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Lessons In “The Empathy Economy” For Sports Business


In writing a lot about the Empathy Economy lately, one place that needs special attention is sports business because now more than ever, Empathy can win you fans for decades or lose you fans for life.

That’s why I think that sports business needs to embrace more empathy and humanity in the way that they cultivate fans and sponsors and less managing by spreadsheet.

Emphasize the connection and community around your sport, team, or building:

When I was in my early 20’s, one of the first real adult things I bought was Sonics season tickets. And, even without a team, I clearly and loudly will call myself a Sonics fan first.

Why do I stick with the Sonics despite the fact that they aren’t around?

It is actually pretty simple, the community and people that I met in the time that I owned season tickets.

At the time, Howard Schultz owned the Sonics, especially early, he really worked to bring a bit of the Starbucks experience to the experience of going to an NBA game.

This led to lots of community events where I got to network with business leaders, play basketball on the practice court, get to know the people that sat around me and felt like the team and my support was part of a community.

Over the last few years, many teams have moved to a “membership” model, but for too many people this is just lip service to trying to incentivize declining numbers of main street consumers to maintain their season tickets.

In doing this, I think that it misses the point of the human nature of loving sports and following a team for the mechanical form of doing something because it seems like a good idea but your heart isn’t really into.

In “The Empathy Economy” you really have to know that a community and connection will win. It is overstated pretty regularly, but people are so attached to their devices or too disconnected from their community that they are yearning for a connection to something bigger.

That’s where sports can fill a void.

You can easily achieve that by promoting these concepts of community, connection, and emotion…then following through at every turn in the process of being a fan.

This is tough work because it requires emotion and connection, but it is the only hope that we will continue to regenerate fans and build generations of new supporters.

Want a few ideas to put more empathy into your organization? Here are 3:

  1. Make sure that customer service is a priority at your venue. Have you ever walked into your building like a fan? Try it out. See if customer service is really a core value or something that only gets lip service.
  2. Consider what you would need to do to make certain that a fan came one more time a year? I learned the concept of “think of the 4th sale first” from Alan Weiss. Which means that you are looking to build a long-term customer, not just make a sale. Ask yourself if you are doing that or are you managing according to your spreadsheet that says you can charge this much without having people hate you.
  3. Reward people for caring. We all know that teams do fan appreciation things all the time and they come off clunky. And while fans might love a little recognition or a gift, sometimes little things make all the difference. Maybe you swing by and say hello and bring a drink. Maybe you send a handwritten note. Maybe the team president makes a call to a fan. Just some little thing that is a reward for fandom. In too many cases, every touch comes with an ask for more money. What would happen if you reached out and connected with customers just because?