In this installment of our MarketerInsights video series, Joe Koufman, CEO of AgencySparks, interviews Peter Sorckoff, Chief Creative Officer and Senior Vice President of Marketing for the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena. Peter talks about distinguishing the Hawks as a premiere source of entertainment in Atlanta, their crucial in-house capabilities, emotional sports marketing tactics, and more.
Peter is originally from Canada, and relocated 16 years ago to help Turner Broadcasting build a hockey team in Atlanta. The Thrashers were sold by Time Warner, who also inherited the Hawks and Braves upon its merger with Turner Broadcasting in 1996. Peter was asked to continue his marketing efforts for the Hawks, and for the next six years, his team hosted both basketball and hockey in the same facility, mastering the tricky planning cycles for the teams’ seasonal marketing overlap. Even trickier was that both teams had completely different personalities and requirements. Peter climbed the ranks over the years as the teams and marketing challenges evolved.
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Here are some highlights from our conversation with Peter:
Emotional Connections In Sports Marketing
Sports and entertainment are a completely discretionary spend, which is why the Hawks attempt to make emotional connections with their fans. Peter’s direct competition is not primarily other sports teams, but other potential discretionary entertainment spend options.
“They’re not going to live or die without NBA basketball. I would like to believe that they would, but we all know that’s not the case,” he told AgencySparks. “What’s actually going to motivate someone to go through all the hurdles and expenses that come with watching a game in a stadium as opposed to watching in on your TV for free? The aquarium, golf, good restaurants, and movies are all things that look pretty attractive if we’re not doing things to connect with our fans in such an emotional way that it supersedes whatever passing interest they have in one of those other activities.”
Sports marketing has shifted away from focusing on sports seasons and instead on annual memberships. It’s all about making the fan feel like they’re part of something larger than just a ticket transaction.
Outsourcing Versus In-House Capabilities
Peter believes that it’s crucial to keep the Hawks’ strategy in-house so as not to rely on an agency to drive the team’s marketing. The challenging part for agencies is that the sports industry is live and unpredictable.
“The tricky part in sports is the lack of patience,” Peter explained. “For a lot of professional sports, they want an agency who is going to come in and help them to take advantage of that perishable inventory (unsold seats) and reduce it. If they’re not capable of moving unsold seats quickly, the comment is usually: ‘These guys are terrible, they don’t get us.’”
Despite his hesitance to outsource strategy, Peter does find great value in working with agencies because they have best practices from other industries. He believes specialist agencies are important because they have deep expertise in the latest technologies and digital trends.
Marketing Variation Between the NBA and Franchises
“The league is obviously aware of what all the franchises are doing, but they’re marketing the game,” Peter said. “At the team level, it is very different because you can really dive to your markets and determine what your audience looks like. The history of that market speaks to what you’re strategy should be.”