Interview: Argos' VP Sara Moore on marketing of the new BMO Field experience

Two of the Toronto Argonauts' ads that will be seen around the city. (

The Toronto Argonauts have been pulling out the marketing stops ahead of their first season at BMO Field, from their TV/radio/poster campaign to their takeover of the CN Tower and the Local Liberty Village pub. Sara Moore, the former CFL vice-president (marketing) who's now the Argonauts' senior vice-president (business operations) and the COO of the 2016 Grey Cup Festival, spoke to 55-Yard Line this week about what the team's doing to try and attract new fans. She said the ad campaign in particular came out of extensive research on how the team could attract younger fans to their new home.

"It came on the heels of a couple things," Moore said. "One is a lot of research into what it is that the Argos needed to deliver to capture a new generation of fans, what is it that we needed to do to get young families to come back to Argos' games, to get young groups of fans to come back to Argos games and to really energize that core of football fanatics that still exists in the city and to really draw them back in into what it is that we're offering at BMO Field and what we can now offer down at BMO Field."

Moore said the "bringing back" idea isn't focused on just those who have previously attended Argos' games, but rather pulling in some of those younger fans who never have been to a game, but are at an age where a lot of people previously became Argos' fans.

"I think it's about attracting new ones, and when I talk about bringing back, I guess what I really mean by that is the core group of fans we have now are older, but they didn't come when they were older," she said. "You could probably say that a lot of our fans are sort of 50 and up, but they became fans when their parents took them. That's when I became a fan, when my dad took me to games. Or they became fans in their 20s when they would go down with a young group of fans. I don't think as an organization we've done enough to capture that generation, through the last several generations, so we're capturing those people again. So it's kind of going back to our roots and presenting a great outing for families and young people and bringing those generations back in. But those people probably haven't really had a strong relationship with the Argos over the last few years, so they'll be new to us. But it's a really important audience as far as as far as what the Argos have historically been able to attract in the city."

Moore said their research showed the importance of a desirable game-day experience, one that went beyond the game itself to efforts such as the new pre-game tailgating plans. She said it was essential to emphasize those aspects in the ad campaign.

"Based on that research, a lot of it came down to the game-day experience and that idea that we could make an event of a football game," she said. "Anybody who's ever been to one of the great games in one of the other stadiums around the CFL, and I've done a ton of that, or been down to a big college game in the U.S. or even an NFL game, they know that football is an all-day event: what you eat, who you go with, where you go, where you park your car, how you tailgate, who you tailgate with, where you sit and how you celebrate the game. A lot of that has really been missing from this market, probably for a couple of a couple decades, maybe even since we played at Exhibition Stadium, so it was really important that this campaign, I almost think of it even as an education campaign, that we really showed this market what a great experience a day of football is. I think that's what captures it."

She said it's also important for the team to show off their own, unique place in the Toronto sporting landscape.

"We are a city of hockey fans and we are a city of football fans and NFL fans, and what we really want to be able to say is that's great, and we're all sports fans at the Argos too, but our players are here and they're local and they're phenomenal and they call this home and they do great work in the city," Moore said. "And they are heroes of the city, the work they do with the schools, and I think we really want to use this campaign to capture them in their city and being heroes of their city and really show their triumphant return right back to BMO Field and onto the playing field where they're now going to do battle this year. That was the other insight and the other thing that we really wanted to deliver."

The Argos' lack of spending on marketing under previous owner David Braley took plenty of criticism, including here, and they have a significant amount of new faces at the top this year, including president Michael Copeland (the former CFL president and COO) and Moore herself. It's a very different organization, and it would be easy for them to talk about the problems of the past, but Moore said the previous group did plenty of good things. She said the change this year is about their research and about their new stadium, which provides a reason for a big marketing push.

"I've only joined the organization since the ownership change, and I don't want to prejudge anything that the previous ownership did," Moore said. "I loved working with them and I think they did great stuff when I was at the CFL and worked with them through the 100th Grey Cup. They did a brilliant job around that. I think that our insights come from the research we did. And really, we have the benefit and catalyst of BMO Field, and it's more about what that offers us. Really, that's something that wasn't available over the past few years, how we're going to be able to tailgate and have great tailgate villages and fan festivals around there and bring people in with marches and those types of things, and be able to be outdoors and be in an intimate stadium. Really, a lot of what we're able to do this year is just building off of that catalyst. So I have the great benefit of being able to work with BMO Field that they didn't have the ability to do the last few years."

Moore said the new ownership group has provided substantial support for that ambitious marketing plan, though.

"They've been tremendous," she said. "Obviously we are dealing with, you know, very insightful, very experienced, very skilled ownership when it comes to the Kilmer Group, Larry Tanenbaum and Bell Canada. Being owners of the Raptors, they oversaw what they did with #WeTheNorth, they oversaw the great rebrand that the Leafs did this past year, so I think they provided great insight, provided great guidance to us. I think they showed a lot of faith in the research that we did and in the campaign that we did. They very much supported us, and have pushed us to really expand our thinking around what it is we need to do around game day and tailgating and those types of things, and really helped us bring that very much into the fore of what this campaign is, and more importantly, what a game-day event is going to be."

The Argos' new TV ad first aired during Monday's Raptors' playoff game, which is not a cheap piece of real estate. Moore said the decision to put it there was partly about the Argos' support for other Toronto teams, and partly about that being where the younger sports fans they want to attract are tuned in.

"I don't think you're going to find a bigger audience of Torontonians doing anything else other than watching Raptors basketball for the next, well, I'm hoping the next several weeks," she said. "We really wanted to be able to put this in front of a great Toronto sports audience and right now that is absolutely everybody that's coming out and cheering on the Raptors."

It's not all about traditional advertising, though, as another highly effective tactic the team has taken is putting on unique events where fans can interact wiht their players. One such was their takeover of a bar near BMO Field last Friday, where they bought and served drinks for fans as an introduction to the neighbourhood. Moore said it's vital for the team to emphasize that their players have ties to their community.

"We really wanted to take every opportunity we can to be able to showcase our players as these great Toronto, in a lot of cases, natives," she said. "At the bar we had Matt Black, we had Ricky Foley, [Brian] Bulcke, he's from Windsor but we'll sort of adopt him. So it's about these guys being heroes in their hometown, in their home province. When we went to Local in Liberty Village, that was absolutely everything about saying thanks. It was our version of the Welcome Wagon, moving into the new neighborhood . We'll be at BMO Field in a few weeks and we wanted to come and meet our neighbors and have a few beers with them, and it went over great."

Moore's still adjusting to her new role as an Argonauts' executive rather than a CFL one, but she said she's loving it so far.

"It's been great," Moore said. "I'm thrilled that I made the move. I'm learning lots. Nothing like somebody who at the league and thinks they know everything and then coming in and realizing that maybe we didn't know quite as much as we thought. We inherited a great team on the field and off the field with the Argonauts, and we're working on good stuff. Even when I was at the league, you know the desire to be able to do things for Toronto and help ignite it was always there. It was on every strategic plan, every marketing plan that I did, you know, any market research that I did was also focused on Toronto. So what it really allowed me to do was maybe go from 30,000 feet down to 30 feet and really get in with the market, using the venerable Argos' brand, using what I think is our best resource which is our players, and really be able to get on the street and start marketing the Argos. That's been the best thing, that sort of that it's coming down and being able to make a difference right at the street level."

Moore said she and the rest of the Argos' team have high hopes for this season.

"We're really thinking that we're going to be able to capture that generation of fans who we know are looking for just this type of great event to do," she said. "We're really excited to see how it takes off."