Consumer Differences Across Large and Small Market Teams in the National Professional Soccer League

Robinson, Matthew J.; DeSchriver, Timothy D.
June 2003
Sport Marketing Quarterly;2003, Vol. 12 Issue 2, p80
Academic Journal
In comparison to major sports leagues, there is a large variation in market size within minor league sports. The purpose of this study was to determine if the variation in market size across minor league teams resulted in differences for selected consumer characteristics. The consumer characteristics examined were demographic composition, spectator loyalty/affiliation, and market competition. Spectator data were collected from two teams in the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), a minor indoor soccer league. Statistical results revealed significant differences between consumers of large and small market franchises. Small market spectators were more likely to purchase season tickets and attended a greater number of games in both the current and previous seasons. With respect to demo- graphic characteristics, there were significant differences in age and income between consumers in the two markets. There was also a statistically significant difference between spectator groups regarding their attendance of other sporting events. In most discussions of professional sport, the frame of reference is the four major professional sport leagues: the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB). Each league has seen increases in the number of teams, franchise valuations, and team revenues over the past 20 years. With the growth of the four major sport leagues, there has also been tremendous growth in the number of leagues, teams and spectators in minor league professional sports in North America over the past two decades. However, there is some variation in the definition of minor league. For example, professional leagues in sports such as indoor soccer (National Professional Soccer League [NPSL]); tennis (World Team Tennis [WTT]); and indoor lacrosse (National Lacrosse League [NLL]) offer the highest level of competition in the respective sports but still were classified as minor leagues by Masteralexis (1998). Masteralexis' rationale (1998) can be found in Johnson's (1995) characteristics. these leagues have lower attendance, draw fans from a close proximity, and pay lower salaries. They also receive limited media exposure, do not possess a national television contract, have smaller financial budgets and, in some instances, play in smaller facilities. This study uses a similar definition of a minor league. Johnson (1995) reported that minor league baseball has teams in over 200 communities in North America. Masteralexis (1998) reported there were 661 minor league teams in baseball, softball, basketball, football, arena football, ice hockey, indoor and outdoor soccer, roller hockey, lacrosse and team tennis combined. In some cases, as in baseball, hockey and basketball, there are formalized relationships between the major and minor leagues. In these systems, minor league teams are used for player development. Recent years have seen the creation of unaffiliated leagues without formalized relationships, but from which athletes may still advance to the major league level. Although both the major and minor leagues are viewed as professional sport, Johnson (1 995) high- lighted the differences between the two in his study of minor league baseball. Johnson (1995) noted that in Major League Baseball, a franchise might potentially draw millions of spectators for a season, while a successful minor league Franchise will draw only a few hundred thousand. A major league franchise draws many spectators from beyond its local area, while a minor league franchise draws from within a close proximity. Finally, the salaries of major league players and employees are much higher than the salaries of their minor leagues counterparts. Other differences between major and minor league franchises exist in the areas of facility size and quality, media exposure, the presence of league-wide national television contracts and the size of financial budgets. These differences can be extended beyond baseball, to the three other major professional sport leagues and their minor league counterparts. While the aforementioned differences are well documented, this study focuses on a key difference that has received very little attention in the academic literature: the variation in market size that is prevalent in the minor league environment but is not present in the major leagues. With the exception of the Green Bay Packers, even' franchise in the four major professional leagues (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB) is located in a Top 55 media market. In comparison, there is a large variation in market size for teams who compete in the minor leagues. For example, the largest media market in the South Atlantic League (Single A Baseball) is Greensboro, NC, which ranks 47th in the United States. Salisbury, MD is the smallest media market in the South Atlantic League with a ranking of 162nd (U.S. TV Households, 2002). The purpose of this study was to determine if the population size of a market had an effect on key marketing characteristics of minor league sport consumers. The study focused on demographic profiles and attendance patterns of consumers. Further analysis centers on the relationship between market size and factors such as market competition and attendance frequency. The research was conducted on two teams in the National Professional Soccer League (NIPSL), and the researchers hypothesized that there would be significant differences due to market size variations across teams. If this is true, the management of smaller market teams may lace a much different marketing environment than teams in larger markets. While Johnson (1995) identified the differences between major and minor leagues, there are also several similarities. For example, both major and minor-league teams rely on gate receipts as a significant source of revenues. Howard (1998) noted that with the exception of the media-rich NFL, charged admission is the most prominent source of revenue for a professional sports franchise. Both the major and minor leagues also use marketing and promotion tools for the purpose of increasing attendance (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2000). Additionally, they both are involved in the sale of sponsorship and sig-nage to businesses interested in using sport to help market their products (Mullin et al., 2000). They are also similar in that both face increased competition from the growing number of entertainment options and sports media programming. As a result of this increased competition, attracting in-stadium sport consumers has become more challenging (Burton & Cornilles, 1998). To determine if market size differences in minor league sports affected the demographic profiles and consumption patterns of sport consumers, research was conducted on two teams within the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). The NPS is categorized as being a minor league because it serves as an unaffiliated developmental league for Major League Soccer (MLS). The league also tacks a national television deal and most teams have financial budgets that are similar in size to baseball, basketball, and hockey minor leagues. The NPSL was selected because the league's 13 teams were located in media markets that varied in population size. The findings of this study may help both NPSL and other minor league franchises to better understand how their market size is related to specific marketing characteristics and, in turn, aid managers in developing future marketing strategies.


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