The above picture came through my Twitter timeline last night. As sad as it is, I can’t say that it is something that I find all that unusual at this point because one of the big stories around sports in the challenge of getting fans out of their living rooms and into the stands.
The challenge is just a little more pronounced in some stadiums and arenas than others.
But what does this trend of fans staying away really tell us?
I’m sure that the easy answers you will hear thrown out include things like:
“The election has a lot of interest.”
“The at-home experience is too great.”
And, on and on it goes.
But I think all of those things are really just symptoms of a much larger challenge that all of the TV money that is flowing through sports is masking, for now!
What are some of those issues?
Here are 3:
1. An influx of MBAs that have weaponized the numbers associated with everything to the point that too many games and stadiums feel soulless.
As I write this, last night, the Chicago Cubs clinched a birth in the World Series for the first time since 1945.
I can only imagine what it was like to have been in Chicago because the atmosphere seemed to want to jump off the screen, it was so electric.
This is something that most stadiums are missing today.
You can visit a lot of great stadiums with amenities everywhere, but when it comes to the most moving and sacred sports pilgrimages, you don’t hear anyone saying that they can’t wait to see a game at New Yankee Stadium, but old Yankee Stadium still brings tears and emotions to people’s eyes. The same goes for anytime you bring up Wrigley or Fenway.
This phenomenon isn’t just in baseball either.
In football, we have seen teams try to work to reduce the size of their stadiums but give them a more intimate, home field feeling like in Miami.
Or, even hockey and basketball, where the old buildings that were mythic like Boston Garden have been replaced.
But you see buildings being reconfigured with more intimate seating bowls and the power to draw a better connection to the fan.
The drive to monetize as much as possible is great for the finances of the teams and the revenues of the game, but at the same time it detracts from the fan experience which has opposite reaction on revenues…which leads to point number 2.
2. Fans are being treated like rubes because teams just can’t seem to figure out their in-stadium pricing, nor the right way to market and sell their games and teams.
I’ve had conversations with executives from around sports that have told me that marketing is 12th or 13th most important on their list of activities.
Which if you are into business thought at all, you know that your number one job is to create and keep customers.
Which means that your first job is marketing and selling.
Followed closely by customer service.
But this reluctance to understand the need to market and sell their games and experiences to fans, new fans, and non-fans has led to a terrible cycle that includes a lot of things, but here are just a few:
- Many, many empty seats especially in the premium or super premium areas.
- Overpriced, poor quality stadium food and beverage that are only installed due to the economic pressures of needing to have a sponsor buy out control of a stadium because they aren’t hitting their attendance numbers.
- Inability to sell packages because of the improper pricing models that exist where a fan that buys a season ticket may find themselves sitting right next to someone that was given a 50% discount by the team as a last minute deal. Or, can find a ticket on the secondary market for $1-$2 in many instances recently.
All these 3 things have in common is an inflexibility when looking at how to deal with their customers and their fans. And, in many instances, an unwillingness to really look at the fan experience from a standpoint of a real fan, but only from the team POV.
What does all of this do to a fan, it makes them have no incentive to be your partner. It gives no incentive to buy tickets early, which in many cases likely leads to lower attendance because if you are waiting until the last minute to make a decision, something can and often does come up.
And, why not just stay home and watch the game on TV?
My beer selection is better! My view is great! My food options are limitless! And, there are no bathroom lines.
3. Service! Service! Service!
In sports, we aren’t just competing with the TV and in-game experience, in most cases we are competing against a city’s worth of activities and reaction.
Which when coupled with the changing tastes of buyers and fans is a death toll for our teams and our venues.
Because everywhere we turn, someone is upping the service game.
And, everyone is upping the experience game.
And, everyone is always looking for ways to create just a touch more value for the buyer.
Which means that we can’t just sit back and rest on our laurels as being “live entertainment” because that isn’t proving to be enough.
But to see too many stadiums and arenas the idea of service is little more than an afterthought.
In far too many places, the lines are still too long, the service too surly, and this takes away from the overall experience.
And, the more and more fans are spending on attending games, the more and more important this becomes.
Because as you pay more and more money for food, tickets, and drinks, your expectations get higher and higher.
Which means that the days of just slapping some carpet down and handing out fancier plastic cups to call “premium” are over.
It means that now as sports attendance is a luxury item, every aspect of the experience is going to need to reach them same level of service as any other premium product or service.
Which means instead of thinking about being best in class, sports and entertainment are going to have to make the leap to world class.
These challenges are all significant, but the flip side of these challenges is the opportunities that they present to all of us as we battle for the attention of the fans and customers.