In Marketing Sportivo

To sports marketing professionals, the name of Jon Spoelstra, certainly one of the most celebrated innovators and interpreters of sports marketing in the past 30 years, will not be new. Along with Veeck, Hagstrom, Levine and other famous marketeers in the major American professional leagues at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, Spoelstra gave birth to some of the most memorable communication campaigns for the sport ever existed, as much for their delirious creativity as for their tightrope walking ability to be always on the edge between good and bad taste. One over all, probably, was what was later renamed the “rubber chicken day”, when Spoelstra sent by courier thousands of rubber chickens to the addresses of fans of the Sacramento Kings who had not yet renewed their subscription accompanied by the inscription “Don’t Fowl Out” (a play on words between “don’t get thrown out,” or foul-out, and the English word fowl, or chicken).

Jump Start Marketing what it is

Single episodes aside (and there are numerous), one of Spoelstra ‘s certainly most important contributions to the discipline of sports marketing is the theory of “Jump Start Marketing.”

To begin with, it is necessary to specify that the theory of Jump-Start, which corresponds in Italian to the action of starting the car with the electric cables when the battery is completely discharged, should only be applied in the case of existing, unmodifiable sports products that are not succeeding. This is the case, for example, of a sports team that, at the beginning of the season, finds itself in the situation of being uncompetitive on the field and unattractive to fans, with the immediate result of an economic loss in terms of lost revenue at the box-office, on merchandising, and so on.

“If people don’t buy your product-argues Spoelstra-there is a reason. Things don’t happen by accident. Jump-start marketing doesn’t mean taking a product that nobody wants and forcefully shoving it down consumers’ throats. Rather, it means taking a product no one wants and repositioning and reforming it until it becomes something you can no longer do without.”


Jon Spoelstra’s 19 rules of sports marketing

19 are the rules, or best practices, of a Jump-Start campaign in sports marketing. These rules were so codified that at the time of his time with the NBA ‘s New Jersey Nets , Spoelstra handed all the marketing office staff a small handbook with all 19 points, to make sure they were scrupulously followed. Here they are below.

  1. If you want to get results, you and the whole team must be highly motivated to try new approaches and unconventional models to reposition the product quickly.
  2. Never believe that you are anything other than what you are. Accept the realistic limitations of the product you have on your hands and go from there.
  3. Raise the purchase frequency of your customers. No matter how shoddy your product or service is-the first thing you need to make sure of is having customers. Strategically, it is critical to increase the volume of sales to these customers and reposition the product first in the eyes of these customers.
  4. Always find a way to get the first name, last name, address, and phone number of your customers or subscribers. If you sell through a distributor, you will miss this opportunity. But if you have this information you can sell to them forever.
  5. The cleaning man will not be the one to sound the charge. The most effective impulse always starts from the top.
  6. Unleash big changes through small experiments. Use small but constant ideas, make small changes that do not cost much time or money but could bring great results, without focusing on gigantic, pachydermic campaigns. This is why Spoelstra always promoted within the teams he worked for the creation of a “marketing terrorist group for innovation,” a kind of small guerrilla marketing team charged with devising disruptive marketing actions.
  7. Do not wait until you are in crisis to try new approaches. Continue to innovate at all times.
  8. For every marketing action you plan, always be sure to find a good way to get it approved by your bosses. Prepare the defense of your idea with the same care and passion as a lawyer who has to go before the Supreme Court.
  9. Only sell products and services that customers want to buy (see point XV)
  10. Sports marketing is not done at a desk and behind a phone. It is done among the people, in the audience, on the field lines. When there is a match or event, management should be the first one in and the last one out
  11. Do not try to make everyone your customer. Rather, select your target audience carefully and spend time and resources only on them. That is why you must have every possible data and information about them.
  12. You don’t trust the research someone else does, the data you buy from someone else, and the information someone else brings you. If you want to know about your customers, talk to your customers. Almost all marketing problems can be solved more effectively with 10 minutes over coffee with one of your subscribers than with a hundred-thousand-dollar search.
  13. Make your customers heroes, always provide them with the results of their purchases and good reasons for them. Especially for corporate clients, produce useful reports and documentation to show their superiors that every dollar spent with your team is money well spent.
  14. Create incentives for creativity, passion, innovation
  15. Make any deal too good to refuse. Create such attractive packages, products, bundles and events that they cannot be ignored, even if you have to move away from your product’s core business to do so. Spoelstra used this criterion when, in order to boost ticket sales at the match, he created a “family” package that included four tickets to the match, an in-stadium dinner for all members and complimentary drinks throughout the event, all for the same price as a traditional ticket. Of course, from such a package the team earned very little on each ticket, but the event was sold-out, with a dragging effect on the rest of the season.
  16. Involve and take advantage of other departments in the organization as well. Marketing cannot be solely confined and locked up in one office, but must be shared with sales, administration, management, and every area of the team or event.
  17. Differentiate between small and large customers. For Spoelstra, customers are not all the same. By the Pareto principle, 20% of your customers are responsible for 80% of your revenue. Toward this strongest and most important core must be directed the greatest efforts and attention.
  18. In difficult times for the organization’s economies, instead of laying off staff, hire more people willing to work on commission, earning solely from the results they bring.
  19. Set yourself ambitious goals and find the most fun way to achieve them.


“Ice to the Eskimos”

As is easy to understand, Spoelstra’s Jump Start Marketing principles, although obviously constructed to meet the needs of sports marketing, can also be used outside the area of sports marketing in more or less any industry or organization.

It is no coincidence that the book in which Spoelstra outlines his theories is called “Ice to the Eskimos,” our version of “Selling Popsicles at the Pole.”…


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Emanuele Venturoli
Emanuele Venturoli
A graduate in Public, Social and Political Communication from the University of Bologna, he has always been passionate about marketing, design and sport.
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