XFL E-Mail Gets Extreme Response

If only every online marketer's arsenal could include an e-mail list of rabid fans.

XFL, the new football league jointly owned and operated by World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. and NBC, just finished the first leg of an e-mail, season-ticket drive and claims that a blast to its house file of 80,000 XFL fans resulted in a more than 5 percent conversion-to-sale rate.

Respondents bought an average of 2.5 packages per order.

To build its e-mail list — and practically guarantee such a high response — XFL, Stamford, CT, gave the first shot at season-ticket packages to fans who had supplied their names, postal addresses and e-mail addresses at XFL.com. The league e-mailed fans in the eight cities that will host XFL teams, starting with a test mailing to 8,000 prospects in Orlando, FL, two weeks before tickets went on sale to the general public on Oct. 18.

“To succeed in targeting the young male fan, we know that the Internet has to be a critical part of our marketing strategy,” said Michelle Difilippantonio, vice president of integrated marketing at XFL LLC. “We want to be leading edge like no other sports league, so the day we announced the XFL in February of 2000, XFL.com existed.”

As of last week the league had sold 25,000 season-ticket packages nationwide, 20,000 of which were sold online. The league's goal is 1 million season tickets — or 25,000 per game for 40 games — by the time the season kicks off on Feb. 3.

Prices vary according to market, but the average cost of an XFL five-game, 50-yard-line season ticket package is $125. Major price hikes next year are not part of the business plan, according to XFL executives.

As part of last month's e-mail ticket drive, the XFL followed its house-file mailing with e-mails to 1 million of the WWF's 1.5 million e-mail database of wrestling fans. XFL limited the mailings to fans within what executives deemed to be a reasonable distance to cities with teams.

“If they're 2,000 miles away, there's no point in mailing them this offer,” said Lucas Swineford, XFL.com producer. “It's not that we didn't want to send them the offer. We just didn't want to run the risk of them getting annoyed and wanting to be taken off the WWF list.” XFL executives declined to quantify response to that effort. 24/7 Exactis is the WWF's e-mail service provider.

Meanwhile, on the heels of the XFL's draft last week in which 560 players were picked, the league plans to e-mail its house file again with localized content for each of the league's eight cities.

“These are people who bought in when all they knew was what was on the Web site, and what their [teams'] logos and maybe their uniforms looked like,” said Difilippantonio. “Now that people can put faces on the players, we think we can drive conversion rates up again.”

The XFL's markets are Birmingham, AL; Memphis, TN; Orlando, FL; Chicago; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and New York/New Jersey.

The XFL.com network includes the main site plus eight team sites. Executives would not divulge traffic numbers, but said when October's figures come out, they expect XFL.com to be a top-20 Internet property.

By the time the XFL debuts, it will have been the beneficiary of more than $40 million worth of marketing to a fan base that is 47 percent male, between the ages of 18 to 34 and fairly active online. The WWF network of Web sites is serving approximately 200 million page views per month to around 4 million visitors who account for 13 million to 14 million visits. “We're right up there in terms of rankings, depending on how you look at the categories, with top sports sites like ESPN and CBS SportsLine,” said Lee Barstow, vice president of marketing and sales of new media at the WWF.

Also, out of the WWF's 1.5 million registered users, 300,000 have opted in to e-mail sales pitches. The list is seeing click-through rates of 15 percent, according to Barstow. The fans' average order size is $65.

As for the game itself, Barstow said the XFL is aiming for legitimacy.

“It's going to be a little edgier than the NFL, a little looser on the rules side of things, but this is legitimate sport,” he said. “There will definitely be an entertainment aspect to it in the pre-game introductions and so forth, but the game will be pure sport.”

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