How to Sell a Team with a Losing Record

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By Elizabeth Miller

For football teams with a winning record, selling tickets is easy.  Diehard season ticket holders, dedicated fans and the bandwagon fans all fight for a seat at the next home game. But for the Cleveland Browns, there’s no bandwagon pulling up to FirstEnergy Stadium.  This season, fans resold tickets for less than 8 dollars, and season ticket holders are starting to rethink their investment.  So how can the Browns bring in a crowd, even with a 3-12 record? 

Vocalist Gary Efford and trumpet player Daniel Goodrum have been outside of the Browns stadium for every home game this season – every win and every loss. 

Dave Clary has been there, too.

"I’ve been a Browns fan since 1970, when Bill Nelson and Fair Hooker beat the then New York Jets, World Champs," says Clary.

"Since ’99, I don’t know how much longer the fans' patience can last."

The Browns say tickets distributed for home games have decreased by about 4,000 from the beginning of the season to this month’s game against the 49ers.  Vendors selling Browns gear like Heather Arlia and her cousin Marissa Arlia say business has been in a slump.

"Whenever you lose a game, your sales will always go down.  You don’t sell too much when we’re not playing too well," say Heather and Marissa.

"Even the next game, people still don’t buy as much."

The Arlias say fans still like to buy gear and support the Browns, but winning games wouldn’t hurt.                                 

California State University professor Vassilis Dalakas coauthored “We Are Number One,” an article about how fans identify with a team.  Dalakas says the key to successfully marketing a team is getting fans to BIRG: Bask in Reflected Glory.

"What's interesting is that when a team is successful and doing well, everybody says, 'We are number 1, we won, and we are the champions'.  In reality we aren’t doing anything, just sitting on the couch and eating pizza while watching the game.  It’s part of how we feel like winners ourselves," says Dalakas.

But the Browns aren’t champions and they haven’t been since 1964.  

Dalakas says there are ways to BIRG even without winning.

"If you have a good season, or maybe you won the division championship or the conference championship.  You can highlight that as a reason for celebrating," says Dalakas.

But that method doesn’t really apply to the Browns either, say fan Nicole Burns.

"Right now they need to get it together.  They’re terrible," says Burns.  >

This weekend, the Browns face a tough game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are still vying for a playoff spot.

So if you can’t sell the whole team, Dalakas suggests selling an individual star, like the quarterback.

"Fans were hoping this might be the new page, the new chapter," Dalakas says of Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.  

"Unfortunately for the Browns fans and the team, that, at least so far, hasn’t panned out as greatly."

Quarterback Johnny Manziel was drafted to the Browns in 2014, and it’s been a tumultuous two seasons with the team including legal issues, rehab, and other problems off the field.  Now that he’s out with an injury for Sunday’s finale, fans may have to wait until next season to BIRG from Johnny Football.

Until then, marketing professor Vassilis Dalakas says there’s at least one solid way to BIRG with the Browns - a new season.

There's also draft day in April - and one benefit of a losing season.  The Browns are battling the Tennessee Titans, also 3 and 12, for the number one draft pick.

But with one game left to salvage the season, how can the Browns market themselves right now?

They may not have to – because Browns fans are known for their dedication to the team no matter what.

Darryl Thornton was at the stadium for the Browns dramatic loss to the Baltimore Ravens.  He returned for the game against the San Francisco 49ers earlier this month.

"I almost had tears in my eyes, but I’m back here again," says Thornton.

Like Darryl Thornton, Browns fans participate in a unique hybrid of BIRGing and CORFing, or cutting off reflected failure.  Dalakas calls it basking-in spite of-reflected-failure.

"It’s almost like a sense of pride in the fact that you’re sticking with a team despite the fact the team is causing you constant pain and it keeps losing," Dalakas explains.

The Browns did not respond to comment about their marketing strategies.  

No matter how the Browns market their final game on Sunday, the team still wins… because in the NFL, all teams share in sales of licensed apparel and TV rights, regardless of whether you win or lose.

More about how to market the Browns on Ideas.

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