The Toronto Blue Jays: Creating Authentic Brand Experiences
Our video webinar discusses how does a brand envision new products and services, and how does it work toward creating new experiences that align with its core values and resonate with the customers.
Learn from Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Anthony Partipilo, VP, Marketing & Merchandising, Toronto Blue Jays, how this Canadian MLB team creates authentic brand experiences for its fans and followers.
The discussion includes the recently opened first retail location outside the stadium, balancing of the brand, fan experience vs. business, the need to maintain control over a brand when extending the brand to new business areas, and potential future opportunities to enhance the Blue Jays’ fan experience.
- how to maintain a strong brand
- what to consider when extending the brand experience
- the importance of adhering to the brand’s core values
Fill out the form below to watch the webinar.
Jean-Pierre: Good afternoon, and thank you very much for joining us for another Design Lounge session. My name is Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and I’ll be your host for the next hour. We’re gonna be talking today about one of my favorite subjects, baseball and baseball marketing. And we’re very fortunate to have with us today Anthony Partipilo, Vice President of Marketing and Merchandising of the Toronto Blue Jays. Anthony, thanks for joining us.
Anthony: Thank you, JP. Thanks for having me.
Jean-Pierre: So Anthony, we’re very excited the new Blue Jay store opened at the Toronto Eaton Centre, and to a great fanfare and fan support, and it was interesting. What was the thought behind opening a second location from the stadium shop that’s located at the Rogers Centre?
Anthony: Well, clearly there was demand within what we were seeing from fans and consumers for our products. We would continue to get emails essentially and communications from fans, you know, wanting to know where they could purchase Blue Jays product outside the stadium. We wanted to make it a place where people…was accessible to people where they lived, where they worked or they shopped.
Jean-Pierre: When you look at in-store experience and you think of the brand, the Toronto Blue Jays, what were the key criterias or needs that you had when you initiated the store design?
Anthony: Well, I think that first and foremost it needed to be relevant to our fan base. We knew that fans wanted to connect and interact with the brand in as many different ways as possible. And whether these are fans that actually come to the games, watch them on TV at home, or simply communicate with us on social media and/or with the players, we wanted a place where people could feel that they were surrounded and immersed in the brand without actually having to be at the ballpark. And do it in a place that essentially made them feel happier and feel connected.
Jean-Pierre: And this is part of an initiative of making the Toronto Blue Jays really Canada’s baseball team. Talk a little bit about that because there’s been a lot of conversations in the media. I know that you have a huge fan base in Vancouver and some of the other markets. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Anthony: Well, I think that there’s always been the sense across the country, the sense of pride for the Blue Jays. Clearly the ’92, ’93 back-to-back World Series had a tremendous influence on people. But many of the people that follow the team today were not very old at the time, in the sense that they might have been five or six, or maybe not even born yet. But the memory and the legacy of those back-to-back wins I think live on. I think there’s a sense of pride in Canada in the sense that the Blue Jays represent the only team outside the continental United States and the entire world that has a Major League Baseball team. So it’s really us against them. It’s 1 against 29.
Jean-Pierre: So Anthony, part of the store experience at Eaton Centre included an extensive digital signing component. Can you talk a little bit about the journey, the process and whatever insights you would have about the outcome?
Anthony: I think it began very clearly early on in the sense that it was an integral part of the design in the sense of bringing the brand to life inside this retail store and the shopping mall, where you don’t have the benefit of the stadium, and the lights, and 40,000 people. And so how do you bring those elements and those atmospherics into a retail space of approximately 3,000 square feet, do it in a very authentic and genuine way that makes the fans feel immersed in the brand? And digital really provided by far the greatest breathe and depth of realizing that vision. It is something that allows us not only to create that atmosphere day one, but to continue to evolve and change that atmosphere throughout the seasons and throughout the years.
Jean-Pierre: So when you look, you know, you expanded to digital in the stores, you’ve got a fairly significant fan base across Canada, so as a brand marketer, when should you start considering expanding your brand, and what are those strategies? And what was the thinking behind expanding to Vancouver and to other provinces across Canada?
Anthony: Well, I think in the first part of your question, brands generally speaking will depend on different…every brand is different, and our experience obviously is different than it would be for some other brands. I think that you need to number one, look at what is relevant for your brand at that particular time or in the near future in the sense of what you envision the brand becoming and how to extend it in a way that is not only powerful but that resonates with the consumers or the fans. And you’ve gotta have a good solid business plan obviously behind it, and you’ve gotta have relentless execution. I think those are the three things that brands need to consider before extending the brand or moving outside the boundaries of what is currently their brand experience.
Jean-Pierre: So when you look at that, you know, social media and online exposure. I know I get my MLB broadcast every morning. You know, who’s playing what game, and you know what the lineup of the players are. How has social media really, and how have you leveraged social media to drive that fan base loyalty?
Anthony: Well, social media is an ever-evolving technology, and certainly as a marketer you’re always looking for ways to include social media in whatever it is that you’re doing. Social media in and of itself as a standalone marketing vehicle, you know, it’s not the only answer, it’s part of the mix. And I think that that’s where we’ve been able to integrate it into everything we’ve done.
So social media is being integrated not only into the entertainment experience in stadium, where the fans are actually interacting with the video board and with the control. They’re interacting with players in real time, they’re asking questions and getting feedback, they’re sending pictures from the stadium to friends watching at home who could be in other parts of Ontario or could be other parts of Canada. It could be in Vancouver. But because of social media, they’re able to interact with each other and connect as a larger community. So it really extends the experience outside the stadium.
In stadium, we’re looking at some very significant technologies that extend social media from the point at which you’re approaching the stadium to the point at which you enter the stadium. And then the entire experience of actually being at the ballpark and all of the things that you might want to consume or experience when you’re there. All of those will be touchpoints for our social media campaign.
Jean-Pierre: So Anthony, when you look at extending your brand, obviously you have a product, a property that has a large fan base. And so there are different vehicles that you have leveraged the merchandize and memorabilia, and the store environment itself. We talked a little bit about the, you know, stadium experience. You know, what are the criterias, and kind of what was your thinking behind how you approach those different dimensions?
Anthony: So those various dimensions take different shapes, but not necessarily different forms. And I don’t believe that the forms are what’s changing. I think that the end vision has always been to connect fans to the brand regardless of where those fans reside, and regardless of the level of interaction that they have with the team or want to experience with the team.
And so when we sat down very early on, and we sat down in a room and we said, “Okay. So what is the vision for this new store?” And there’s all kinds of models for current retail stores that you could invent, but we very clearly set out and said, “No, this needs to be built from the fans’ perspective, not from a retail store’s perspective.” So we didn’t build the store with the sole purpose of only generating revenue. We felt that this needed to be a place that allowed fans, regardless of their level of fandom to interact with the brand. And that was a key point of difference, and it actually drove everything in the design of the store.
So when we’re at the ballpark, you have the benefit of fans inside the ballpark shopping your store. So very clearly, they have preselected themselves and predisposed themselves as fans who want to purchase your product. This was a different dimension. We were moving into a retail shopping experience where people walking by could be fans, they could not be fans, they could be tourists, they could be business people at work. There’s a multitude of reasons why people are coming through the mall, and it may not necessarily be because they’re a Blue Jay fan, clearly. And so we wanted this to appeal to all fans and all people that wanna be part of the Blue Jays community in one way or another.
Jean-Pierre: To me true testament of you’ve been successful is walking down the street and I would say in the last couple of years I’ve noticed a significant increase in people wearing Blue Jays caps and uniform elements, t-shirts. Just in my neighborhood alone, I would count 20, 30 people on a weekend wearing Blue Jays caps. And these are on off-season, these are happening you know, during the week when Blue Jays games are not happening. So it’s great to see that the Blue Jays’ culture and brand equity is being absorbed within the community as part of everyday kind of apparel. Are there other things you’re doing to drive that kind of affinity so people feel confident and proud to wear the Blue Jays symbol? I think you went through an identity change, you wanna talk a little bit about that?
Anthony: We didn’t go through a brand identity just for the sake of a brand identity, we went through a brand identity because we believed that our cause for the club now and for the foreseeable future was one that honored the past with a vision to the future. And we believed we need an identity that can encompass that, and that could visually represent that vision and that commitment. And so we’re still as committed as we were at the time, and our goal and our objective is that that brand identity doesn’t change, and that the core message of that vision continues to be maintained.
So at the end of the day, what fans see right through is people, or companies, or brands perhaps that are manufacturing things for the sake of being like everyone else or doing something because other brands are doing it. We very clearly had our own vision, and our own mission, and our own reasons for doing it. And so authenticity is absolutely crucial. I think again, that was another very significant element in building and the design of the store. It needed to be authentic, it needed to represent the brand without the gimmicks and without the sense of hobbling things together just for the sake of introducing them because they happen to be cool at the time.Fans will determine whether a brand is cool. Consumers will determine that, and they’ll vote with that every single day. We don’t control that. We simply have a vision, and we’re executing on that vision, and then fans will decide for themselves.
Jean-Pierre: The Comfort Zone, TD’s Comfort Zone, you’ve done that at the Blue Jays. That’s a great partnership with Canada’s bank, you know Canada’s baseball team, are there things that you wouldn’t have considered doing? Are there things that people approach you to do that you wouldn’t do? You may not have to name the companies, but there maybe just strategy that people approach you, you say, “No, that’s not part of our brand equity, so we’re not gonna do that.”
Anthony: That’s an excellent question, and I think I would answer it by saying this. That sometimes what you don’t do is as important or more important than what you do do. And I think that everything that we do, we put through a filter, and that filter has clearly at its core what is the brand identity. But above all that, there’s the other layer which is, if we go down this road, what are the unintended consequences that could come from going down this road? Because sometimes ideas sound and feel right for the immediate. Right now. “Let’s do this. This would be cool. This would be awesome.” But you need to actually have a bit of a vision down the road a little bit. What is this gonna feel like, not a few months from now, but even a year from now, or a few years from now?
And if you don’t take that next step, what you could do is end up doing damage to the brand, which could be moderate or could be severe, and then you’re having to play catch up. So it’s very, very important, very important that you control and you manage the brand at a very strict level in the sense that you ensure that you run all of these programs through that filter before executing them. So we don’t do anything without having given it a tremendous amount of thought.
Now, you have to always balance that with being swift in terms of what you do in business, and ensuring that you keep up or that you lead. And so for us it’s not about copying, for us it’s always about coming up with those ideas and the visions on how we believe our brand can be used in a relevant space by fans and consumed, that connects with our vision of connecting fans regardless of where they are in physical geographic means. Connecting fans regardless of their fandom, whether they come to games every game, buy season tickets, great, I love you. Watch every game on TV, great, love you, to the people that like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Like and love you too. It doesn’t really matter where you are in that spectrum. At the end of the day, you’re a member of the Blue Jay community, and everything that we do has that at its core responsibility and consideration.
And so what I would say to brands, every brand is different. Blue Jays’ brand is different in these respects that we’ve talked about. Other brands are different in other respects. You know, when Steve Jobs decided that you know, he was going to come out with a new product, iPod and iTunes, he wasn’t looking at the competition and saying, “Well, let’s just make an MP3 player like Diamond Rio makes.” Because Diamond Rio was a leading MP3 player at the time, they owned the market. Where’s Diamond Rio today? You know, Steve Jobs had a vision, and his vision was to bring not only entertainment but pleasure to people in very simple and easy-to-access forms, and remove all of the other obstacles that were in the way of peoples’ enjoyment of the end product. And so he’d create a product on that basis, not from trying to emulate others.
And so I think that there’s some obviously lessons that you can learn obviously from what Steve Jobs has done, and continues to show the world how to grow brands and evolve brands. But there’s other brands, it’s not just Apple. You know Starbucks, obviously one of the greatest brands in the world, Tim Hortons is one of the greatest brands in the world. All of which are strong and powerful brands in and of themselves because they have a very strong core vision, and a discipline, and relentless execution, relentless execution.
Jean-Pierre: So Anthony, that was great. You know, when you think of the Blue Jays, the Toronto Blue Jays brand, what do you see down the road? What’s the future for the brand? Where do you see it going?
Anthony: Well, I think the brand is in a very healthy place today, but I think it hasn’t even really begun to scratch the surface of its potential. And I think that over the years, you’ll continue to see us stick to our basic discipline, but bring new ways to bring enjoyment to people’s lives. And you know, a very simple premise, but one that offers a tremendous array of products and services that we can dedicate to fans
I mean, there’s a lot of things that happen in and of itself operationally in the ballpark, and I think we can bring some new technology that’s going to change the way fans experience the game so that they can enjoy the game on the field, they can enjoy the game entertainment experience, and take out some of those little bumps along the way. And in the process that’s going to evolve a whole new host of benefits, and experiences that will have fans excited in ways that they’ve never been before. Because they’re going to be able to get experiences that they would never otherwise have dreamed that they could get. And we’re gonna make that happen through technology and through this ability to be able to reward them.
And so I think that that is, in the short term that’s one of the most exciting projects that underway. But we will continue to look at evolving the retail space. We’ll continue to look at evolving the online space. I think there’s tremendous opportunity there. I think there’s some opportunity within customized packages into not only delivering experiences at the ballpark, but delivering experiences into the home. Bringing experiences to your children’s birthday parties, bringing experiences to weddings, bringing experiences where people live and socialize by immersing the brand in those experiences and connecting people that way.
At the end of the day, if you look at what Disney has done, and I’m not putting us anywhere near Disney, but if you look at brands and the ability of those brands to envision new products and services, Disney by far is the best in the world. And they continue to do it. How do they do it? Because they have a very simple mission of making people happy. Bringing happiness to people. And at the end of the day, that’s also our mission too. We wanna make people happy. We’d make them a lot happier if we got into the full season this year.
Jean-Pierre: Next year. Next year.
Anthony: We’d make them a lot happier. But there’s always next year. And there’s 162 baseball games a year. And it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And so you know, we obviously got off to a great start, but you’ve gotta finish strong as well. And I think we fell a little bit short.
Jean-Pierre: Four games. Four games.
Anthony: But there’s always next year. And when we get there, it’s gonna be sweet, it’s gonna be enjoyable, it’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be exciting. And I think this whole country will be up on its feet. And I can’t wait for that day.
Jean-Pierre: Great. Well, Anthony, first of all, I wish the team the best success next year, and I appreciate the fact that you’ve joined us here and shared your thoughts with our audience.
On the screen you’ll see a phone number. You can dial-in, call-in, ask some questions for Anthony. We also have a chat box on the website. You can actually chat your questions if you’re too shy to ask them over the phone. And we look forward to hearing from you. Thank you very much. I’m Jean-Pierre Lacroix. Thank you for joining us today at Design Lounge. Take care.