Redskins Partnership With Foursquare Shows Continued Experimentation with Location-Based Services By Sports Teams

Redskins Partnership With Foursquare Shows Continued Experimentation with Location-Based Services By Sports Teams

Just before the open of the 2010 NFL season, Mashable reported on a Washington Redskins partnership with Foursquare, perhaps the “hottest” location-based service.

Smartly, the partnership involves checking in at both FedEx Field and “featured Redskins bars”, which means that the loyalty and rewards are inclusive of multiple stakeholders. And by unlocking the Redskins-badge with three “check-ins”, fans are entered into a contest with a fairly desirable prize, including 2 loge tickets and 2 pre-game field passes for a tailgate with the GEICO Caveman.

But this looks like an example of a “too cautious” experiment with location-based, social media marketing to gain real widespread adoption. As of today, Loge tickets for the proposed Redskins/Eagles game are on StubHub for $300 each. Fans checking in at FedEx are very likely season ticket holders, who have little to gain with the promise of extra tickets (other than something for nothing). And fans who check in 3 times at partner establishments will find that if they spend an average of $25 at each partner establishment (to be conservative), the $75 spent for a 1-in-100 chance ( 1-in-1000?, 1-in-5000?) chance to win a $600 prize doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And no, partying with the GEICO Caveman doesn’t move the needle for me.

If the fan with the most verified check-ins could, for example, win access to a luxury suite each week, that’s something that would move the needle for me. And I’d bet lots of other fans too. But this requires a much, much bigger buy-in at the corporate level (and part of why I talk about Web strategy moving from a subset of marketing to a senior management level concern). That kind of potential reward has a scarce, tangible value that’s much more significant than $600 worth of tickets you can buy on Stubhub today. With enough adoption, could Redskins fans drive enough revenue at partner establishments to cover those increased costs? And who drives that deal? The Redskins or Foursquare?

The New Jersey Nets, via Vaynermedia, launched a somewhat similar partnership with Austin, Texas location-based services company Gowalla during the recent NBA season. Gowalla differs from Foursquare in that the experience is more focused on location-based virtual goods, and the partnership that Vaynermedia put together created virtual tickets that could be found upon checking-in and exchanged for real tickets. As Dan Frommer at Business Insider put it: “It’s basically an urban treasure hunt”.

Even with a far more likely path to real tickets, the Nets-Gowalla partnership had mixed results at best. Despite a big advertising push for the campaign, only 64 people “checked in” in the roll out phase and over the course of the season, only two fans checked in more than three times.

Now, there are caveats to this analysis. Gowalla doesn’t have anywhere near as large a user-base as Foursquare and the almost-historically bad Nets don’t have anywhere near the drawing power of the Redskins, one of the most valuable franchises in sports. But as Vaynermedia notes, there are signs of both success and engagement, even if on a smaller scale.

And while Foursquare has the user-base and the momentum in the market and Gowalla has the focus on the location-based virtual goods, the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings have partnered with the more fledgling location-based service SCVNGR. SCVNGR is far behind Foursquare and Gowalla in terms of market adoption, but SCVNGR is more customizable and focused on the game experience of checking in. SCVNGR also has a deeper integration with Facebook’s location-based service, Places.

The Patriots used SCVNGR to create a specific “challenge” to help Vince Wilfork find his missing Super Bowl ring. This is just an example, but it shows how there’s lots of room to explore how teams can customize SCVNGR to guide the fan experience in ways that might not work with Foursquare and Gowalla. However, the company will have to continue to see increased adoption and traction with consumers for this to become a real opportunity.

In short, I’d say all of these location-based social media marketing campaigns are on the right track but not there yet. And that’s not to say that these were poorly executed, just that this is a new space and everyone, both the service providers and the marketers, are just dipping their toes in this water to get a better feel for how it’s used and what kind of ROI they can expect. With lots of continued learning and increasing consumer adoption of location-based services (thanks to Facebook’s entry into the space), these types of campaigns will mature quickly and provide sports teams with access to a valuable marketing channel that didn’t exist as recently as a year ago.