"Forget cars, computers and cola. The most competitive arena in marketing is sports. Rein, Kotler and Shields do a brilliant job in analyzing the issues involved in attracting elusive fans who have many more choices today than they have ever had."

"The Elusive Fan is the most thorough and comprehensive overview of the sports marketing industry I have seen. The insights and recommendations are a must read for anyone involved or interested in the field."

"The authors apply insightful consumer analysis and branding concepts to the practical problems of bringing people to games, attracting eyeballs to sports TV, and opening consumer wallets for merchandise."

"The Elusive Fan is a must read for anyone interested in sports marketing strategies -- and the 21st Century world of sports in general."

"Authors Rein, Kotler and Shields have hit a homerun. The Elusive Fan offers a detailed playbook for sports decision makers looking to up their game."

"The Elusive Fan is an essential primer for the past, present, and, most importantly, future of sports."

How to accommodate a "competitive and fragmented marketplace"

July 19, 2006

by Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas), Top 50 Amazon reviewer

Competition for disposal income spent on recreation and entertainment is probably more intense now than it has ever been before. On any given day, we have so many choices and all of them have direct or indirect costs. This is especially true of sporting events, many of which are televised. The title of this book refers to someone whose financial support is increasingly more difficult to attract and then sustain. According to Rein, Kotler, and Shields, "All sports need to be constantly adapting and if necessary changing to accommodate a competitive and fragmented marketplace." Their book suggests how to achieve that objective by adopting and implementing a "strategic approach that emphasizes fan connection, innovative segmentation, brand-building, and sustaining market share."

In essence, marketing either creates or increases demand for whatever is offered. With regard to the sports industry (at all levels from local youth and school teams to professional leagues and international competition such as the Olympics), the authors assert that those responsible for marketing must reinvent their thinking in terms of athletes, teams, leagues , and events in order to differentiate them from competition which, yes, includes the option to commit no hours and dollars whatsoever. Instead of buying a ticket to a baseball game, for example, and probably purchase food, beverages, and merchandise while attending it, why not stay home and watch the same game on television? Or instead watch another television program or DVD? Or read a book such as The Elusive Fan? Or go for a walk in the woods?

In this volume, Rein, Kotler, and Shields address questions such as these:

1. How to connect with "the elusive fan"?

2. How to reinvent a sports brand?

3. How to generate the transformation of that brand?

4. How to implement the brand's transformation?

5. How to communicate the brand effectively?

6. How to sustain the fan connection with the brand?

7. Which sports branding initiatives have been most successful?

8. What lessons can be learned from them?

9. What is the future of "fan connection"?

10. How to respond effectively to "the most elusive fans who are just now being born"?

This brilliant book will be of substantial value to decision-makers in the sports industry who must decide how to market what they offer to an increasingly more crowded marketplace but I presume to suggest that it will also be of great interest and value to others who also struggle to understand -- and then respond effectively to -- the increasingly more "elusive" consumers within those decision-makers' marketplace.

I especially appreciate the fact that Rein, Kotler, and Shields devote relatively little attention to theories, hypotheses, etc. and spend most of their time rigorously examining real-worth examples of those organizations which have achieved marketing success by initiating and then sustaining the aforementioned "strategic approach that emphasizes fan connection, innovative segmentation, brand-building, and sustaining market share." They are a commendably diverse selection of effectively marketed sports brands (both individuals and organizations) and include the Kentucky Derby, Maria Sharapova, owner Mark Cuban the Dallas Mavericks, the University of Vermont men's basketball team, general manager Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics , South Lake Carroll (Texas) High School's football program, the Professional Bowlers Association, NASCAR's Daytona 500 (the "Great American Race"), and the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team. However different they are in almost every respect, all are successful sports brands because each "has transformed into a strong, identifiable, and differentiated brand and is an example of how to execute two critical brand differentiation tools - [begin italics] benchmarking and innovation. [end italics]"

In the final chapter, Rein, Kotler, and Shields identify and then discuss six successful "drivers" of successful sports brands (please see pages 295-306) and as I absorbed and digested this material, it struck me that the same "drivers" (after appropriate modification) could achieve the same marketing objectives for almost any other category of brand, especially as most products and services have by now become commodities in their respective marketplaces which are also "crowded" in ways and to an extent which are unprecedented.

Trace the etymology of the word "fan" and you will learn that it is an abbreviation of the word "fanatic" and probably first appeared in England in 1682 in reference to inmates of the insane asylum in Bedlam. However, the origins of the modern use of the word were in late-19th century America when used to describe especially zealous sports supporters. Although Rein, Kotler, and Shields limit their attention to the sports world, I again suggest that their probing and illuminating insights also have direct, indeed compelling relevance to most (if not all other) market segments and categories. Moreover, their relevance seems certain to become even greater in years to come.

Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Michael Mandelbaum's The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do; also D. Stanley Eitzen`s Sport in Contemporary Society: An Anthology.


The Elusive Fan

Mark Lawson, The Age (Australia)

As a one-eyed supporter of the AFL's Collingwood ever since I can remember, I cannot imagine following any other team, or becoming seriously interested in any other winter sport. Not even a few years of playing Rugby Union as a schoolboy shook this Melbourne-bred belief in Collingwood and the AFL, in that order.

Strangely enough, there are people who develop an interest in other sports. And thanks to the rise and rise of digital entertainment, including the internet, there are plenty to chose from.

Where once there were the traditional sports of boxing, football, soccer (which some people call football), cricket, basketball and so on, there are now also the likes of professional surfing, bowls, volleyball and badminton. Any organised sport you can name, there is someone trying to market it.

The big competition is between the long-established sports, with boxing, baseball and American Football competing with each other for fans, as well as trying to hold market share against a host of newcomers, such as Arena Football League (a recently invented, fast moving game).

This book is all about that competition. It looks in some detail at exactly what motivates a fan, and how individual sports can attract and retain those individuals. How and when does an individual become a fan of a particular sport? What moves a fan from watching a team on television to turning up at the ground with a painted face? If they are committed enough, they will buy a package of season tickets and a CD, or will perhaps pay to be married on their team's home ground.

The academics and consultants who wrote this book concentrate mainly on American sports, with the occasional reference to cricket or rugby, and part of what they say does not translate to Australia. Here, the main story has been the spread of different football codes between the states. Nonetheless, The Elusive Fan will be a starting point for any of the growing number of managers trying to get their team, or sport, ahead.

So, would I pay to have my ashes scattered over Collingwood's home ground? If it will help them win a premiership, it's worth thinking about.


Bonham and Hinchey: Book Offers Insight on Attracting Fans

by Dean Bonham and Don Hinchey, Rocky Mountain News, December 2, 2006

Much of the business of sports centers around one key issue: How to identify, approach, sell and satisfy existing and prospective fans. It's the Holy Grail of sports. If teams, leagues and TV networks do it well, they prosper; if they don't, they struggle. That's why there's always a lot of heartburn among the executives who run these entities and especially among those who staff their front offices.

A new book offers some literary antacid to those looking to improve their odds. It's The Elusive Fan - Reinventing Sports in a Crowded Marketplace (McGraw-Hill).

Oddly enough, the authors aren't directly involved in the business of sports. Irving Rein is a professor of communications studies, Philip Kotler is a professor of international marketing and Ben Shields is a doctoral student in communications studies.

However, they bring academic rigor and valuable insight to the occasionally chaotic world of sports marketing.

Their basic thesis is well known to sports practitioners: The explosion of sports and entertainment options, coupled with the creation of media options never dreamed of, has created a fragmented sports marketplace that fractures fans' allegiances and makes it harder to herd fans into meaningful concentrations. And that's what creates the excess stomach acid.

The authors propose a systematized response to the challenge.

• A study of fan connection points, or why people choose one sport over another. They list three: Essential Connectors (the roles of "star" and "place" in a fan's decision-making process); Communication Connectors (how people bond through social and emotional sports experiences); and Search Connectors (what needs fans hope to satisfy through their sports experiences). The authors urge sports marketers to choose the connectors that best differentiate them from their competition.

• Knowledge of fan entryways, or how they are accessed. The authors describe five: Participation (did you ever play the sport?); on-site experience (have you ever been to a game?); media exposure (newspaper, TV, radio, Internet, etc.); word of mouth (did somebody tell you about it?); and mentoring (someone taking a special interest in your athletic development).

• An understanding of the fan decision-making process: For example, who initiates the idea to attend or watch a game, who influences it and who actually pays for it.

There are frequently several people involved.

Related to this is an understanding of what factors are involved in the decision-making process. Things such as parking, affordability, concession price and quality, team record, etc., all play a role.

• An awareness of how committed a fan is. This ranges from the indifferent to the ensnared, with various gradations along the way, signified by an ever- deepening level of fan involvement.

After laying the analytical groundwork, the authors proceed with the solution side of their book: Connecting to fans through a powerful and responsive brand.

They highlight four qualities that are essential to the development and maintenance of successful sports brands: segmentation (focusing on a desired and defined target audience); involvement (knowing how deep the target audience's ties to the brand are); ethos (creating a connection with fans through credibility and trust); and transformation (changing the brand in ways that are compatible with fan expectations).

The authors acknowledge the traditional dilemma that most sports brands face - win or else - and they advise sports entities to avoid pinning their brands' reputations on competitive outcomes.

Instead, they urge teams to be prepared to reposition their brands and find new ways to connect with fans when the competitive pendulum inevitably swings adversely.

The Bonham line: The era when a team or league had an automatic lock on fans' allegiances is waning fast. It's being replaced by an era of unprecedented consumer choices and elusive fans. To capture their share of loyal fans, teams of tomorrow will start their pursuit with younger fans, stay closer to them through their maturation and make more opportunities available for them to interact and stay engaged with the product. If they don't, another team will.

Dean Bonham is CEO and Don Hinchey is VP of communications for The Bonham Group, a Denver- based sports and entertainment marketing firm. Send comments to