Yes, you read that right…we partnered with a few other San Diego businesses to bring the San Diego Sharks to life as a TBL expansion team. I’m personally familiar with the TBL, which is essentially one level below the NBA’s G League, after playing in the league last year for a now-dissolved Southern California team. It’s a well-run league filled with a who’s-who of owners that includes NBA legends like Steve Francis and CEOs of public companies. We’ll be taking a very active role in growing the brand and crafting a unique fan experience over time.

First thing’s first- why did we do it? And why a basketball team?

We’re excited to take on the Sharks as a new venture for several reasons, but first and foremost we see the team as a way to better engage our local community through sports. Influenced by my ten-plus seasons of Minor League basketball, our team and our partners also see the Sharks as a viable and lucrative business that, when run on a disciplined budget and marketing strategy, can enjoy sustainable success in San Diego. The Sharks will operate with a separate operations team while capitalizing on the Fidelitas marketing engine.

Many agencies start up eCommerce brands as a side project, but for us owning a sports team in a league in which we trust the leadership was too compelling of an opportunity to pass up. For many minor league sports franchises, marketing and the fan experience makes or breaks a team’s success (sound familiar?). Our ownership also allows us to build a fun brand in public and discuss the challenges, opportunities, and pitfalls that come from running a brand, giving our team a unique perspective usually reserved for larger shops that have in-house consumer-facing projects. One thing’s for sure- we should have one heck of a case study before it’s over!

Now, as you either already know or can easily imagine, many minor league teams- and especially minor league basketball teams- fail. Here’s an inside look at how we plan to flip the script with the Sharks and win over the San Diego community that’s had its share of pro basketball frustration ever since the Clippers left for Los Angeles and the Rockets left for Houston:

We’re going to lead by serving. Before asking the community for anything, we’re giving away a great experience for fans. A mascot, DJ, and fun games and prizes await fans at every game, but that’s not uncommon. What is uncommon is free admission and free popcorn. These will serve as our team’s initiative to establish a “talk trigger” during our initial season. We need word-of-mouth momentum this year, and these goodwill gestures also help with sponsors. Our mission is for kids and adults alike to have a good time at Sharks games, turning our inventory (home games) into Can’t-miss events. The team will also provide free basketball clinics for kids and we’re working to set up in-school appearances as well.

We’re running a digital-first campaign. Practicing what we preach, we’re taking a limited ad budget and utilizing it to support fan acquisition and to acquire cell phone numbers and emails for sustained success and fan retention. On the other side of the flywheel, our team is going to have fun with the Sharks on social and is honed in on engaging with other San Diego sports teams, brands, news outlets, and audiences in a fun way while our PR team works their magic to secure TV hits, radio appearances, and more. Our goal is to take a relatively limited budget and make it feel like the Sharks are everywhere through efficient spending, creative campaigns, consistent messaging, and strategic partnerships.

There’s more to it than that, but this newsletter is already running long. We’ll check in from time to time and drop updates on what’s working (and what isn’t) as we build a brand from scratch on a short timeline with limited resources.

Give the Sharks a follow and stay tuned- we can’t wait to share the journey with you!