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Quirky marketing wins over soccer fans

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in Leaders & Managers

To market his professional soccer club, Merritt Paulson tried something different. The owner of the Portland Timbers, a Major League Soccer team, decided to advertise in an understated, fan-friendly manner.

Paulson knew his audience. in Portland, Ore., young hipsters, don’t respond well to traditional marketing campaigns. So Paulson aroused their interest without blatantly selling to them.

Paulson and his marketing staff used billboards around town to introduce the team ahead of its first season in 2011. But rather than trumpet the arrival of the Timbers, the billboards featured photographs of actual fans.

The unconventional approach worked. By not mentioning the players, the sport itself or even showing a soccer ball, the campaign generated buzz.

Portland residents liked that they were the stars, and the town soon rallied around the Timbers. The fans saw themselves as the team’s biggest asset.

This inexpensive ad strategy “captured the ethos of Portland,” Paulson says.

To sing the national anthem for the opening game, the Timbers didn’t trot out a celebrity. Instead, all 18,627 fans in attendance joined in.

A subset of particularly passionate fans, called the Timbers Army, attend every game and cheer thunderously. Paulson has reserved a 5,500-seat section of the stadium for these boisterous customers—and has kept their tickets at a low price.

The strategy is working. The Timbers made the playoffs in 2013 for the first time, and every league game has sold out. There’s a waiting list of 10,000 for season tickets.

— Adapted from “Marketing with a Kick,” Josh Dean, www.fastcompany.com.

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