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Buzz Is Back

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The Buzz is Back
The Charlotte Bobcats: (Re) Launching a New (Old) NBA Franchise
Article Analysis by Rosbie Mutcherson Jr.
Business 505 Creating Consumer Value
March 4, 2015
After reading Charlotte Bobcats: (Re) Launching a New (Old) NBA Franchise, I think of the Charlotte Hornets like a bad junior high breakup. We have all been there I am sure. Plenty of infatuation, fighting, scandal, embarrassment, pouting, and happiness are a few things that come to my mind. “The Charlotte Bobcats: (Re) Launching a New (Old) NBA Franchise written by D. Branch Jr. looked in the Charlotte NBA franchise from its inception to now. The city of Charlotte for years backed their basketball team through the bad and certainly the good times. The team enjoyed an NBA record for attendance for ten plus years at a time. Fans continued to buy tickets despite not always producing competitive teams. It seemed to not matter whether the Hornets were winning fans would still pack the arena.
After years of success there came a point when the organization reached a crossroads. Trades, ownership issues, and scandal all played parts in Charlotte’s fall from the top of the league in fan support to the very bottom. A once vibrant city with a new NBA franchise quickly turned into a black hole for an potential NBA owners. Hornet ownership would eventually flee to New Orleans. Within a few years change it all its glory was revealed. Robert Johnson brought a new face, arena, and name change to the city of Charlotte. The Charlotte Hornets were officially history. The new, Charlotte Bobcats were town to right the wrongs left by the old organization. New owner, Robert Johnson, wanted to create a new brand; Johnson completely stripping the city of their identity that grew rooted in the Hornets. The city’s response is well documented as he no longer own the team and the Bobcats no longer exist. In 2009, Michael Jordan bought the team from Johnson changed the name in 2014 and for the first time since the 90’s the “BUZZ” is back in Charlotte.
There were many marketing aspects I saw when reading this article. Satisfaction is talked about in Chapter 4 of Marketing Management. Satisfaction is a person’s feelings of pleasure or disappointment that result from comparing a product’s perceived performance (or outcome) to expectations. If you come up short the customer will be dissatisfied. If you completely WOW them the customer will be highly satisfied. It is important then, that the consumer knows your brand. Your brand will be the longevity of your company.
Buffalo Wild Wings is a great example of a company rooted in their brand. Their slogan is “Wings. Beer. Sports.” It really makes for easy marketing. Their restaurants feature rotating monthly beer specials while showcasing over 20 draft beers. That’s Beer. The Wings are offered in two styles with about 15 different sauces or dry rubs. That’s Wings. I used to work for the company for two years so I know a few things about them; but their brand is clear. The new Bobcats organization did not do the proper research to introduce a new franchise in Charlotte. Dis-Satisfaction I believe was at the root of that rejection. The relationship between the team and the city was much more than basketball.
Customer loyalty does not happen without satisfaction. Often times the satisfaction will trump the value of the product. The Hornets fans were satisfied with their team. Over time the incidents within management created dissatisfied fans, which would cause the decline in support. Product performance aka how the team plays on the court is certainly going to be the biggest reason for satisfaction. In Charlotte, I believe there was a pretty good second that made many fans turn their back on the Bobcats. Commencing with the 1988 season, the Hornets sustained fan support without a break through 1996, selling out 364 consecutive games and establishing a new longevity average attendance record in the NBA.
Attendance hit rock bottom from 2000-02, with regular season and even playoff attendance. They managed just over 11,000 per game, down 25% in 2002 from 2001. All that happened with the Hornets making the playoffs. That discounts poor on the court performance as a reason for low fan support. Charlotte. It was not just attendance. Media ratings were down. Local television (WAXN) and regional cable television (FSN South) were down 20% and 39% respectively from 2001 to 2002. Fans pretty much rejoiced when the team left in 2002.
I believe the marketing positioning strategy by the Bobcats was clear. The Bobcats wanted to create their own new identity. In-depth analysis of psychographic segmentation could have saved the Bobcats a whole lot of money, as they would have understood their consumers better. Psychographics is the science of using psychology and demographics to better understand consumers. Personal values are very important to people. It is why public relations are so important. Not offending customers needs to be the number one priority of every business. Charlotte is located right in the heart of Bible belt country. People attend church every Sunday and their favorite restaurant after just as religiously. Extra marital affairs clashed with the values of the Charlotte fans. A study on sports spectator segmentation was done in the International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship. They assed psychological connection with a team in 4 areas: awareness, attraction, attachment and allegiance.
Consumers become aware of the team through advertisements or word of mouth. The city went through a few years without a team then Robert Johnson announced his ownership of the team. The next stage is attraction. “An individual’s progression to the attraction stage is primarily driven by the team’s attributes satisfying the individual’s hedonic motives, personal needs and becoming congruent with their social situational factor” (Branch Jr, pg. 99). A good example would be a new Charlotte resident liking the Bobcats because of their playing style. Something unique to that person’s personality drives the attraction stage. Although individuals in the attraction stage have developed a preference nothing is concrete because everything is extrinsic. Kind of like that middle school relationship I was speaking about.
Attachment is a stage I believe the Bobcats never got close to. The franchise never developed a stable connection with the city of Charlotte. The city was psychologically still dealing with their break up. The Bobcats never had any personal meaning. In the attachment stage, fans have begun to internalize associations linked to the team within themselves. This further explains the low attendance for the Hornets during the early 2000s. The fans were resistant to changes and overcame losing seasons because motives are much more intrinsic. The attachment stage has much better personal connection with team, which will encourage support even when things are not going well.
The final stage is where I believe the old Hornets regime was operating. Since their inaugural season in 1988, the Hornets sustained fan support without a break through the 1996 season. During that year, they sold out 364 consecutive games a new NBA longevity average attendance record. Allegiance is the last and highest psychological connection a person can have with a team. Fans are very stable, becoming very resistant to change. Charlotte ownership created each of those infractions by hiring a new, unknown out-of-state minority owner and questionable decisions on and off the court. The Bobcats walked right into that mess; a major reason they would never reach this stage. Their choice to ignore the past never gained them the fan support to push through problems. No intrinsic connection was made with the city of Charlotte.
Some major issues addressed in the chapters were shown in this Bobcats-Hornets incident. I mentioned a few like satisfaction, market positioning, and psychographic segmentation. Each of these played a role in marketing the new Bobcats organization. The psychographic segmentation seemed to be the most important issue to me. Fan support in American sports can be very fickle. ESPN quoted Josh Smith, a former first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks, about the new revived Atlanta fan base. He said fans are fickle especially in Atlanta. Atlanta is now a top five team in the NBA, a tremendous improvement from last season. When you have fans that are in the second and third stages of psychographic segmentation the team will thrive. The Bobcats did not cater to the psychological needs of a city just fresh off a bad break up. Satisfaction was low; their marketing position never materialized, all a product of poor psychographic segmentation.

References

2002 NBA playoff ticket sales. (Originally published June 24, 2002). Sports Business Journal by the Numbers 2003. 5(36), p. 103.

Bobcats start from scratch. (2004, November 1). The Dominion Post. p. 7-B.

Branch Jr., D. (2008). The Charlotte Bobcats: (Re) Launching a New (Old) NBA Franchise. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 17(1), 57-62.

Doyle, J. P., Kunkel, T., & Funk, D. C. (2013). Sports spectator segmentation: examining the differing psychological connections among spectators of leagues and teams. International Journal Of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, 14(2), 95-111.

NBA franchise directory. (2002, December 30). Sports Business Journal by the Numbers 2003. 5(36), p. 100

Pritchard, M. P., & Burton, R. (2014). Ethical Failures in Sport Business: Directions for Research. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 23(2), 86-99.

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