Jeff KochI first learned about the opportunity to meet the Chicago Cubs marketing team during On, Wisconsin weekend in April, 2017. A little over a year later and the day had finally arrived where I was joining the Graduate Marketing Network (GMN) for this annual event.

On May 1st Kelly Linstroth, a University of Wisconsin BBA alum, welcomed a group of 30 MBA candidates into the Chicago Cubs corporate office across the street from Wrigley Field to share with us the Cubs approach to sports marketing. More specifically, she shared with us how the strategy has evolved as the Cubs grew from a losing team, to competitive, to winning the World Series, and beyond.

When Kelly first joined the Cubs, the focus was placed on corporate sponsorship and ticketing. I was surprised to hear that many sports organizations operate this way- especially in the MLB. Only recently have more organizations began including a more robust marketing effort. Similar to many industries, sports marketing – or at least for the Cubs -  begins with the consumer; the fan. As the team developed and became more competitive the strategy shifted to include more organizational elements such as Wrigley Field the stadium and the team’s rich history.

A framework shared by Kelly, which she suggests all sports teams could follow, is to first understand your consumer, the fan, and brand promise. Next, teams must develop a brand message and matching fan experience. Finally, teams must continuously strive to grow relationships- and then repeat the process. Going beyond the brand message and fan experience I found it particularly interesting how competition is viewed. Rather than other MLB teams, it's other sources of entertainment beyond sports that are considered the primary competition for the Cubs. In fact, that is the prevailing view throughout the MLB. As a result teams are actually collaborative in their marketing communications. The idea behind the collaboration is to grow the sport, which ultimately benefits all of the ball-clubs.

After Kelly graciously provided us a glimpse into how the Cubs develop and implement their marketing strategies, we all went into Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs take on the Colorado Rockies. The opportunity was a great learning experience capped off with pure fun, even though the home team lost. Although to be honest, as a Milwaukee Brewers fan, I can’t say the loss was very heartbreaking.