I keep hearing it:
“All they care about is the money.”
I’m hearing it when I’m at the games. I’m seeing it on the message boards. I’m hearing it about both of the local baseball clubs, with their seasons about to start:
Fans are unhappy when “all they care about is the money.”
Ticket prices are going up for baseball (on the day of the game) and parking is going up to $5–and the other team now wants you to buy a parking pass for their preferred lot, otherwise you can’t park there at all. “All they care about is the money.”
The hockey team is losing games faster than I can write up blog posts. Yet, the organization is still promoting their “Legends Night” and giving out more orange t-shirts. How dare they hold a game when it’s snowing! “All they care about is the money.”
Why don’t they announce the actual attendance? All they ever tell us is the paid attendance. Must be “all they care about is the money.”
One team has an official post-game bar, an official hotel, an official steakhouse, an official news station, an official transportation company….where does it end? Official jockstrap? “All they care about is the money.”
Another team gave up a perfectly good and traditional team name so that they could “re-brand” and sell shirts with animals on them. Now they’re letting their experienced ushers go. “I used to like it better there, but now, all they care about is the money.”
How about bacon? EVERYBODY loves bacon. Forget the baseball, let’s just sell stuff with bacon on it! “All they care about is the money.”
The baseball team in Pawtucket is moving 5 miles down the road. They’ll try to build a new stadium in an area with huge tax incentives–golly, where have I heard that before? “All they care about is the money.”
Here’s the thing: These minor league teams are businesses. They’re in business to make money. If they can’t make money, they won’t exist–at least not here. They are unique businesses, though, to be sure. They have a limited number of “openings” per season (or, year) to make money. They can also make money by selling advertising. And, there’s the t-shirts and hats and jerseys. But there are also a multitude of expenses–some of which I can’t even imagine. Franchise fees? Stadium rental? Field maintenance? Insurance? I’m sure the list goes on. I’d love to see the books, but that’s not something I’ve ever been privy to. As a business owner, though, I know what “overhead” means–and that I don’t get to keep all the money that comes in.
Here’s the other thing: I think most fans know that. Most fans accept that the teams are businesses and that they need to make a profit and that they don’t have massive TV-deals or league money coming in regularly to keep things afloat.
So why all the unhappiness? Why do I keep hearing “All they care about is the money?” What are the teams doing that makes folks this way? And, what should the teams be doing so that they don’t alienate the fans?
You know, I’m always thinking; so here goes:
- Tone it down a bit. Each of these teams is in a little bit different position financially and historically. And, I’m not sure if any of them contract with or hire professional marketers–but perhaps they should. There are tons of ways to promote their “product” these days, and it seems to me they are often just shouting stuff at us from every single one without any real plan or strategy–just to create the most “noise” on social media or to get noticed by the “big boys” of Lehigh Valley media, FMZ-69 and The Morning Call, or whomever. Craft your message a little more carefully, and you’ll likely get as good or better result without spending as much–the money you save will help you pay that media consultant. I’m not a marketing professional; that’s just how I see it.
- Educate, Educate, Communicate. Part of that finely-tuned marketing plan might be to let us know when, why, and how as fees and prices change. The parking has to go up because LSI (or whomever) is charging more rent? Reading has to charge more for parking because taxes went up? The City of Allentown sells the parking? Ovations sells the beer, so the Phantoms and SteelHawks don’t really get a say in the price? Whatever the reason, let us know. We’ll understand as long as it’s honest and legitimate, and we hear it from you rather than reading in on some blog. (wait..)
- Take care of problems when the arise. There have been plenty of growing pains during the first year in the arena-era. Some of it is stuff that I never would have anticipated, but is absolutely legit for the fans having the problems. Address their concerns. Be responsive. Try to find a solution. This goes for all the teams: Acting like you don’t care about fan concerns–however petty they may seem–makes it look like you only care about something else. That’s right. The money. One more thing here: empower your employees to find the solutions. Sometimes the “don’t care” sentiment comes from the fact that lower-level employees don’t have the power to DO anything. They can only pass it up the ladder and at some point things get lost in the shuffle or become low priority. Guess what? To that fan in question it IS a priority, and you’re creating a negative perception based on something relatively minor. Something that an empowered employee could have easily fixed had he or she been allowed.
- Be forthright and honest. I feel kind of slighted when the ticket price increase is hidden within a promotional schedule release. You want to raise parking? Fine, come out and tell us. Explain why. Offer assistance (ie the pre-paid parking pass that reduces the cost) for your best customers–all at the same time. Don’t make us figure it out as we go. Another team is raising prices for next year, already? Fine. Use it as a selling point for Season Tickets now. The arena charges exorbitant fees? Fine (OK, NOT fine, but…) use that as a selling point for season ticket plans, mini-plans, and group sales.
- Take care of your season ticket holders. They say, keeping a customer is much cheaper than attracting a new one. Your season ticket holders are your best customers. And, because we’re there every night, we notice things that other fans might not. There may be things that are important to us that more casual fans don’t care about. I was reading some clips from a sports management conference recently which said the most important thing in professional sports is keeping your season ticket holders. So, keep us happy. Show us the love. Not just in the form of better ticket prices and free gifts and loaded values and no arena fees; that stuff is great, but listen to us. We can help–and we want to, we’re obviously all-in for this thing. If we say stuff it’s not because we’re complaining, it’s because we want it to be better.
- Don’t totally ignore the product on the field. With the exception of the SteelHawks, the other minor league teams don’t really have ANY control or say about the players or the games. Not the roster, not the coaches, not the strategy. Nothing really. The team organizations host and put on the games, but the players and coaches are part of the major league hierarchy and are under THEIR control. I know there are still some fans who don’t get that. However, please don’t totally ignore the product we’ve come to watch. As much as I love the game-day entertainment and the talented folks who put it on, I don’t buy season tickets to come and see them. Please at least acknowledge that some of us are there to see the game. They keep score, you know, so that we can tell who wins and who loses. It’s not totally irrelevant. I get that people need to be entertained and that casual fans need to be welcomed–just don’t completely lose track of the sporting event itself–it makes you seem like you’re all about something else. Yeah, that.
- Sometimes you have to take the hit. Stuff is going to come up. It always does. It might be weather-related or some other circumstance beyond your control. Whatever it is, it will have fans concerned–and asking questions. Our local teams are ALL near the tops in their leagues in attendance. You’re not only local entertainment, but you’ve become part of the fabric of our region. A beloved institution. Once in a while you might need to do something that costs you money, but that will make you look better in the end. Think of it as an investment. And I don’t mean the “Charities” part of your organization; I mean in how your product is perceived by the fans. Let the beat writers know about it so that they can mention it. It will be worth it. What am I talking about? Well, free water bottles when the temperature is over 100 degrees? Free coffees on a particularly cold winter day? A team sponsored giveaway for a playoff game, when no sponsor could be found? Do something when it’s the right thing to do, instead of trying to capitalize on every situation–especially the bad ones.
So that’s it teams. Get to work on that stuff, and you’ll stop the “all they care about is the money” sentiment from propagating. And remember, I don’t get paid over here. Don’t kill me because of what I’ve written above. I do this because I like to–I’ve got no ax to grind or bad feelings about anybody. I have no bad experiences to share today. I love going to all the games for all the teams and I want them to be better. My season tickets are already paid through February of 2016.
See you at the arena AND at the ballparks,
Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level