DON’T sell the sausage, sell the sizzle. It would make for a somewhat befuddling sign inside your local butcher’s but in the world of marketing it makes perfect sense. An honest banger sitting in a supermarket fridge may not be much to look at but placed in the context of a summer barbecue or a Sunday morning fry-up then it suddenly holds greater appeal. It is about promoting the associated benefits of an item or an event rather than just trying to flog the plain old product itself.
It is something sport does better in some areas than others. On paper, next month’s fight in Las Vegas between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor seems like a farcical match-up between probably the best pound-for-pound boxer of all time – now 40 years old and in semi-retirement – and a mixed martial art fighter who has never laced up a boxing glove in his life.
Had they done nothing there would have been sizeable interest anyway in what is the professional equivalent of a one-armed man fighting a kangaroo but the promoters are taking no chances with it anyway. And so the two men have been sent to further talk up this curiosity, heading to Los Angeles, Toronto, New York and London to add to the hype and boost interest in the pay-per-view spectacle.
The sight of the loquacious Irishman on stage earlier in this week berating his opponent for carrying a “schoolbag” on stage with him spoke volumes for the level of debate. “You can’t even read!” taunted McGregor, as an almost-salivating crowd roared its approval. Freak show or not, you can be sure millions all around the world will pay the £20 subscription fee to see how this one ends up.
It was a similar story on a far smaller scale ahead of Josh Taylor’s recent super-lightweight fight with Ohara Davies as the pair traded insults in person and on social media ahead of their bout at Braehead. In the end, the seven rounds were exhilarating enough without the need for further razzamatazz but there is little doubt that all the pre-fight hullabaloo made it more of an occasion, the crowd working themselves into a frenzy as the fighters entered the ring.
Taylor’s camp is now trying to set up a clash with Ricky Burns, an all-Scots super-fight that would command massive interest throughout the country. Burns, Scotland’s only three-weight world champion, famously isn’t a great salesman, rarely one to indulge in trash talk to help sell a fight. It will be instructive to see if he shifts from that stance should the duo get the go-ahead to meet in the ring and there are tickets at Hampden, Murrayfield or the Hydro needing shifted.
Scottish football, meanwhile, is gradually coming around to the realisation that the product alone is no longer enough to entice fans through the turnstiles. For most of our clubs the biggest selling point is that they are small enough to make supporters feel an integral part of things. Many do this through an increasingly inventive presence on social media, improving a line of communication that for years was nowhere near as open as it really ought to have been.
The greatest way, though, of heightening the sensation that a football club belongs to everyone, rather than just those who sit in the directors’ box, is to open the doors from time to time and let the fans meet those they can usually only idolise (or berate) from the stands.
Goodness knows what the St Mirren squad and management really thought at being asked to give up their day off last Sunday to train in front of a couple of hundred fans and then spend the next few hours posing for photos, signing autographs and answering endless questions, but not a grumble was heard, no request turned down. The size of the queue that waited in the rain to meet them spoke volumes for how much that attitude and openness was appreciated by old and young alike.
Even my own boy, who tends to hop about impatiently while waiting for his toast to pop up of a morning, happily bided his time so he could get a signature and a snap with his favourites Stephen McGinn and “super” Stelios Demetriou. Supporting St Mirren has often been something of a chore in recent years but just one brief meeting with his heroes was enough to send this eight year-old home happy.
Scottish football, of course, needs to continue to try to improve the sausage but in the meantime continuing to work on the sizzle can’t do any harm either. More often than not, if you promote it they will come.