Boston Red Sox CMO Adam Grossman on the Broadening and "Bespoke-ing" of the Baseball Fan Experience
Listen now on your favorite podcast platforms!
The Broadening and "Bespoke-ing" of the Baseball Fan Experience
Today on the Future of Fandom, we step into the batters box with the Boston Red Sox and their Chief Marketing Officer, Adam Grossman. Adam explains how a broadening of content and advertising has brought a more bespoke approach to the way in which fans both new and long-standing interact with their favorite franchise.
Connect with Adam Grossman on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/grossmanadam/
Read more about the Boston Red Sox: https://www.mlb.com/redsox
Here’s a quick sneak peek of this week’s episode:
FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Adam Conner (00:09):
Today on the Future of Fandom, we step into the batters box with a household name in sports. My name’s Adam Conner, I’m your host, and today we go nine innings with the Boston Red Sox and the ways in which their fan experience is evolving. Up at the plate for that discussion is their Chief Marketing Officer, Adam Grossman. Adam and I first spoke in 2018 amidst Boston’s World Series championship run. A lot has changed since then, both in the world and the team. Adam explains how a broadening of content and advertising since has brought a more bespoke approach to the way in which fans both new and long-standing interact with their favorite franchise.
Adam Conner (00:54):
We also touch on a few of the more recent innovations Adam has overseen, like an overhaul of their student program and their entry into music, as well as a few looming changes yet to happen, like sports betting in Massachusetts and their implications for the fan base. Let’s play ball and predict the future with the Boston Red Sox and Adam Grossman.
Adam Conner (01:19):
Adam, how are you?
Adam Grossman (01:21):
I’m great, Adam. Thanks for having me.
Adam Conner (01:24):
I am glad to have you. Again, listeners, a little bit of trivia. I’ve been dancing around this podcast game a little bit longer than the last couple episodes of the Future of Fandom. As a matter of fact, when I first started talking to people in this world, sports marketing, anything like that, Adam Grossman was my first interview. That’s a little bit of trivia for you, and it’s a great coming back to where it all started. I am appreciative for that, Adam. I want to say first, welcome back to me and then welcome to the Future of Fandom for the first time.
Adam Grossman (01:58):
I know the last time we were talking, we were in the World Series. Maybe that’s a harbinger for next season. Maybe it’ll be good luck.
Adam Conner (02:05):
Hey, let’s see. Maybe. As I’m recalling the Orioles were nowhere near… I don’t expect that to change, but maybe if it adds another win to our tally, that’ll be good for me. Baby steps, baby steps. When we last spoke, I’ll begin there, and for the listeners, we spoke in 2018. That was a time in which, the Sox were red hot at that particular moment in time, but the fan base was as a result, as passionate as ever. We spoke a lot about where you saw the fan base going, how the pinnacle of experience was to get to the park. Things around that changed a little, obviously, with ’20 and ’21, just due to the force of nature of a pandemic and all that. For starters, let’s set a foundation with… Let’s go with over the last two or three seasons, how you’ve seen the fan experience change in the filter of the Sox, and then maybe we’ll broaden a little.
Adam Grossman (03:01):
Yeah, I think for us, we are actually in a moment of massive transition and I don’t know that we can answer how things have changed because I mean, 2020 was so extraordinary. I mean, for us, as you had mentioned, our whole ethos is how do we drive people to the ballpark? Obviously we want people to engage with content, watch on NESN. For us though, from a revenue stream standpoint, getting people to Fenway is really the core of our business. 2020 didn’t allow us for that. It did allow us though to focus much more on the broadcast.
Adam Grossman (03:40):
I think we were able to do a lot of different elements in terms of trying to incorporate alums, trying to have Zooms with… Again, for the first time you say, okay, well, even if you’ve got David Ortiz who may not be able to physically be in the ballpark, doesn’t mean that we couldn’t put him into a broadcast. Doesn’t mean that even though we have fans who are not physically in the ballpark, doesn’t mean that you couldn’t hang out for a couple innings with Tim Wakefield during a broadcast and sort of experience that time virtually.
Adam Grossman (04:11):
There were a number of different initiatives that we tried in addition to those. Like try to get our guys mic’d up more. Local broadcasts was another piece that we really pushed during the pandemic. We thought that would help accentuate our broadcast. You have a lot of those elements that we take with you going forward. Last year when we were able to fortunately have fans back, what we saw was the rise for us in our digital ticketing. Without having paper tickets anymore and physical tickets, what we saw was a massive digital transformation. We were reticent in the past to force people to go digital. Last year, there was no option. Now we’re amongst the league leaders and digital adoption. For us now, we’ve got a real different view going forward of who’s coming in and what opportunities we have as it relates to data and information and how we can service our fans better as well.
Adam Grossman (05:12):
I think as things, hopefully normalize, quote, unquote normalize over the next year, I think we will… Our eyes are certainly open to what that transformation feels like, and also the generational components of what either different trends or different experiences or opportunities are, based on the segments and the interests of each fan.
Adam Conner (05:35):
That’s what I remember the most from my perspective as an OS fan. Listeners, NEST, New England Sports Network, that’s correct, Adam?
Adam Grossman (05:44):
Adam Conner (05:45):
Down in the Mid-Atlantic in the Baltimore area, we have MASN, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Nothing changed more in my eyes than what that broadcast felt like to watch. We had in our case, it was Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame Orioles pitcher, for listeners, join in for a couple innings where normally he would be physically in the booth. Where you would get these folks who were legends of our team coming in. It felt a lot like that. At first was something which felt natural, even though it was completely unnatural. Then over time, of course, we were happy to get folks back in. Although, I have to say, we had this legend in broadcasting who moved on during the time Gary Thorne… Red Sox fans, if you’re listening, you may remember the trivia that he was present in the booth in ’86, when the ball goes by Buckner and then moved on. He’s now with the Mets or he was with the Mets in the last season.
Adam Conner (06:38):
Lots of things change there, but the digital side is also very interesting to us because that’s how I’ve interacted most of all. How else beyond ticketing has the digital experience just been put into the spotlight, regardless of what’s actually changed with it? How’s the emphasis changed for what you’re seeing?
Adam Grossman (06:58):
I’d say maybe two categories to start. One is just with content and the proliferation of content. Even three years ago, it was probably, we were talking more about, okay, you got Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snap, and now TikTok has become a central theme, central focus, central platform for us. Making sure that we are carving out different pieces of content for the platform and for the audience on that platform is crucial. Part of that is to ensure that we have this mindset of we’re reaching fans wherever they are on their terms, not on ours. But we do feel as though we have a content and a production house and our Red Sox productions team is really extraordinary and starting to be more sophisticated around what we’re putting out, how we’re putting it out, when we’re putting it out. Again, making sure that it’s customized per platform. That’s from a content standpoint.
“In addition, I would say from an advertising standpoint, there is a bit of a blend that’s occurring now, but what we are also seeing even on the digital space is how we are spending money, how we’re putting our content, again, on those platforms, boosting that piece of content and marketing more directly to our fans in the digital space versus where the tools and where our strategy was two years ago or pre pandemic has changed dramatically. Our strategy, our resources, how we’re spending money and where is completely changed. When you see how we show up on digital, it’s very different than where we were two years ago.”
— Adam Grossman (08:05)
Adam Conner (08:48):
If I can get into the weeds for just a second, how did those… Without opening up the minutes to the meetings that you have, on what metrics does that success change? I mean, what was something that is focused on now that maybe two or three even years ago it would’ve been like “yeah, so?” or “that’s nice” but is now critical.
Adam Grossman (09:09):
Well, there’s one program in particular that completely… from a ticket standpoint, that completely went through the roof last year, which was our student program. One of the things, we probably talked about this when we first talked three years ago, was our focus on the next generation of fans. Students have always been a real key focus of ours because of where Boston is situated and that so many academic institutions around the city and in New England… We had the #Student9s program for a couple years, probably about last the six years. It was always fine. We would sell a couple hundred tickets. This past year we at times would be selling three to tickets a game, depending on the game, the day of the game. We would send out a text message to our student database and within minutes we’d be selling thousands and thousands of tickets.
Adam Grossman (10:07):
We now have over 50,000 students in our text database and it’s a two click solution. Two clicks and you’re in ticketing opportunity. That is something that we were sort of blown away by and at a time when we as an industry and as an entertainment sports industry were really struggling, that was sort of our digital pop of saying, wow, there’s a product here that has just gone through the roof. It’s been really amazing to see that. It’s not like that’s a big money maker, but what it did do for us was it made sure that the energy of the ballpark was literally never higher than it was last year. It was a really extraordinary set of circumstances and the student piece of that and the energy that they brought was a big piece of it.
Adam Grossman (10:54):
Then on the advertising side, I think for us to be more… We really got more sophisticated with omnichannel marketing and being able to understand, again, taking a big step forward, not perfected by any means, but of where our fans are. Again, what platform and understanding our database and trying to get more segmented, more targeted and being able to invest in a more targeted way on digital platforms throughout the season. It used to be several years ago where you had a bucket of money for an on-sale in January, and a bucket of money right before the season, and then a bucket of money that we would sort of play around with throughout the season. Then when we going into selling for the future years, December was a big spend. Now, the way that we’ve redistributed our ad spends are much more methodical. They’re not these sort of big up and downs. They’re much more consistent, much more evergreen campaigns. Also being able, like I said before, to use some of this different content to have different targets based on what people are into.
Adam Grossman (12:02):
I mean, knowing that some of people that are coming are super into baseball, other people are just into the experience or just being with friends, we want to make sure that we’re targeting with the appropriate messages on the appropriate platforms. There’s a lot there from a quote unquote science standpoint that we have come a long way in, in terms of being able to be more targeted and more direct with our advertising and our spends.
Adam Conner (12:27):
Yeah. More bespoke to platform, as you mentioned, ties in really well with what you said on the content side, just before we were talking about the ads, which is those students. I mean, what a great thing it must be to have that infusion of youth. Not only into the proportion of seats and fans at any given game, but just as to maybe who are the most socially loud types of fans that you may have. You talk about a next gen fan, a next gen consumer, in any way is most likely to be from gen Z. Students who are coming in who maybe have a little disposable income for the first time. Last time they came to the park might have been with their parents or their families. Now it’s them because they got nothing going on on a Tuesday or Friday or whatever. What has changed in terms of the platforms that you’ve used and what you see as being the most attractive types of content within those platforms for the newest age of sports fans? I guess specifically Sox fans.
“It’s not one size fits all. Take TikTok as an example. One of our big wins on TikTok last year was a short video from a previous year with Wally, our mascot, with a poster saying how much he loves J-Lo. That was sort of after the A-Rod J-Lo breakup. It became a big deal and it was just… It was quick, it was timely and it was relevant, especially on that platform. Now, if we did that on Twitter, it feels different. It’s wouldn’t have done much. I think that’s the part, based on audience and based on the look and the feel of that video and the timeliness of it, the culturally relevant elements of that message, that was something that took off.”
— Adam Grossman (13:30)
Adam Grossman (14:24):
On Twitter, our focus is a lot on information and statistics and making sure that our fans are getting the latest information that we can provide. It’s a much more centralized focus on information, less about sort of per se, about entertainment in the same way. Again, it’s not that they’re mutually exclusive, but there are different focal points on that. Even with what we’ve been trying to do on Instagram, I think what the NBA has done and where Instagram… Instagram’s really about individuals and it’s about individual expression. What we’ve tried to do even as a brand is to really hone in and focus on our individual players and sort of giving them that space and that opportunity to make sure that we’re capturing them. Again, not just between the lines, but during their off days, when they’re arriving to the park, what they’re wearing, what they’re feeling like. That arrival side is really important. That’s something that for us has been a real theme. I think going forward, what we are trying to do is provide more opportunities for our players to express themselves, whether it’s on our channels or on theirs, but to be creative and diligent and thoughtful around how we are building their brands and using Instagram as part of that.
Adam Grossman (15:46):
Those are three examples of how we’re sort of carving things and looking at things differently. It’s a very interesting science as it relates to making sure that, again, we’re delivering on each of these platforms, but at the same time, I think it sort of lends itself to making sure that we as an organization, as a brand, are forward thinking and investing in the resources and the time and the talent, frankly, to be able to make sure that we are showing up in all of these different ways. When you combine them all, that is really what is so important for a team and you can’t just be on one. I think for us, that’s been a real important… We’ve sensed that, but again, I think it’s been even more and more important as gen Z and different habits are forming on these different platforms.
Adam Conner (16:38):
Yeah. It’s about showing the personality, that composite of a team needn’t just be the statistics heavy post that you make on Twitter. Of course, not everything has to be the same as… I believe it was last May when that sort of devotion to J-Lo TikTok went out, but it’s capturing different sides of a personality. Getting behind the scenes, learning more about players. That’s something that people crave regardless of their age or their generation, but then of course, to have that sort of cover off, not lack of polish but definitely just a little more grit, I think, when it comes to something like a TikTok where you’re allowed to sort of let your hair down a little bit more. Especially sports teams, because, well, there’s just such a passionate emotion there anyway.
Adam Conner (17:18):
Let me ask about something else that is not quite yet to Massachusetts, but is taking a lot of the rest of the country by storm. I want to know how it impacts your treatment of fans, or rather what you put out there for them… Is this sports betting thing. I mean, it just came online in New York, came online in the Mid-Atlantic a little while back too. Of course, Massachusetts seems like it’s halfway there. I believe it’s passed in the state Senate, but not the full Senate. I forget. I don’t know exactly what that is. I’m not big on that news, but surely that should have some halo effect for fans who cannot drive down to the stadium on a given night. As a brand exec and as somebody who’s stewarding the Sox forward in this way, how do you look at that?
Adam Grossman (18:03):
We think it’s an important and massive opportunity. I think when you start looking at the numbers in other states, and there’s been a lot of research on who’s betting on sports and it is a younger and it’s a more diverse group of fans… We think it’s a really important opportunity for those who are already fans to be even more engaged with the broadcast and the game and the experience here. It also is a great on ramp for those that may have a mild interest, but we think could sort of allow those people to gain an even greater connection, a greater emotional connection to the game and to the sports industry.
Adam Grossman (18:51):
We’re really interested and excited about the opportunity and we know that it’s going to drive much more engagement and expand the sports industry. As you mentioned, we don’t have sports betting yet in Massachusetts, but we are anticipating, again, at some point the near future, that it will be here. It’ll be opening up a whole new opportunity and whole new experience for, again, different on ramps of fans and also a different way for us to market and to partner. I think that’s the other piece that is so important to think about.
Adam Grossman (19:29):
Especially as we look the last couple years where things have gone… The partnerships of this industry are really second to none. I mean, we’ve got incredible tech partners in the sports betting space and with what’s going on as it relates to this sort of confluence of sports, sports betting, information, data, and content and commerce, it’s going to be fascinating to see how all these pieces come together. Again, not only for sort of the day to day sports side, but just culturally relevant entertainment, and what sort of the definition of entertainment’s all about. It’s an incredibly, incredibly exciting time to see how this will fit together especially, again, hopefully as the pandemic gets in our rear view mirror and there’s a bit of quote unquote normalcy. The pace of all of this collision is really going to be interesting.
Adam Conner (20:22):
Yeah. That’s where I’ll go here and we’ll make this the penultimate focus today, are brands who typically would be sponsors, partners of the team leaning harder into the ways that they each the fans? Like, are they putting a proactive hand into the experiences that you build? How has that changed? Of course from the sports betting side where it’s a whole new technology that’s necessary, but there have been names who have been long standing at the park, for example, for years and years and years. Has their approach matched your approach in its proactive change over the last two or three years?
Adam Grossman (20:52):
Yeah, I think it has. I think at the end of the day, we have put a huge premium just on relationships. That’s always been for 20 years… with John Henry, Tom Warner, Sam Kennedy, the top of the pyramid for us is how are we… We’ve built our business on relationships. That’s with our corporate partners, with our fans, with our players. That sort of principle hasn’t changed and I think especially going into the pandemic, that was something that we thought about a lot and said, we know that this is going to be a really difficult, unprecedented period, but we want to take a long look at how we’re approaching relationships and looking at it in the long run. We’re really fortunate that our sponsors have continued to be not only sticking with us during a tumultuous time, but just excited about the affiliation around the partnership.
Adam Grossman (21:53):
You look at the brands that we are fortunate to have, between Sam Adams and Boston Beer and Bank of America and MGM. We have really blue chip brands and their needs, just like ours, are changing in terms of like getting to the consumer. Every year it just seems like there’s more and more opportunity. Again, what’s amazing about sports is that it is such a connector and it really opens the doors to millions and millions people.
Adam Grossman (22:29):
I think for us what we are looking at, going back to your question is, yeah, how are we tapping into them? How are we appropriately engaging them with our brand partners? I think the relevance and the power of sport, I think has never been… I would say has ever been as exciting, especially going through what we’ve been through and knowing like, even for us last year, again, that energy, our attendance, I mean, it just… People love sports and they love coming together. They love being part of it. They love following our teams and our athletes on a day to day basis. If we got through the last couple years, there’s no telling what’s going to happen in a really positive way with the confluence of technology and normalcy and sports together.
Adam Conner (23:17):
Last focus here because the next iteration, of course, the new season is coming up soon, in the next couple weeks you’ll be heading down to Fenway South to begin spring training. What are you most looking forward to for ’22, again, as a steward of the brand. Maybe on-field product aside, we can assume that we’re all going to be dazzled by the Sox yet again, but I’m curious what you are most looking forward to outside of that.
Adam Grossman (23:39):
Yeah. I think there’s so many things to look forward to. I give you just instinctually, maybe two that I think are relevant to what we talked about before. One, just as someone that’s been working for a baseball team for a long time, opening day is always something that we relish. It’s our industry’s highest… in many ways, in some ways, our highest collective point. We haven’t, at least here, we were not at full capacity last year nor in 2020. Having a fully packed opening day, especially given the momentum that we had in October coming into this season will be something that we really relish and cherish.
“Down the road in September, we are slated to open the MGM Music Hall, which is a music hall that is a 5,000 seat indoor music and a venue that’s on the backside of our bleachers. It’s a partnership with Live Nation. It’s going to be an incredible, intimate, dynamic venue. It’s something that I think speaks to sort of this idea around sports and entertainment and this ecosystem of, it’s not just about sports. It’s about congregating, it’s about entertainment. It’s not having to choose between an area in a neighborhood that has a ballpark or a sports venue, but also has concerts and an entertainment district almost 365 days a year. That’s something that we’re really looking forward to as well. Some traditional and some non-traditional elements, but it’s going to be an exciting 2022 for us and for Fenway Sports Group.”
— Adam Grossman (24:27)
Adam Conner (25:30):
Yeah. I would say so. The whole entertainment district, I like that sort of re-imagining of what most might, “Oh yeah, the ballpark.” Well, no, it can be so much more than that. Yeah, hey, best of luck to you and the Sox and all of Fenway Sports Group. Go Liverpool, Go Pens. Well, I can’t quite say Go Sox because I’m an O’s fan, but have a very nice time at the top of the East all season long.
Adam Grossman (25:55):
Thanks so much.
Adam Conner (26:00):
Thanks again to Adam Grossman from the Red Sox for joining us. Individual allegiances aside, I do look forward to you continuing to swing for the fences for your fans. Thanks to you, the listener, for exploring the Future of Fandom with us. I’d encourage you to stay connected. Subscribe to the Future of Fandom wherever you listen to your podcast. You can also find all of our content at livelike.com and across socials. We’re there on LinkedIn @LiveLike and Twitter @LiveLikeInc. I look forward to predicting the future again with you soon. Until then, I’m Adam Conner saying so long and thanks for being a fan.
Social Graph and User Presence
It’s time for our March product update! We have exciting new developments to report, including the launch of two new community-driven features: social graph-as-a-service and user presence-as-a-service!Social Graph-as-a-service (SGaaS) is an API-first service that...
Personalizing User Experiences With
Customer Data Platforms
The digital era has brought about a change in user behaviour and expectations, with customers now craving personalized, engaging experiences from the brands they interact with. This trend is particularly significant in the sports and media industry, where customer...
Spreading the LiveLike Word with ChatGPT
By now, you’ve likely been introduced to the wonder that is ChatGPT—and whether you love to hate it or hate to love it, it proves to be an incredible tool. After giving ChatGPT a quick overview of what LiveLike does, we challenged it to share the information in as...