Ice to the Eskimos

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Book Critique � Ice to the Eskimos by Jon Spoelstra

Nicolas Waterfield


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October 1, 00

Sport is all around; it plays a major contribution to many people. A professional or amateur sport organization is often the nucleus of many communities large or small.

Moreover, sport has a major influence on the economy. It is no longer a game; it’s a business. Through the globalization of sport, sport has evolved into one of the worlds largest commercial recreational industries. However, the sports consumer has become smarter and it has become more difficult for professional sport organizations to capitalize on the external benefits that sport provides for its consumers. Several factors contribute to the ability of a marketing manager to successfully market a product, good, or service. Today’s sport franchises are faced with challenges pertaining to the marketing of their product and utilizing tactics that will help address the five “P’s” of marketing (product, place, price, promotion and public relations). One such sport franchise is the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association. Their struggles to gain market share is a predominant focus in Jon Spoelstra’s book Ice to the Eskimos How to market a Product Nobody Wants. Spoelstra had spent over twenty years as an executive in the NBA and is considered to be one of the best at finding ways to market all types of products. In his book, Spoelstra presents principles that were utilized to help the New Jersey Nets. He focuses on both the external factors such as the fans and competition, as well as internal factors in dealing with human resource requirements and a company’s focus. Very rarely does a marketer get the chance to market the best product in the best market with the largest advertising budgets (Spoelstra, 17). This is where the challenge lies in marketing the sport product. The core game or performance is just one element of the larger ensemble or experience. The sport marketer typically has little control over the core product and consequently must focus their efforts on product extensions. These extensions include the personnel, process, tickets, packaging, and novelties like special events.

As a marketing consultant and chief operating officer of the New Jersey Nets, Spoelstra was faced with a team that ranks near the bottom of the league in terms of standings and ticket sales. In order to overcome this obstacle, Spoelstra utilized a number of marketing tactics in order to help the New Jersey Nets create a market. Primarily, he had to identify and break into a market in which success was inevitable and resulted in increased market share. Instead of marketing the New Jersey Nets, Spoelstra and his team decided to market the opponents that would be playing against the Nets. Other teams could offer an experience that the Nets themselves could not. A competitive team, the hope for a competitive team, hometown support and franchise players were all identified as factors that could be marketed by the New Jersey Nets to their fan base (Spoelstra, 17). The place is important for the marketing manager to focus their efforts since there must be a high potential for sales if the plan is to be successful. As a result, Northern New Jersey was chosen as the focus for marketing efforts due to its large population. Equally as important as the place is the target market of the marketing efforts. Unlike the New York Knicks who place a large emphasis on selling to corporations, New Jersey does not have the large companies that call Manhattan home. Thus, family entertainment was to be the focus for the nets marketing strategies, emphasizing on a family friendly environment. This for Spoelstra was the first step in determining a course of action for the Nets to gain market share.

Identifying the consumer is an additional factor that is important in terms of market segmentation. The frequency of purchases, the quantity of such purchases and the method of payment are all important factors in determining who the active users of the sport product are. In Ice to the Eskimos, Spoelstra outlines a process he calls the “Quick Fix Silver Bullet.” The keys to this quick fix include increasing the frequency of purchases by your current customers and utilizing personal selling on a one to one basis to ask them to buy more (Spoelstra, 17). This personable approach is used quite frequently and has proven itself as valuable. In order to parallel this tactic, Spoelstra obtained the names and addresses of the Nets season ticket holders. Instead of sending brochures on ticket information to thousands of households, by strategically placing advertisement and contacting the current satisfied customer, Spoelstra would yield higher return while only contacting the appropriate target market. It is important to target customers that are interested in your product when devising an advertising campaign.

Prior to establishing an advertising campaign, Spoelstra considered a cost to revenue ratio. This evaluates with how much revenue would accrue from one dollar being spent on advertising. These efforts should be focused on one segment of the market to ensure efficiency and the accuracy of the message trying to be portrayed. In the case of the Nets, they focused on selling to their current customers and offered incentives to purchasing more tickets.

Spoelstra adds to this idea of selling the sport product to known customers in terms of jump start marketing golden rule. The golden rule consists of two parts only try to sell a product that a customer wants to buy, and try to sell that customer just a little more than what he/she wants to buy (Spoelstra, 17). Furthermore, this idea boils down to customer satisfaction. It deals with developing or bundling game packages that will both appeal to and retain current customers. The sport marketer is not selling just tickets but satisfaction as well, which ultimately determines future purchases of the sport product. Down selling is also an option. Instead of losing customers altogether who cannot afford to renew season tickets, offer them mini packages or bundled promotions that will continue to keep revenue stream open. Benefits of the jump start golden rules include an increase in sales, an increase in customer satisfaction, and higher worker motivation (Spoelstra, 17). There are two options that a sport marketer has when dealing with an increase demand for a product that customers want. One of the options is to produce more of the product, for example hold an event for two days instead of the previous single day event. Another option is to develop a waiting list for potential customers; as this will guarantee a certain amount of ticket revenue because a prepayment will be required. If these two options are not used, the sport marketer may try to sell the second best product. For example, if the mini package for the Raptors preferred games is sold out, offer packages for the less popular teams.

In dealing with this idea of a focused campaign targeted at the current sports consumer it is important to consider who is actually involved in terms of devising such a plan. The organization and its employees must be aware of the current marketing directions as to aid in the collaboration of efforts. This is highlighted by Spoelstra in chapter five. He believes that in order for a marketing plan to gain momentum, a real commitment by the organization must exist. The plan must be given top priority by the president, the sales staff must be focused and situations may involve spending money in unconventional ways (Spoelstra, 17). This area deals with the human resource sector of marketing. In Ice to the Eskimos, Spoelstra emphasizes the importance of the manager being in touch with all of the components of the marketing and sales labors. The manager should be involved with the ticket box, the sponsors, the facilities, and the players.

Keeping the idea of human resource management in mind, Spoelstra devised a principle in his book concerning employee motivation. He devised a system whereby employees would be rewarded for their flaws or mistakes. He believed that this system would help to create creativity among his marketing staff. By compensating his staff with reward money for failure, Spoelstra believed that this tactic would aid his marketing team in that they would not be discouraged from being creative. Similarly, Spoelstra implemented “think tank” sessions whereby individuals generate their own ideas and then collaborate with one another. Efficiency is ensured through this type of teamwork.

Spoelstra, in chapter ten, focuses on the idea of gaining first hand feedback from consumers. This can be easily applied to the owners and managers of business in that it is advantageous to become aware of the day to day operations that occur within the organization. Therefore, in order to establish an understanding of where your company or product can gain an advantage, it is important for the owner/manager to have an appreciation of the realities experienced by the average consumer. For example, an executive could forfeit his box seats and purchase general admission tickets. This is beneficial in understanding the needs and wants of the consumer.

Another central focus that Spoelstra identifies is the need for innovation, which is crucial for marketing management. The implementation of an innovation task force allows employees to formulate new ideas which can be presented to the owners. Due to the nature of an innovation task force, these ideas would be well thought out which could be supported by factual information. This information could then be utilized to attract corporate sponsorship as well as season ticket holders. The purpose of this task force would be to outline new concepts, provide rationale for why the concepts would work, devise a list of possible problems that could occur, and provide a quick executive summary (Spoelstra, 17).

An effective marketing plan encompasses the utilization of current employees, focusing on current customers, and management techniques. However, many other factors need to be considered. One such factor is pricing. Obstacles associated with pricing combines the notion of quality and value. If the two are not balanced, the consumer will not be interested in purchasing the product. In Ice for the Eskimos, Spoelstra suggests that in order to overcome the idea of pricing, one must tempt the consumer with an irrefutable offer. Spoelstra lists three ways in which this can be achieved by lowering prices, increasing value (not the core product but by enticing incentives), or by a combination of the two.

Throughout Ice to the Eskimos, Spoelstra implies that equality between high and low volume customers is a necessity. Spoelstra suggests that low volume customers tend to be overshadowed by the higher corporate spenders. This is a visible trend seen throughout corporate America. Although true, the small customers are vital to an organizations success.

Conclusively, Spoelstra displays an in-depth evaluation into the realities of sport marketing while providing numerous techniques that can be used to achieve success within the field. These tactics are not simply limited to sport marketing; they can also be incorporated into all facets of any business marketing. While providing a plethora of valuable information, Spoelstra also employs the use of many writing styles that allow flow and cohesiveness throughout Ice to the Eskimos. The use of real life experiences allows the reader to comprehend complex business strategies in an informal context.


Spoelstra, J. (17). Ice to the Eskimos How to Market a Product Nobody Wants.

Harper Collins New York.

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