Could the Rays market to True Tampa Bay Fans?

Before I begin, I must say I hate the term “true fan”. I think it is terrible and does nothing but pit fans against each other. Fans who should be celebrating a common bond fight among themselves to see who is “more true”, as if teams care who woos them more. Too often those ambiguously anointed “true fans” mock, belittle, or call out those who are not magically placed in the “true” circle of fandom.

“True fan” is a horrible term that needs to die a rapid death.

Marketing people, however, love the term “true fan”. Every team, product, or entity wants to know if their customers are “true fans”. They want people to place their product before everything else. “True fan” is a way for marketers to appeal to fans’ sense of security and belonging.

“If you are a ‘true fan’,” they say, “you would buy this awesome, fantastic piece of merchandise and show the world how much of a fan you are! Because if you don’t, people will question your fandom and you might lose prestige among your peers. And you don’t want that. So buy what we are marketing.”

Yeah, I am not a fan of the term “true fan”.

But lately, the New York Mets got me thinking about the use of the term “true fan”.

Last week, the New York Mets emailed thousands of people a “letter” signed by ten of the team’s greatest stars imploring fans to be recognized as “true New Yorkers” by filling out a form on the Mets website, which of course, would give the Mets marketing department personal information they could use to send the fan more Mets information. “True New Yorkers were Mets fans”, they said, “and true New Yorkers would fill out the form to show the Mets how ‘true’ they were.”

The sneakiness of the effort was not only noticed, but lambasted throughout the media. Mets fans took offense, Yankees fans took offense, and fans outside of New York took offense – because apparently Mets fans in New York are more important than those outside of New York.

To quote writer Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing:

Why would I feel the need to tell the Mets I’m a Mets fan?

The Mets apparently believe some fans will fill out the form and enter to win two tickets to the team’s game versus the New York Yankees. The winner will also present a real letter to the team (as compared to the e-letter the team sent to the fans) with the names of everyone who filled out the form. So for a minute of filling out and submitting information, there is a chance to meet Major Leaguers. Despite the negative response, some fans will undoubtedly take that chance.

I won’t even touch the misplaced notion that the amount of fans in the seats affect player performance. If a team won a championship in an empty area, the team would still celebrate. Remember, most of the team’s celebrating goes on behind closed doors where no fan is allowed. Let me know when teams offer free champagne to fans after clinching a championship.

However ridiculous, the Mets effort to appeal to “True New Yorkers” (i.e. “True Mets Fans”), made me think if the Rays could do something similar. Hopefully not by begging for personal information on a website, but by appealing to “True Tampa Bay Fans”.

Every poll or survey of the Tampa Bay area says approximately 50% of area baseball fans are Rays fans. The rest are Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, Tigers fans, Braves fans, and other assorted allegiances.

Would any non-Rays fans get insulted if the Rays – in conjunction with the Bucs and Lightning – pushed the message that “true” Tampa Bay sports fans root for Tampa Bay teams?

While fans of non-Tampa Bay teams do boost local attendance, they are willingly not part of the Rays fan “tribe”. Many are not fans of the Lightning or Bucs fans either. In other words, they want nothing to do with the Tampa Bay sports rooting experience. If they are not participating, there should be little, if any, effort to market to them.

But fans that do participate in the Tampa Bay sports experience can be appealed to. They might even enjoy being called “true fans”. The designation might increase loyalty to the sports team brands and may even build stronger bonds between fans. That belief, attitude, and bit of branding may convince other fans to want to be “true fans”.

What if the Rays, Lightning, and Bucs tied the “true fan” title to attendance? While that would put a disposable income level on fandom, “true fan” swag such as t-shirts, hats, or bumper stickers could be awarded with points acquired by ticket or in-game purchases.

For example, maybe in order to get swag, a “true fan” must attend five Rays games, three Lightning games, and two Bucs games during a calendar year. That’s a little costly, but not out of the realm of middle class income.

There could also be separate levels of swag for corporations that buy ticket packages for all three Tampa Bay teams. A corporation with season ticket packages to each team might be awarded with lunch appearance by certain players or other incentives. Companies can then boast they are “true” supporters of Tampa Bay sports.

For those that care, that might be a title worth getting.

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