The Canadian dollar currently trades around $0.95 U.S. dollars, but this has fluctuated significantly in recent years. Should the Canadian dollar drop to the $0.80 or $0.85, the team still needs revenues sufficient to cover players' salaries and other U.S.-denominated expenses. The price point is lower than that of the BC Lions, which reflects that the club wishes to have strong attendance and be competitively priced against their main market rivals in order to capture a significant share of the local sports market.
Merchandise pricing should be in line with league averages. Competitors in the Vancouver market do not discount merchandise, so there is no need to dramatically undercut those clubs. Moreover, merchandise sales are typically to the most enthusiastic fans, so demand is relatively price inelastic, much more so than ticket prices which must attract casual fans in addition to the hardcore fans.
There are two critical aspects to place that the marketing team must address. The two main revenue streams for MLS clubs are ticket sales and merchandise, so each must be addressed individually with respect to place. The stadium location is the most significant challenge, one that must be met at the highest levels of the club, not just the marketing department. The role of the latter will be to find ways to alleviate any difficulties caused by not having the club's preferred choice of location. BC Place is centrally-located, transit-accessible and well-known in the market. The main concern is the game experience there, something that the club has sought to alleviate with the installation of a retractable roof. For the first year, however, the stadium will be a temporary facility on the grounds of the now-demolished Empire Stadium. While the site is known to long-time soccer fans and has ample parking, it is not centrally located, has poor transit accessibility and its temporary nature will likely confuse many members of the public.
The marketing plan for the pre-launch phase needs to highlight in the message that the club will start its life in this temporary stadium, to alleviate any confusion with regard to location. Communications about the stadium, its location and the best ways to get there should be highlighted more prominently during this phase of the club's launch and within its launch marketing strategy than at later points when the club moves to the familiar BC Place.
The place aspect of the merchandise is important because the club cannot rely solely on merchandise sales at the stadium to generate sufficient revenues. Nor can the club afford the dedicated proprietary merchandise outlets typical of major European football clubs. The club will need to develop distribution networks with select retailers around the city and province in order to bring its merchandise to the people. The club should emphasize stores with a strong history of athletic sales and are willing to give the merchandise high visibility. It is recommended that the feature partner for merchandise sales be through official MLS partner Adidas. The company has a flagship store in Vancouver and extensive distribution through the area.
Merchandise should be a key element of the marketing plan, since a considerable amount of MLS revenues come from merchandise. The club can choose from a variety of benchmarks for merchandise, including major European football clubs to the Vancouver Canucks. Essentially, any product can receive Whitecaps branding. The most successful sports franchises leave no stone unturned for merchandise opportunities. There is no risk of market saturation for a new product, and more merchandise equates to better exposure for the club.
The use of fans has been instrumental in launching the Seattle club. Fans have been engaged by that club in a number of ways, including marching bands, tailgates at local pubs and uniform promotions. It is recommended that the Whitecaps should utilize their most avid supporters to create goodwill throughout the city and build the fan base. This will be essential because the organization needs to scale up its fan base by five or six times from its current level in order to be successful at the MLS level.
The current set of rabid fans can be considered the early adopters. Fan engagement during the pre-launch marketing process should focus on these early adopters. The club should use a multi-pronged engagement strategy. The first component should be with respect to season tickets and merchandise discounts. The club will benefit significantly from a surge in interest during the months before their MLS launch. Getting merchandise out to the public during this run-up phase will help the club to gain exposure during the winter months when the city is obsessed with hockey and not thinking about outdoor sports. Merchandise discounts for early seasons' ticket holder signups not only achieves this goal, but it also helps attract more early season ticket holders, which give the club some degree of revenue security.
Fan engagement tactics should be escalated during the launch phase. This should include a multitude of game-day activities, including several tactics adopted from existing successful clubs. Marching bands, tailgates, and other activities should be promoted. There should be a strong family component as well, with pre-game entertainment options for all ages near the stadium site.
The club should also engage the fans through active use of social media. This is an important aspect of the pre-launch phase to build buzz about the team ahead of its inaugural season. The campaign should make use of the major social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. All club announcements should be promoted via social media, as this will help the club to gain exposure beyond the reach of traditional media outlets. During the pre-launch phase, the NHL season will be in full swing so it is essentially that the Whitecaps use social media during this time as the regular media is unlikely to give their efforts front page coverage.
In addition to the fans, the other key components of the club's marketing efforts should focus on the players. The market is considered relatively soccer savvy, so big name players are not required to sell the club to fans, unlike the experience of some other MLS clubs like the LA Galaxy. However, the bigger signings and players held over from the minor league club, along with Canadian nationals on the side, should all be utilized in promotions. Bringing the players closer to the fans will give the club a more intimate relationship with the fan base.
Although interest in the club is high in Vancouver, the club's launch will take place during the hockey season, so getting attention from Vancouver sports fans will be difficult despite the high level of interest. Therefore, the club's marketing strategy should include a wide variety of promotions. The club does not have a high level of promotion at present, due to their minor league status and budget, so scaling up the promotional efforts will be amongst the biggest challenges for the marketing department as the MLS launch approaches.
In addition to the promotions listed above with respect to fan engagement and social media, the club needs to engage in conventional promotions as well. There are two types of promotional types that should make up the focus of the marketing efforts. The first is conventional marketing efforts in traditional media.
There are two important aspects to this type of marketing effort. The first is with respect to media coverage; the second is with respect to advertising. Media coverage should be cultivated in two ways. The first is that the club needs to have dedicated reporters from the daily newspapers. Both dailies are well-read and both have dedicated reporters for the CFL and the NHL (several reporters each in the case of the latter). The Whitecaps need to work with the papers to ensure that they receive coverage on a par at least with the Lions and preferably superior to that level. Part of the media strategy will be to feed information to the reporters, make players and coaches accessible to the media, be free with the issuance of press passes and ensure that there is room on the team airplane for reporters when the club travels to away games. In addition, the club needs to leverage the radio. There is one all sports radio station in Vancouver, with a heavy accent on hockey coverage. During the summer months, coverage is split between hockey, football and baseball. The soccer club needs to have a higher profile on the radio in addition to newspaper coverage. The sports media is one of the most powerful promotional tools for sports clubs, so it is essential that the Whitecaps develop stronger relations with the local sports media that will see their coverage increase in proportion to the club's attendance and profile increase when they move to MLS.
The second aspect of mainstream media relations is the decisions…