With Annual Student 9s Program, Red Sox Aim to Reach Younger Fans

As Adam Grossman, Red Sox senior vice president and chief marketing officer, made his way to the front of the room, intrigue built with his every step. After a pause, his gaze surveyed those present: 30 or so individuals all brandishing their weapon of choice, ranging from rudimentary notebooks to more modern recording devices.

After a moment, Grossman broke the tension, catalyzing a flurry of simultaneous movement in the Fenway Park press room as everyone sought to keep up with his every word.

For the fourth year in a row, the organization will offer deeply discounted tickets to both high school and college students in the city. The Student 9s, as the program is being marketed, offers those with a valid student ID tickets for only $9 in an effort to eliminate the biggest constraint for younger fans to make it to the stadium: cost.

The program can be traced back to 2014, when the franchise looked to capitalize on its recent World Series title in order to tap into, and retain, a new consumer base. For students, making trips to the ballpark would now be more affordable than a movie ticket.

As the program has evolved, so has student awareness about it. Of all the students present in the press room that day, the majority had heard of the initiative, but less than half had actually utilized it. Compared to previous years, the increased awareness of the program among the student population can be marked as a success.

More challenges, however, will remain in the coming months as a plethora of different experiences compete for attention in the city.

According to Grossman, the “man with a marketing plan,” the team is continuing its push toward a more accessible environment for all those in attendance, especially younger visitors.

These youthful fans, raised in the age of social media and technology, expect completely different experiences than previous generations did when heading to the ballpark.

As the Red Sox look to increase the already 3 million individuals who attend games annually, it is “fundamentally important” to engage with the next generation of fans in the area.

In the current environment, where ubiquitous computing and an almost omnipresent connection to the internet is expected, creating an engaging experience in any context is a problem. But developing one tailored to the desires of the diverse group of individuals attending Red Sox games presents a puzzle that the organization needs to solve, said Grossman.

“It’s a challenge we need to solve over 81 games,” he said. “There are differences in how people consume media … it’s now important to complement the baseball action.”

Revolutionizing the Red Sox’s use of media has been the big theme behind the team’s strategy this year, as “hanging their hat on their history” is no longer enough.

In an age in which tech and data play a large role in almost every key decision being made, the Red Sox are fully entering the 21st century in terms of fan engagement.

One of the goals of the different programs this year, including the Student 9s, has been to make the experience at Fenway completely unique, said Steve Oliveira, promotions coordinator.

By creating themed events, such as the confirmed college nights, and the rumored Star Wars and Game of Thrones days, the Red Sox are tapping into different demographics within the city, especially the younger ones.

Historically, the team has not done much in terms of promotions—simply because it has not needed to—but that approach is slowly changing. The organization is also exploring re-developing the “rewards” program currently offered. The idea behind the potential “points” initiative is that every purchase in the stadium, ranging from merchandize to concessions, will accumulate points that customers can later exchange for experiences like meet-and-greets with the players, box seats, and batting practice access.

“We are just trying to be more appreciative of the fans,” Oliveira said.

Last season the team also introduced a virtual reality booth in which fans could put on a headset and get a glimpse of the stadium from the players’ eyes.

In order to top that experience, this year the virtual reality capabilities have been upgraded, creating an interactive encounter through which individuals can participate in “batting practice” at Fenway and “chat” with players.

“The organization is trying to give more varied experiences at the ballpark to meet the specific desires of fans,” said Zach Markell, special assistant to the chief marketing officer. “It’s hard to give access to the players, and this is a way to do it.”

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor

April 19, 2017