Haven’t I Suffered Enough Already?

Since moving to the Twin Cities five years ago, about 50% of the time when I meet someone and they learn I’m from Cleveland their first question to me is: “How about The Drive?  Or The Fumble? Or The Shot? Or Jose Mesa’s meltdown? Or how Chad Ogea’s name was practically engraved on the 1997 World Series MVP trophy before the Marlins snatched it from your hands?” And most recently, they ask about “The Decision.” Evidently, being a Cleveland sports fan means a lifetime of suffering with a capitalized article to punctuate the pain. And a lot of questions from people who think they are making polite conversation by tearing my soul out and showing it to me. Yet every year I come back for more. Every single painful year.

To enhance the pain, I run the Twin Cities Browns Backers club. That’s right, even in Minnesota there’s a collection (on average about thirty people) of lost souls that line up each week to see what new and original ways our beloved Browns can break our hearts. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I spent thirty of my thirty-seven (gulp!) years in Cleveland and miss it every day. This last weekend, my wife and I had a whirlwind tour of Cleveland. We flew in on Saturday for a wedding and then out after brunch with my parents on Sunday. However, we managed to sneak out of the wedding around eight to watch a pre-season Browns game on one TV with the Indians game on the TV right next to it. As any sports fan knows, it doesn’t ever get any better than that.

With the start of the pre-season, I’m also reminded that I need to start on my duties as president of the Twin Cities club. It isn’t much effort. I make sure the people who just moved to the Twin Cities know where we meet, reply to any inquiries from the Browns and answer any emails I get from club members. It doesn’t take a lot of my time, but it is important to get done timely – something I admittedly struggle with. Another thing I have to deal with is marketing emails, quite a few of them actually. You see, there are over 300 Browns Backer clubs with almost 91,000 members world-wide. Some of those clubs are within shouting distance of the stadium in Cleveland and others are as far-flung as Alaska, England, Germany, and even Afghanistan! Since the club presidents’ email addresses are posted on the Cleveland Browns website, I think you can see how easy it would be to pull those email addresses, and shoot out a note to all the club presidents asking them to forward their products along to their club members.

I’ve received offers for Cleveland Browns branded cow bells, pajamas, overalls, hardhats, dog biscuits, tents, cruises with players, and a myriad of other services, memorabilia and silly stuff that I don’t even care to recount. While the formatting is different, the message is always the same: “My NFL licensed Cleveland Browns pet diapers are the coolest thing since NFL licensed Cleveland Browns sliced bread and I’d love you to pass this thing along to your club members.” What most of the messages are not is CAN-SPAM compliant. And that’s a problem. If your email is reported to the FTC as violating the CAN-SPAM Act, an organization could be liable for fines of up to $16,000 per email. I honestly don’t think an organization selling portable plastic tailgating horseshoes can cover the exposure of one reported violation, let alone 300 of them—even if they are approved by the “American Tailgaiters Association.” (On a complete aside, why do we need an American Tailgaiters Association? Isn’t our Sunday fun structured enough?) It’s usually something basic that causes the violation. Things like not offering a link to opt-out or not having a physical address in the email. Both of which are essential to stay compliant.

All of the companies I get email offers from are small businesses. I don’t blame them for reaching out to me to peddle their wares even if my club is 700 miles away from Cleveland. However, they still need to follow the law and use appropriate marketing techniques. I don’t know if these small businesses even understand that they are required to be CAN-SPAM compliant in all their messaging. Even if you are sitting in a room, copying and pasting messages into one-on-one emails with personalized subject lines, you still need to follow the rules of the CAN-SPAM Act. We don’t have an existing business relationship and we aren’t friends, so if you want to market to me, you need to follow the law. It’s as simple as that. Businesses and Organizations of any size can learn more about the simple rules email marketing is required to follow at the FTC website.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do a little internet shopping for an NFL licensed Cleveland Browns branded house where I can store all my NFL licensed Cleveland Browns knickknacks.

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