New team, new players, new coaches, new staff. It’s not always easy being the ‘new’ kid in town, but the Jacksonville Armada FC is doing new well. The Armada joined the expanding North American Soccer League (NASL) this year, and the startup team is moving full speed ahead, with big wins on their record and an upcoming International Friendly match against the prestigious Argentinian club, the Boca Juniors.
The Armada’s on-the-field success is further complimented by the organization’s equally impressive off-the-field moves. Like any new sports franchise, the team faces considerable challenges – attracting customers and sponsors in a competitive sports market, hiring good talent, driving revenue, etc. But the team has gained solid footing. With only a few months under their belt, the Armada have 4,000 season ticket holders and have sold more than 64,000 tickets to date. And while they aren’t settling any time soon, it’s pretty clear the new team feels right at home. In fact, it’s literally just getting started.
As the Armada build a foundation for multi-year presence and sustainability, here are three keys to the organization’s early success.
1. Build an audience
Back in 2012, the U.S. Men’s National Team played Scotland in a friendly match at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, which was a nice sneak peek at how hungry local fans were for a soccer club.
“Jacksonville is a die-hard sports town, and adding the Armada to the list of teams for fans to cheer for made a lot of sense,” said Matt Verrecchia, director of marketing for the Armada. “Even better, Jacksonville has nearly 15 soccer clubs throughout the area with 10,000-15,000 youth players competing in the sport. We had a built-in audience.”
Youth soccer has been an integral part of the Jacksonville community, and its presence has motivated the Armada to target a highly sought after demographic – millennials. The team is also going after different ethnic groups that have celebrated soccer for generations, soccer traditionalists (people who have grown up watching and playing the sport) and soccer families with one or more kids currently playing the sport.
Along with building an audience, the Armada gave fans the opportunity to engage with the club from the beginning by letting them make an important decision – the colors of the team’s logo and patch. As a result, the Armada don navy, white and gold, and fans can wear these colors proudly, knowing they had an impact on the selection.
“Soccer has always been big here, but now fans of different ages and interest levels have a team to rally around and call their own,” said Verrecchia. “We not only want to engage fans during the season, but also year round.”
2. Turn games into experiences
A simple start to the season wasn’t going to cut it for the Armada – the team wanted to make history. For their first regular season game, the Armada developed a campaign to break the NASL regular-season attendance record by getting more than 16,000 fans to EverBank Field to watch the Armada play FC Edmonton.
“This town has a lot of soccer pride, and we wanted to kick off the season on the right foot, making our presence known,” said Verrecchia. “The #SetTheRecordJax campaign helped us increase exposure and transformed a regular match into an experience that fans could get excited about.”
The Armada broke the NASL attendance record, and it’s these types of events – or experiences – that build fandom and keep people coming back for more. The majority of the Armada’s regular season home games, held at Community First Park, have exceeded 8,000 in attendance. And while the team’s solid performance keeps fans entertained, the Armada staff realizes that they need to turn two-hour games into interactive experiences.
“We’re pairing some of our matches with programming such as youth soccer recognition nights, craft beer festivals, concerts, away game watch parties and more,” said Verrecchia. “Not only do these events drive ticket sales and new partnerships – they help us build a community.”
The organization is even planning to host watch parties for soccer matches outside the Armada FC schedule.
3. Leverage innovative tools
The fan experience starts with the purchase of a ticket, and the Armada needed a ticketing platform that would enable them to control their brand messaging and keep up with their technology-savvy audience.
“As a new team, we’re best positioned to take advantage of innovative tools that will help us market our product quickly and in ways that are relevant to fans,” said Gene Tinner, director of ticket operations and fan services for the Armada FC. “We chose theAXS Ticketing platform because it gives us the ability to create multiple ticket packages and offers to entice our fans.”
The Armada also wanted to give fans convenient options to manage their tickets – and that’s where Flash Seats®, theAXS Ticketing platform’s digital, ID-based ticketing technology, comes in. Flash Seats is relatively new to the Jacksonville area, but Tinner realizes that it has tremendous potential.
“We already have a lot of people asking us to convert their paper ticket booklets into digital tickets,” said Tinner. “With Flash Seats, fans can access their tickets instantly with the devices they use for everything else they consume.”
Lastly, digital tickets enable the Armada to capture something that traditional paper tickets often lack – data. And that data is a huge bonus for a new franchise that’s trying to understand and capture an audience.
“Ticketing data will help us understand our fans’ preferences and make informed business decisions going forward,” said Tinner. “We have established a great local following, but I imagine that it’s only going to get better over time as we continue to maximize our tools and serve our fans in ways that are meaningful to them. At the end of the day, our fans are what we’re all about.”