and complaints on social media must be addressed immediately in a semi-sarcastic, gif-heavy, cheeky tone.  Social media is for flirting with this fan group, even while responding to a complaint.

Press Box – Up North PressBox

Forget ‘home is where the heart is.’  To a Minnesotan, there’s nothing better than spending time in a cabin up north.  At MN United, this sacred space is reserved for our friends in the press.

Press events have a urban-Paul Bunyan theme in decor. Nothing too kitschy or over the top, instead our press  decor is a cross between sleek urban ‘hipster’ design and a sincerely nostalgic ‘up north’ warmth.

Fan Experiences: We’re ALL Minnesota.

  • In-Game: a Pre-game video about each seating section: calling fans to participate.  The camera then pans the crowd and focuses on fans who are bringing their section to life.
  • Digital: Which United MN seating section matches your personality?  Quiz  (hosted on Buzzfeed)
  • In-Game, some Digital: Snowshoeing race at halftime (one fan for each section).  There is nothing harder than running across a grassy field in snowshoes.  A social media promotion of this race could be a video of the players racing across the field in snowshoes (and snow gear!) in the middle of July.  Blooper videos of this spectacle can play throughout the game.
  • Digital: Youtube videos with fans describing what they love about their section: focus on small details that aren’t shown on the website (ya gotta go to a game to ‘be in the know’ about your section).
  • In-Game, some Digital: Each section has a giant theme-painted Loon that fans are encouraged to walk around the stadium and take a picture of themselves next to.  Fans who post pictures of themselves next to each Loon during a single game get a free MN United soccer ball.
  • Radio/Pandora: Targeted ads about each section individually, where a fan talks about their perspective in that section and why they relate to the theme when cheering on MN United.  Some ads will be targeted to casual fans looking for something new to do, while others (the Supporters section in particular) will be targeted to serious fans who want to know specifics about players and future opponents.
  • In-Game: Cheering contests – a fish comes on the big screen and gets bigger as the cheering gets louder.  Each section tries to “get the biggest fish” to win a sponsored prize.

Ticket Sales and Sponsorship Opportunities

  • Limited edition tickets for each section  with original art by local artists.
  • Fans who sit in each section throughout a season get a commemorative t-shirt or MN United Jersey.
  • Mixed-section season ticket package that comes with a leather bound passport book for each collectors item ticket.
  • When season ticket buyers purchase in a certain section – they get access to secret perks of each section (special discounts to local businesses who share a similar theme, commemorative art prints, etc).  After they order online, fans are sent a goodie package with a section themed flag, bumper sticker, themed postcards and info about and why their section theme makes MN great.
  • Season ticket holders get emailed monthly coupons and gift cards to local sponsors’ businesses (similar to an MN United Groupon), but each promotion is section themed.

Press Events

Different local and national media outlets will receive section-themed press kits with invitations to a section seating press event.  This ‘Up North’ event will unveil each section’s theme for the new Stadium at Midway, with presentations from the design firm who created the renderings.  To keep the event fun, we’ll have section-themed drinks and foods available.

Press contacts are then sent postcard invitations to attend an ‘Up North’ themed sponsorship unveiling party when we announce the naming sponsor of the new stadium.

Finally, we’ll hold a special MN United gala at the new stadium when construction is complete. Members of the press, sponsored partners, season ticket holders and other VIP members of our community will be invited.  The theme will actually be MN UNITED where each seating section displays the state of Minnesota united around their team.

Meet the team night.  This is open to fans for a few hours (signing autographs) and then closed to the press.  Leading up to this event, we share videos and childhood pictures of each player, investing deeply in their backstories.  Each video ends with that player first learning how to do a loon call.

An Interactive Battle Cry: The Loon Call

Minnesota_United_2014.svg.pngThere’s nothing quite as haunting as the call of MN’s state bird on a quiet lake.  From the southern Farmlands to the Northwoods, Minnesotans are answering that call.

I envision launching a campaign that gives MN United fans a way to proudly – but also in the customary Minnesotan humble way – incorporate MN United into their daily lives.  The campaign works because doing a realistic loon call is extremely hard, and all attempts are objectively hilarious to watch.  Let’s get the Twin Cities to sound like loonies!

Introduce The Loon Call with a series of targeted video promotions (early winter 2017):

Video Distribution:

  • Commercials play on network television during Timberwolves and Golden Gopher men’s basketball games.
  • Targeted Youtube ads (cast a wide net until we see some tends: MN-location for now, then we can target specific behaviors and interests)
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Include gifs from videos to liven up email campaigns

60-sec video: 

GrandpaVideoGrandpa with 2 younger kids in canoe explaining the loon call.  He demonstrates a perfect call.  Kids  (wearing MN United shirts or hats) give the loon call a try…it doesn’t sound good at all, but the kids laugh.

Shot of Grandpa laughing with the kids, saying, “Keep practicing, you’ll get it eventually.”

Kids continue to make loon calls back and forth, as the camera stays on Grandpa.  Then, a chorus of perfect loon calls in perfect unison and clarity startles the Grandpa who looks back at the kids (still laughing), then behind them.  His mouth is agape.Canoe2.jpg

The lake is filled with canoes – players, coaches, Dark Cloud members waving flags, etc. each in a canoe.  The camera pans up into the sky as the sound of the kids laughing slowly fades.  Copy reads: JOIN THE LOON ARM (leave room for specific ticketing promo info).

Finish commercial with distinct loon call.

60-sec video:

School bell rings and kids at an elementary school start to pour out of the front doors.  The camera goes to two older boys giving dirty looks to other kids.  As a younger boy walks by with a Pokemon backpack, one of the older boys says, “Nice backpack.” sarcastically.  The younger boy looks sad as he gets into his mom’s car. competition-3

While the camera is focused on the young boy’s car, another car pulls up.  The window goes down and out comes a loud, clear loon call.

The camera is back on the older boys who look stunned at the car just as a younger girl in an MN United jersey and hat walks by them and lets out a loud loon call back to the car.  The older boys look over in shock, clearly in awe.

As the girl opens the car door, one of the older boys calls out, “Hey!”

The gift turns around with a look of suspicion.Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 9.28.10 AM

The older boy says (with enthusiasm), “Nice loon call!” as the other boy tries to do one (he fails miserably, but it’s super funny).

The girl gets into the car, smiles to her mother.

Final shot: MN United bumper sticker taking off.  Open street blurs out.

Copy reads: JOIN THE LOON ARM (leave room for specific ticketing promo info).

The video ends with the sound of mother and daughter making their loon call in unison.

30-sec video (or series of videos):

Personified seating themes doing the loon call in various locations:  WE ARE THE LOON ARMY

  • Farmer on a tractor trying, again and again, to do a loon call (failing miserably) as other farmers stand on the edge of a field shaking their heads. One farmer says to the other, “he’s practicing for the match this weekend”. Then, one of the farmers watching starts trying to do a loon call as the other cracks up laughing.
  • Two guys fishing on Lake Superior, one says, “Ya know I’m going to an MN United match this weekend.”  The other guy, unimpressed “Yeah.”  The first guy starts his loon call practice as the other guy rolls his eyes. The camera pans to the sky for a promo.img_1367-1-1-300x194
  • A group of Dark Cloud members (men) in full fan gear at a bar trying to impress a group of women with their loon calls (they sound hilariously awful).  The group of women walks away, but a new group of True North Elite members (women) in full fan gear walk up and start to call back to the guys.  Hilarious, honest, authentic loon call attempts full the room.
  • Mark Dayton outside the State Capital building is stopped by reporters (he’s wearing an MN United pin on his suit and light blue tie).  One asks, “Mr. Governor, what are you next steps?”  Dayton responds, “Well, I really gotta get my loon call right before the next match,” proceeds to practice his loon call as reporters look bewildered. Dayton smiles knowingly to the camera.
  • Two hipsters walk down Lyndale Ave.  They have a casual conversation about2a617d33b5e437751dd69c05d3767f01 the quality of foam in their lattes.  Hipster 1: “I just don’t understand how anyone can Instagram an inadequate coffee.  I mean, how can a latte not have decent micro-foam?!”  As they walk, they are passed by various people (old, young, men and women) wearing various kinds of MN United gear walk by.  As Hipster 1 is talking, Hipster 2 is saying hello, patting the people on the back, quickly shaking their hands and letting out an occasional loon call (which the people walking by respond with their own call).  The fans walking past start as one or two but increase until it’s a steady stream of people giving out their loon calls to Hipster 2 who is calling back.  Hipster 1 stops, “Wait, what? What the? What is this?” Hipster 2 just shrugs and says, “Loon Army” with a straight face. Then gives out a HUGE loon call – to which the entire crowds stops and calls back to.

Bring it to Life: The Loon Call in Public

Interactive:  Each month, a different player will tour the Twin Cities area in their full kit (minus the cleats).  When a fan sees the player, they must capture and post a video on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat of themselves doing their best loon call to the player (which the player will respond to with their own hilarious loon call).   Using the hashtag #LoonArmy will enter the fan into a contest to be flown out to see MN United play in against another MLS team during the last month of the season.  MN United will repost anything that is especially hilarious.

In 2018 we grow this promotion to simply recording yourself doing a loon call to ANYONE wearing MN United gear outside the stadium.  MN United will repost especially hilarious or unusual videos (fans in different countries wearing Loon gear).

Television: Somehow we talk a local weatherman or new anchors (not a sports announcer) into doing their best Loon Calls on the first day of the season.  We want someone who is mainstream and has next to no interest in sports or MLS – that way casual fans will relate to the Loon Call when they see this person light up with laughter as they try to sound anything like a loon.

During the Season: Enchanting the Audience

Radio promotions:

  • Hear the Loon Call and win free Capitol Seating tickets.
  • Call in with your best Loon Call – the first 3 calls get a free jersey

In-Game:  Each game starts with one fan doing their best Loon Call to the stadium.  The stadium, in turn, calls back (the big screen encourages people to call louder).  Finally, the team walks out in answer to the calls, with their own loon call response.  We can even interview the opposing team afterward to get their reactions to the team’s entrance.

Digital:  Just before a match, MN United Tweets a loon call to the opposing team with the message: WELCOME TO THE NORTH.  Fans are encouraged to respond with their own loon calls to the opposing team.

Digital: Post-game highlights of players, but after an especially skilled move the video cuts to that player trying to do a loon call.

Digital/Broadcast: I would love to see coaches, players, and staff either start an interview or sign off on an interview with a loon call (without annoying the interviewer too much).

Closing Thoughts

giphyThe devil’s in the details here, as is measuring success or failure metrics to optimize performance.  With more information about how the team works, I’d love to draw up a complete campaign (and implementation plan).

Go Loons!



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