With the world abuzz about David Beckham's signing with the L.A. Galaxy, a more interesting story from my point of view has developed with Toronto's new professional soccer team - Toronto FC.
Far from establishing itself yet as Toronto's most enduring sports brand (The Leafs), most raucous experience (Toronto Rock), best turnaround (the Argos), most entertainment action per minute (The Raptors), best family entertainment (the St.Michael's Majors) or the best chance of winning something (The Jays), Toronto FC has become THE feel-good, grassroots sports story.
In stark contrast to its professional peers, Toronto FC has reached out to the underground tribe of soccer lovers in Toronto in fresh and imaginative ways. A quick recap:
- A Toronto FC Pub Crawl through six of Toronto's best soccer hotbeds and ethnic enclaves where fans could grab a pint and meet face to face with head coach Mo Johnston and Jim Brennan -love this. GOAL.
- The development of two supporter clubs - the Red Patch Boys and the U Sector - each with a passion for the sport, a colourful story and now their own delineated seat section when it the new soccer stadium opens up - this is such a no brainer - sports is so tribal why not put like minded people together in the same section (I'm at a loss to understand why the Jays wouldn't have a Moms & Tots section, a Single and Looking section, the I Want To be Loud section and a Hardcore Experts section within the cavernous Skydome). GOALLLL.
- an intimate open-air soccer stadium (BMO Field) of 20,000 that will create a cozy environment and given the lack of available seats, also create a lineup and pent up demand for tickets. GOALLLLLLLL.
- a brilliant move in trying out over 1,000 recruits and working them through the paces for a chance at glory - believe me, this move by itself has gone a long way to identify the club to the city and getting people to talk about the "beautiful game" in a time of year otherwise known as "hockey season" . GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.
- an incredibly perceptive move of getting the media to overcome their soccer ambivalence and write articles about their soccer tryout experience, grabbed from BIg Soccer's site. Huge GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!
Toronto FC's Immutable Laws of Mouth at Work:
#2 - The Law of True Innovation - these moves are either the most cleverly disguised PR moves I've seen in awhile or Toronto FC really is focused on reaching out to the grassroots in an organic, non-staged way
#13 - The Law of Community - identifying ethnicities and pub lovers as their "front row" is remarkably astute - the war will be switching a piece of their investment with their European club favorites and spending time with the local game in town, based on early comments, they're making a real good first impression with their influencers.
#19 - The Law of the Underdog - market this team like their MLS's bigger brother The Leafs and they will fail abysmally - good for TFC in realizing success will pay off in buzz-laden gatherings of 3s and 4s and not lazy sprinklings of advertising dust everywhere
Other word of mouth things they might want to do:
- host kids camps (and a lot of them)
- host European fan club days
- have a Toronto FC consumer generated anthem contest
- get people to vote on half time entertainment options
- conduct the world's largest GITONI (table soccer) event
- get well-connected moms to come with their daughters and support "Cool Chicks with Kicks"
- identify and profile the master group of 100 sports bars that will televise all the games and each provide a list of their 200 top sports fans for chance to play in an exhibition game as goalie
- get the Maple Leaf players to audition for soccer in their off season
- have the soccer players skate with the Leafs
- have fans join a sports pool and guess how many goals the team will score this year to encourage year long follower-ship of the team
- during every ethnic street festival in summer, host an amateur vs. the pro event, neighborhood vs. neighborhood event
- each week, have 100 uber influencers and most involved fans go through the practice paces with one of the assistant coaches
- give their players some personality and upload profiles of what the soccer players love about their sport and Toronto i.e. Maurice Edu's favorite Neighborhood, best Restaurant, guilty pleasure, best moment in soccer, best soccer move
- host the Bay St. corporate "weekend warrior" soccer grudge matches
- host a CEO vs. CEO skills soccer contest
- post on their site the 12th man and provide feature profiles of every imaginable type of fan and why they're supporting Toronto FC
- host a scavenger hunt to find the "golden ball" somewhere in Toronto (in return for season tickets)
- create a YouTube video of Toronto FC players' top soccer tricks
- identify a team of 60 neighborhood influencers - in return for merchandise, a private VIP session with the team and official ambassador status, have each of them be a source of local opportunity, marketplace insight and tactical recruitment blanketing the city
- do this in every men's washroom within a 20 mile radius
At the time of the writing, 10,000 TFC season tickets have been sold which may have now surpassed the Raptors' following. Unfortunately, I've also started to notice FC's big outdoor billboards and TV ads that glorify the soccer experience to an expectation level that this team and field will likely not match. Let's hope they minimize their foray into the mainstream and keep up with the grassroots!