The Tampa Bay Rays' new "Welcome Home" slogan and ad campaign this season wants to plant a big, wet kiss on the cheeks of the team's substantial fan base across Tampa Bay and Florida.
After all, the Rays are family to many. And the new "Welcome Home" message may resonate with diehard fans and more casual TV viewers now that the team has proved consistently competitive in the American League's tough eastern division.
If the new campaign also helps elevate the Rays' worst-in-baseball, 1.5 million attendance last season at Tropicana Field, Rays president Matt Silverman won't object. In an interview Monday at the Trop, Silverman said the team will encourage the 700,000 to 800,000 unique visitors to Tropicana Field to add just one game to their season total. If half attend another game, Rays home attendance would bump from 1.5 million to over 1.85 million. Based on last year's numbers, that would vault the Rays ahead of five of the 30 Major League teams.
The ad campaign kicks off later this week and features Rays stars such as third baseman Evan Longoria and Cy Young award-winning pitcher David Price, as well as high-profile manager Joe Maddon. Other players, from Ben Zobrist and Fernando Rodney to Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings, also appear in the campaign. So do real fans.
One print ad for the April 6 game against the Cleveland Indians features Price and this quote: "It's not just me on that Cy Young Trophy. It is a little piece of everybody."
"The idea of the campaign is that a fan can settle into a Rays game whether they are in the ballpark or on the couch at home and feel like they are in a familiar place," said Silverman. On radio and TV, the "Welcome Home" message will be spoken by Rays players or Maddon to deepen the connection with listeners.
But that's only half of it. Rays marketing vice president Tom Hoof said the Rays will soon reach out via the team website, inviting fans to share their favorite stories about the Rays. Fans with compelling tales will be featured as part of the ads.
For the second consecutive year, the Rays created the campaign in-house. Ads will appear in print, on TV and radio, on billboards and in social media. Silverman used the example of Rays ads appearing on Pandora, the popular online music-listening site that lets people pick the kind of music they want to hear. Rays ads may run on Pandora when country music is played by an artist scheduled to perform after one of the Rays' weekend games this season. It's all a part of the slice-and-dice ability of using social media to reach more specific audiences.
All this fun, touchy-feely marketing is happening, of course, at the same time that the Rays franchise is starting to press the Tampa Bay area to help build a new stadium for the team in coming years. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster remains adamant that the Rays honor their long-term commitment to play at the Trop, even as the team and Major League Baseball argue that the baseball stadium built in the late 1980s is out of date and geographically ill-placed, far from the faster-growing parts of the metro region.
The good news is the Rays actually boast a winning record since the team was taken over by current owner Stuart Sternberg. The Rays have acquired a new respect and an envious reputation in sports as the new "Moneyball" team whose savvy managers and sharper use of metrics have enabled a modest-payroll team in a small market to compete well against the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and other rich, major-market franchises.
"We try to keep ahead," said Silverman, even as more teams start to mimic some of the Rays' methods.
But for fans watching these intentionally emotional ads, this campaign is all about the team and playing the good ol' game of baseball.
The ads will highlight the spring optimism of a new season and play off what research shows is a strong regional affinity. While the Rays are challenged to fill the Trop, the team boasts one of Major League Baseball's larger base of fans — defined as someone who has watched, listened to or attended a Rays game in the past year.
The Rays can still make money off fans who never enter the Trop via merchandise sales and TV contracts. The Rays, whose games used to be seen sparingly in television markets outside Tampa Bay, are now viewable statewide about 150 times per season. That reach makes the Rays the most-watched pro sports team in the state.
But Rays executives and, of course, the players agree. Nothing beats the thundering thrill of a sold-out stadium.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]