Bratwurst wafting from the grills at the back ends of trucks crammed in a stadium parking lot. Fathers tossing the pigskin to their sons in backyards across America. Even the spectacle of Larry King prattling on about O.J. Simpson every night. They're signs that football season is truly here.
If you're an entrepreneur, right about now, you should be doing an end zone dance.
Football season may not be as lucrative as the shopping days surrounding Christmas, but 'tis the season of spending nonetheless. And if you're a business owner with a little imagination, you may soon find that football months are your favorite time of year. The multibillion-dollar football industry doesn't just make players and team owners rich; the wealth can spread down to any entrepreneur, no matter how unrelated your company seems to quarterbacks and touchdowns.
For instance, a 2000 study by a group of Virginia Tech economists discovered that football fans spent approximately $1.7 million in their county every time a home game took place. Down South, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama concluded that Alabama football brings in an average of $12.7 million per game for the businesses in the Tuscaloosa area. And after Katrina hit, one of the first businesses to be re-established was the New Orleans Saints, in part because the franchise made the state more than $80 million annually.
That's why some entrepreneurs like Dan McLean, 59, CEO of Chicago's MCL Companies, a developer of upscale homes and commercial units, are taking advantage of the football season. The company's newest addition to the Chicago skyline is going to be MetroPlace. And since they're trying to attract young couples, the type they suspect are into football, they're holding a raffle for free tickets to a Chicago Bears home game. "Chicago is a sports town, and more than anything, it's a Bears town, so it makes perfect sense to tap the enthusiasm of Bear fans in the market for their first home," McLean says. They're also planning on holding tailgate-style parties at the open houses so that interested buyers can have a brat and beer while touring homes.
Voss Graham agrees with the approach. He's the author of The Three Games of Selling, which draws principles of sales from football. He's also a rabid fan of the LSU Tigers. "True football fans are subject to spending more money due to the emotional level of the fan," observes Graham. "This means that they are prone to spontaneous purchases rather than the non-emotional buyer who looks for deals or low cost items."
Making a Play
So if you're an entrepreneur who is swiftly becoming convinced of the merits of football season, how can you make that part of your game plan? Especially if your business doesn't have an obvious connection to football? Here are two key strategies:
Throw a football-themed party. That might be as simple as decorating your business for the season to create a sense of camaraderie. "True football fans have a feeling of belonging to a larger group of people," Graham says. "They can have instant rapport with complete strangers creating interesting discussions and conversations that most people would never get involved in with complete strangers."
If you can throw a celebratory party for your football fan customers, you'll likely make an even stronger impression. According to Alison Minton, who owns Maplemint Enterprises, a New York City event planning, fundraising and hospitality consulting service, it's not hard to do.
She says to be very visual, using the colors of the teams playing in your city. "That can really get people in the mood." She also suggests serving food that relates to both football and the community you live in. "If you're a business in Chicago, and you're serving food, you might serve deep-dish pizza. If you're in Philadelphia, Philly cheese steak." Finally, display football memorabilia throughout your location. "The main thing to remember is that football is about having fun," Minton adds.
Make part of your business about football. If throwing a party to attract customers or potential investors doesn't fit with your business, consider following the example of Halcyon Jets Holdings, Inc., a New York City-based luxury private transport company. Jonathan Gilbert, 36, the CEO, says that they've recently begun offering (extremely wealthy) football fans the opportunity to fly to the Super Bowl. The package--which has varying degrees of costs--includes a ticket to the game and admittance to a post-Super Bowl party.
Aside from simply trying to make customers happy--several had asked about chartered flights to the Super Bowl--Gilbert sees this as an opportunity to foster and build a rapport with football fans. And even though it's just one day out of the year, Gilbert says that if the Super Bowl flights are a success, they'll charter planes to other sporting events, such as the PGA and World Series.
Of course, if you want to capitalize on the football season, there are some caveats. "If a business chooses to show support for a particular team, then they really need to follow the team and know who the key players are," Graham says. "In other words, be a real fan or you will totally lose your credibility when the fans learns the truth." And we probably don't need to mention that now isn't the best time to hire O.J. or Michael Vick as your company spokesman.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.