As the calendar turns to April, baseball executives around the country are switching gears from a planning phase to an execution mode. It’s time now to actually do all the exciting things you’ve talked about doing. For game operations professionals, this means a much brighter focus on delivering stellar entertainment, presentation and promotional events. Once gates open for the season it is the stadium experience that takes center stage, propelling everything from ticket sales to buzz in the community. So, let’s look at how these crucial organizational components fit into a larger picture during the season, where maximizing business opportunities is always the objective.
As my colleague Pat Walker pointed out in our Best of the Decade audio roundtable, the game operations department may not be the first folks to sell a ticket but they can be the best source of renewal that any organization has. The renewal, or repeat customer, is absolutely critical for any sports team. Sports marketing guru Jon Spoelstra laid it out in clear terms when he said, “Increasing the frequency of purchase by customers is the best and most efficient way of building a business. It is a quick-fix silver bullet.” Think about how hard your sales staff must work to get a first time customer to a game. Then think about that customer’s likelihood of returning to another game after they’ve been exposed to your team’s incredible stadium experience. Indeed, building your repeat customer base is easier and more economical than searching out a stadium full of newbies. While new business prospecting will always be imperative to an organization, moving a fan from the 1-2 game a year threshold to attending 5-6 games is simply more effective than recruiting people who have never touched your live product. During the season, game operations personnel must understand the vital role they play in building the all-important repeat customer base.
Think of building your repeat customer base as a never ending cycle. There are different points in the cycle where a fan may be introduced to your team, but all departments must work together to keep them moving towards increased involvement and more frequent stadium visits. Here then is the Repeat Customer Success Cycle, a simple strategy for building in-season business. During the season, we all know it’s incredibly easy to get caught up in day-to-day details. This cycle helps to provide perspective amidst that daily grind. It helps to show that the game operations staff is not just in charge of fun and games, but more importantly it is the catalyst in turning new fans into rabid, repeat customers.
The Repeat Customer Success Cycle
Each of the six points in this cycle is important. A breakdown in any of these phases could let a potential repeat customer slip through the cracks. While it doesn’t matter where or how a fan enters this cycle, it is essential that you work with other departments to constantly move them through the cycle as often as possible. The more a fan touches the following six points of the cycle, the more likely they are to buy frequently.
1. Game Experience/Entertainment
So a family just purchased tickets for their first game ever at your stadium. What do you want them to experience while they’re there? What memories do you want them to take home? How do you want them to describe the event to others? The game operations department must keep the answers to these questions in mind at all times. You want fans to have fun. You want kids pestering their parents about when they can come back. You want them thinking about friends they can bring with them next time. It’s your job to turn a meaningless ticket stub into a tangible, outstanding experience. Once they’re in the door, it’s your job to make them want more.
2. Build Brands Within Your Brand
A team’s brand is made up of a lot of things. The collective identity conjured up in the public’s mind about your team consists of their perception of the stadium, players, staff, logo, colors, concessions, parking, prices and on and on. Developing a strong brand identity takes thoughtful, consistent effort. One way to build an overall brand is from the inside out, by building brands within your brand. The most important example of this is the branding of your mascot. Especially in the case of Minor League teams, the mascot is the most constant representative of your organization. When someone sees your mascot out in the community, what do they think and feel? Do they immediately think about how much fun it is to go to your games? Other sub-brands you can cultivate include in-stadium performers (dancing grounds crew, emcees, half time acts, etc.), long term employees that have become fixtures at the stadium, and players with quirky or marketable personalities. Not only can these things be great for entertainment, but they can also lead to sponsorship or merchandising opportunities. If you can get fans to buy into these mini-brands, you’ve got them hook, line, and sinker when it comes to your team’s overall brand identity.
3. Stay Relevant
Let’s face it- it’s a very long season. Finding people who have the time, money, and interest in attending every single one of your games is getting harder and harder to do. Keeping people interested in your team all season long is a battle that must be fought with creativity and determination. Some important tactics to staying relevant and visible include focusing on your promotional schedule, public relations opportunities and community involvement. As covered in February’s edition of The Carter File, making constant additions to your promotional lineup is a great way to keep fans looking for the next big thing to get excited about. Staying topical and current in your promotions can also create great PR opportunities where you can take your message to the media. Of course, there is no substitute for being active in your community. Whether it’s a mascot appearance or charitable event, you never know what kind of people you’ll come across and how well they might take to your passion for your team. To stay relevant in a world short on attention and resources, you must consistently produce new ideas, new products, and new ways for people to encounter what your team does best.
4. Client/Customer Service
As fans become more familiar with your team and stadium experience, it is imperative that they are given an outlet to express their thoughts and opinions. Providing fans with an opportunity to give feedback not only allows you to improve your product, but it makes them feel more connected to the team. The most visible part of the customer service team is the game day staff. Most teams do a phenomenal job of hiring friendly, helpful seasonal personnel who do everything they can to ensure fans enjoy their visit to the stadium. Beyond them though, the front office must also take an active role in following up with fans and clients. Monthly follow up calls in the middle of the season can do wonders in hyping up a client about upcoming promotions or a newly scheduled performance by their favorite ballpark entertainment act. Give your most passionate fans all the information they need to sell the team for you. In addition to these personal interactions, social media has blown open the doors for transparent interaction between teams and their fans. Between Facebook and Twitter, it’s much easier now to make sure your biggest fans are engaged, aware, and active.
5. Increase Contact
For a front office, it’s often impossible to imagine how the team’s daily news and notes aren’t ubiquitous, water cooler conversation topics. When you’re so entrenched in the season, it’s difficult to take a step back and realize that most people simply don’t think about the team anywhere near as much as you do. That’s why it’s important to increase contact with fans throughout the season. Through the official website, social media channels, blogs, advertising, community and media appearances, etc., fans must have ample opportunities to encounter team news and promotions. Another important means of contact, though seemingly diminished in the social media era, is email communication. The allure of free access on Facebook and Twitter should not detract from database building goals, where an email address can be just as valuable as a phone number. Bottom line, don’t take the chance that people are paying attention on their own.
6. In-Season Sales
Just because the actual season has started, it doesn’t mean that sales season has ended. To the contrary, the easiest sales opportunities present themselves when the excitement of the season is at hand. A lot of teams with aggressive ticket sales strategies employ an inside sales staff- part time telemarketers who can follow up with individual ticket buyers or businesses during the season. Given the right tools and resources (see points 1-5 of the cycle), this sales force can be the difference in turning a casual observer into a mini-plan holder or a business lunch into a company wide picnic. A fan may have really enjoyed their first experience at the stadium, but may not know where or how to become more involved. A commitment to in-season sales will ensure that opportunities to grow repeat customer purchases and participation are not missed.
When considering these six points as part of a circular process, it’s easy to see how different departments must work collectively to build a repeat customer base. The core of the cycle though is the game experience. The game experience is what you’re selling during the season. Game operations personnel must not only focus on providing compelling entertainment, but they also must work to provide deeper opportunities for increased fan involvement where sales and marketing staff can capitalize. They must understand that in terms of business development, they are the organization’s most effective means to grow the repeat customer base and that’s no small responsibility.