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Marketing Summary and Analysis - Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls, based in Chicago, Illinois, is a considerably renowned professional
basketball team in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The team has won six NBA
Championships, all of which were under team owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The team was purchased in
1985 for $16 million, and has generated a net revenue of $201 million. According to Forbes
Magazine, the team is valued third in the National Basketball Association as of January 2015 at
roughly two billion dollars.
Chicago’s “metro area” population is listed a little less than ten million people, making
the average revenue per fan $17. (Forbes) Part of that revenue comes from concessions, from
which Levy Restaurants carries out every game at the United Center. The team is recognized
famously for Michael Jordan’s time there many years ago, and Derrick Rose’s time in the
modern Bulls era. The team plays at the United Center in downtown Chicago, which was opened
in 1994 and seats approximately 21,000 fans at an average of $78 a ticket. In 2015, the Chicago
Bulls boast the highest overall attendance, highest average home game attendance, and highest
overall game attendance. They sit on top of the league of 32 teams with an average home game
attendance (throughout the first 40 games of the season) of 21,322 fans – impressive given that
the league average is only about 17,000 fans.
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As a growing organization, it is very important to be cognizant of the following: our
strengths, so we may capitalize on them, our weaknesses, so we may improve upon them, our
opportunities, so we may make the best of them, and our threats, so we may avoid mishaps, cope
with difficulties, and learn from our mistakes.
There are many strengths associated with the Chicago Bulls basketball franchise. For
instance, the team hosts home games at an impressive facility in the United Center, with a high
seating capacity for diehard fans. The team resides in Chicago, a popular U.S. city with a fairly
affluent population and large-scale interest in sports. Additionally, the franchise’s sponsorship
inventory in place is publicly available for potential organization partners in the form of an
online-accessible sponsorship opportunity packet.
The Chicago Bulls franchise website is very accessible and is fairly easy to navigate. Access
to media press releases, box scores, and play-by-play updates is granted to the public quickly and
consistently. The organization, similar to other NBA teams, has live streaming capabilities via
TV networks, computer/laptop streaming, and smartphone applications. The franchise has
multiple key media partners including TV channels like CSN Chicago, WGN, and WPWR and
the ESPN 1000 radio station, along with their own BullsTV.
Experience and recognizable faces in management and ownership under Owner Jerry
Reinsdorf and Coach Tom Thibodeau is another one of the physical team’s many strengths.
Clever draft picks and trade decisions have put the Bulls in to a good spot entering the 2015
NBA Playoffs as the probable third seed in the Eastern Conference. From a ticket sales
perspective, the Chicago Bulls is a market that is fairly easy to sell in, when you can boast about
All-Star Derrick Rose at Forward (when able to play), former Defensive Player of the Year
Joakim Noah racking up steals and blocking shots, and of course Michael Jordan and his history
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playing with the team. One can almost always fall back on these basketball greats, specifically
Jordan, for whom Team Owner Jerry Reinsdorf was responsible recruiting over 25 years ago.
Michael Jordan, having won several championship rings with the Bulls back in the 1980’s,
became famous for his exquisite basketball ability, but also his shoe line (“Jordan’s”), and later
his pursuit of owning the majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets.
Though the franchise has many strengths, there are certainly several challenges associated
with being a sports team in a city full of other popular sports teams. Expensive ticket prices
could potentially hold consumers back from attending games, though it has surprisingly not
affected fan attendance whatsoever – sometimes the consumer will not mind the higher price if
the sport product’s value is highly perceived among consumers. Another weakness could
potentially be the minor shortage of seating at the United Center, given that the Bulls own the
highest average home attendance among NBA teams at roughly 21,000 fans. One final problem
for the Bulls is Forward Derrick Rose’s knee problem flaring up at any moment. Some would
argue he was at his prime in 2012 before he tore his right meniscus, but the team hopes for his
full healing and highly anticipated return to ‘the norm’, his 25-point average in the 2012 season.
The threats for this organization would first and foremost be the inner-city competition: The
Chicago Cubs, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bears, and potentially the Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox scenario is tricky because Jerry Reinsdorf owns both the Bulls and the White
Sox. This could be a threat to the Chicago Bulls in the sense that Jerry may be spending more of
his time and efforts with the beginning of the baseball season, whereas if he just owned the Bulls
he could be focusing all of his attention towards the final games of the Chicago Bulls’ regular
season and postseason playoff berth. There may be a game overlap with one of the other teams
that would force Bulls fans to choose which game to attend.
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One notable threat to the Bulls, along with every other NBA franchise, is over-
commercialization. Based on my own research, I have noticed that there is a potential negative
effect -- decreased perceived product value for sponsors and fans -- paired with over-
commercialization. As sport marketers, we must ask ourselves to what extent we want to
commercialize the franchise? Sponsors love to see their name plastered everywhere on team
memorabilia, game-day giveaways, and media outlets alike, but how much commercialization is
too much? I have learned as Capital University Athletic Department’s corporate sponsorship
intern that it would be wise to moderate in this instance, and focus on building partnerships with
organizations and not just one-year contracts.
The opportunities for the success of the Chicago Bulls marketing department are endless.
Generic marketing opportunities such as Fan Appreciation Night, Fan Cam, Kiss Cam, t-shirt
cannons, a sponsored fan seating section, or halftime entertainment ideas are simple, yet classic
fan engagement tools. Creative ideas like “Chipotle’s Chicago Bull of the Week”, a halftime
wing-eating contest sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings, or some alliterative ‘Fan of the Game’
acknowledgement like “First Financial Fan of the Night” can be expanded on, and have the
potential to aid the franchise in developing uniqueness and effective product positioning – a
positive image and/or experience in the minds of Bulls fans.
The sport product is intangible, inconsistent, and is simply one element of a much larger-
scale product. For sport to take place, the following four basic product elements must always be
present: Game Form, Players, Equipment, and Venue. Sports product extensions, by definition,
are built around sports and are directly affected by sport success. These include novelties and
fantasies (toys, cards, online fantasy games, autograph signing sessions), personnel and process
extensions (enhanced organization-to-fan communication, cheerleaders), ticket and printed
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material (including promotional and sponsorship tools like coupons), and internet/electronic
products (social media and the hashtag, constant fan engagement, inclusion, and appreciation).
In this particular instance, a physical Chicago Bulls basketball game, though vitally
important, is just one element of a multi-step process that includes game day operations, ticket
sales, marketing/promotions, finance, corporate sponsorship, and more – otherwise known as
product extensions. As consumers, we experience the product in the form of the performances
that the team puts on every game, and we typically experience the sport product extensions in the
form of concessions, in-game promotions and giveaways, break entertainment, and the other end
of the ticket sales process. The sports marketer has quite little control over the core product, and
must therefore focus efforts on product extensions as previously mentioned.
Sports Marketers and management staff must remember to carefully manage their sport
product as the industry is extremely competitive. They must differentiate, develop, position, and
brand their product in a way that attracts repeat business from previous product consumers (fans)
and that ultimately grows the team’s fan base. It is crucial to keep in mind that 80 percent of
market consumption comes from 20 percent of the consumers.
As previously mentioned, the team resides in Chicago, Illinois, a popular city with a
fairly affluent population and large-scale interest in sports. The team’s market segments are
primarily local male residents ages 25-34 with an average income between $50,000 and $75,000
(The Chicago Bulls). The Bulls are known to pride a more upper-class fan feel, though countless
inner-city kids don Bulls propaganda, likely due to the team’s frequent community service
programming and perhaps a youth status symbol.
Chicago Bulls fans typically purchase tickets in advance online, though purchasing
tickets at the door is a somewhat common option. As the sport industry rapidly modernizes, it
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can be difficult to track exactly where consumers are purchasing game tickets, team apparel
(jerseys), or the like, but it is a sure thing that consumers have the desire to purchase it online.
Whether it be jersey sales through third-party vendors or directly through the NBA website, fans
will purchase jerseys (especially Derrick Rose’s) and miscellaneous fan apparel at the click of a
button. The product is generally sold online in single game tickets, season tickets, group
packages, and/or luxury suites online, and is experienced in the heart of all of the action; the
Regarding the Bulls franchise’s pricing strategy, marketers will utilize third party sellers
such as Ticketmaster and StubHub to get consumers to purchase ‘on-sale’ tickets. Often times
the sales department within the organization will sell group packages and season tickets to
interested consumers and loyal customers at a discount to retain their continued purchases in the
future. These ticket packages will be a lower average price per game, whereas consumers likely
will have to pay the regular or premium price for single-game tickets and playoff games. Luxury
suites are often sold to affluent Bulls fans after premium seating rights (must-have before even
being able to access luxury suite tickets) are purchased.
The team and their corporate partners, this season, have provided fans unique Bulls-
themed items to thank them for their support. “Fan favorite giveaways such as bobbleheads will
be back again this season”, featuring players Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah
(NBA.com). A camo hat for Veteran’s Day, as well as St. Patrick’s Day paperboy hats sponsored
by Bud Light were given out to fans. There has also been a ‘Benny the Bull Wall Clock’ that was
sponsored by Transunion. Among these unique items, the Bulls marketing department has passed
out many, but not limited to, the following to fans this year: Advocate Healthcare pink breast
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cancer t-shirts, United Airlines magnetic schedules, Bud Light glow wands, AT&T winter
beanies, Athletico practice jerseys, Comcast SportsNet baseball hats, Digiorno oven mitts, and
BlueCross BlueShield (of Illinois) umbrellas. The team’s major corporate sponsors include
Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Harris Bank, BlueCross BlueShield, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, United
Airlines, and many others (Forbes). Many of these sponsors have created unique partnerships
with the Bulls franchise and it clearly shows.
The Chicago Bulls are serious about volunteering in the community. Their partnership
with Good Sports, for over ten years as of last year, has enabled more than 500,000 kids to “hit
the country's fields and courts with donated uniforms, shoes, balls and other equipment.”
(Athletic Business) The team has key players volunteering at food pantries and homeless shelters
on a frequent basis. According to the Athletic Business database, Bulls players also hosted a P.E.
class recently in effort to save PEP funding. The team has a full page dedicated to their
community service history and continued volunteer efforts. (NBA.com/bulls) In fact, most of the
Chicago Bulls partnerships with outside organizations tend to be community service-oriented.
Overall, the Chicago Bulls franchise does an incredible job with their marketing efforts.
They are constantly making headlines with their community service efforts, in addition to their
team’s recent spark of success primarily thanks to Derrick Rose’s return. Players are being seen
in the community volunteering at food pantries, mentoring kids, and teaching youth basketball
camps all around the country. This certainly helps the image that product consumers have in
mind when thinking of the Chicago Bulls, which ultimately assists the entire organization by
maximizing ticket sales revenue and highlighting the organization’s public relations efforts.
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