Hi hockey friends! The new season is just around the corner. I’m sure the staff and management of the Phantoms are hard at work preparing for the games. My recent Phantoms post, “Top 10 Reasons I’m Looking Forward To The Season,” should give you an idea about how excited I am about the second season of hockey in downtown Allentown.
However, we all know that it could be better. And that’s what this post is all about. I’ve done these several times for the IronPigs, but I’ll reiterate for my hockey friends: This is not the “complaint department,” this is about making it better–because we love it. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t bother to write, respond, comment and suggest. Also, if my IronPigs experience is any indication, this information does find its way back to the powers that be–one way or another.
So help me out and we’ll think of some things for the Phantoms to work on. First, let’s try to make it realistic. “Free gold bars night” is not gonna make the cut, regardless, you know? Second, let’s try to keep it all in one place. Please use the comments section of this post, and I’ll make sure that all comments get approved quickly. Your email will not be published, and you can remain anonymous if you like. If the suggestions fan out into seven different Facebook threads, they might not get the attention they deserve. Third, if you’ve identified a problem, please try to propose a possible solution. Remember, we’re trying to make it better, not moan and complain.
Finally, remember that some things are “Phantoms things” and some things are “arena things.” Certainly, they overlap with the Brooks Group in charge of everything, ultimately. However, try to keep in mind the controlling entity when making your suggestions.
I’ll go first:
Kram’s Suggestions for the 2015-2016 Phantoms Hockey Season:
Preamble: Last season we were told, multiple times, that problems and inefficiencies during the hockey season were due to “moving into a new building.” It became old, after hearing it multiple times for multiple problems. Certainly, they knew they were moving, and really, they had an entire extra season to get ready when the arena construction was delayed. However, I understand that problems and issues that arose weren’t always foreseeable with the logistics of the new building unknown. Plus, the staff wasn’t entirely the same moving from upstate New York to the Lehigh Valley–perhaps they were spread a bit thin. This year, though, there’s no excuse. Here are the things I’d like to see this season:
1. On-time release of the promotions schedule. Unfortunately for the AHL, the game schedule can’t be finalized until sometime in mid- to late-August, due to the arena schedules and the NBA basketball schedules in some cities. However, the Phantoms have had a whole season to think up promotions, align sponsors, and the like. Once the AHL schedule comes out, they should be able to produce a preliminary promotions schedule within a month or so. If the game schedule comes out in mid-August, I’d like to see the first rendering of the promotions schedule in mid-September. Why do we need this? Well, individual hockey games are more important than individual baseball games, and fans plan their fall, winter, and early spring around these games, sometimes. The schedule goes right through the holiday seasons, when parties and reunions need to be planned. How does this help the Phantoms? The group sales department can then sell the group nights a bit more efficiently, and the advertising department can then get to work aligning potential sponsors with the unclaimed nights–which can then be added later, if need be. Remember, I’m asking for a preliminary promotions schedule, not the final copy.
2. Improved communication, particularly with the Season Ticket Holders. Information was difficult to come by–and still is in some respects–for issues regarding the games, the tickets and the arena, particularly for Season Ticket Holders, last season. Emails were lost or deleted. Ticket reps were not able to handle the questions or distribute the information effectively, and fans were left in the lurch.
The credit for the un-played playoff games was nowhere to be found on my account. “We’re checking into it” they told me when I asked. Then, a gift card shows up at my house unannounced, reimbursing me for the games. (It’s a neat trick to get me to spend the money back at the arena–but I would have liked to know what to expect, and you can use it to pay your ticket accound–albeit with an extra step.)
“Seat Change Night” happened a couple times, and I only heard about it once–and that was after it was completed. I never had the opportunity to explore a change of my seat location–one that was chosen for me prior to the arena ever being built.
The Phantoms Carnival was a wonderful event, but details about it and the date were not released until the last minute, and the mechanics of the autograph sessions were not evident until after the event for those who were interested in such.
Twice I brought groups to the games last year, and the first time, it took several unanswered phone and email messages until I could get someone to take my credit card and sell me 50 tickets. That’s just not good. The second time, I made them take my card at the game–then when I picked up the tickets at will-call, they were in a different location than what I was originally told.
I know they can do better, and I expect that they will. To me, the major solution is to empower the ticket reps to solve problems and address issues without having to run everything up the chain of command, where issues get lost, swept aside, or forgotten.
3. Parking. The parking issues are not really the Phantoms’ domain. First, it’s an arena-thing, and then it’s a parking authority thing. Most of us who go to multiple games have the system down pat. However, in only the second season, the Phantoms will still welcome a ton of fans this year who will be attending their first game. I think the Phantoms should step up and provide a rudimentary parking guide on their own, in addition to the basic information provided by the arena and the self-serving and ever-changing information provided by the Parking Authority. Look, I’m thrilled that my “where to park” post receives a buh-zillion hits every time there’s an event, but I don’t have access to all of the information, which changes, and I don’t get paid by the click (or at all, really.) This is a place where BOTH the Phantoms and the PPL Center Arena can do better.
4. Prices. This is an “Arena Thing” but the Phantoms can exert some pressure. As far as game ticket prices, the market will determine where they ultimately end up. The fees need to be reduced, but there are a lot of folks with their hands out on that one–most of us will find ways around paying the fees whenever we can, but the fact that the fees make the secondary market more attractive should be a concern to the Phantoms themselves. But mostly, concessions. I think the prices are a bit out of line, and once more people have been to the arena and the downtown, they will look elsewhere. It’s good for the downtown economy, of course, but having reasonable prices for concessions within the arena will make it more family-friendly, and keep the business “in house” instead of driving it to the downtown restaurants. There are layers of profit, here, too. Ovations gets a cut, then the arena, and then the Phantoms. Perhaps feature some specials each night or provide some discount coupons here and there to help out. How about a coupon book for season ticket holders?
5. Noise. It’s a bit hypocritical for me to be complaining about noise, huh? However, I think they need to work on the audio/PA system within the arena a bit. At times it was way too loud, and I heard multiple complaints, particularly from senior citizens and families–that it was too loud, but still unintelligible. I also heard from an inside source that the arena went with a super-low bid when choosing a company to install the speakers and such. Of course, I can’t say if that’s true or not. With all the concrete and steel, as well as the ice, sound waves are going to reflect and bounce. However, there are things which could be done in terms of frequency response and volume, and with a whole season of experience under their belt, I’d like to see the audio even out a bit. Save the big noise for when a goal is scored (for US–cut it with the dance music after the other team scores.)
6. Gear. It took the IronPigs a few years to figure this one out, but if the Phantoms want to make some money, they’ll listen to me. Do not underestimate the demand for quality, team-branded merchandise in the Lehigh Valley. A large selection of quality merchandise at the “team shop” will yield big bucks. I’ve been to multiple arenas and ball parks, and I’ve never seen as much “home team” gear as I have at Coca Cola Park and at the PPL Center Arena. Meet the demand, and don’t skimp on quality. I know it’s an investment, at some point, but you’ve got to have it to sell it. Fans will look for name brands such as Reebok/CCM and Under Armour and such–and they’ll pay for it.
7. Game Day Arena Staff. This is almost entirely an “arena thing” as far as I’m concerned. But, as I said above, the Phantoms have the power to exert influence on how the arena-management works. My biggest suggestion here, is to keep the same people in the same spots as much as possible. If the section-usher is always at the same section, he or she can identify regular fans as well as help the new ones, more effectively. Bartenders always at the same location and always working together, can be more efficient and sell more drinks. Regular fans get to see the same faces over and over and feel more comfortable and “at home.” For many of us, this is one thing we really appreciate over at the IronPigs. Even at the concessions, once a staff member becomes more comfortable, he or she can serve the guests better and work more quickly and efficiently. It’s a customer service issue. Randomly rotating staff for the heck of it is a bad idea.
8. Train the door security and tune the metal detectors. I’ve heard a bunch of complaints about the security to enter the arena. The thing is, it doesn’t seem to be consistent. One person scans everybody, and the next lets some through without scans. One detector misses my keys and my metal clip and the other flips out over a piece of an old gum wrapper. Clean it up. Security is a good idea, but it’s uneven and I’m not even sure how effective: It only took me one game to figure out how to circumvent the security–I’m not going to write it down, but a consultant or professional should be able to identify it easily as well. Make sure a supervisor is available at each entrance to deal with potential problems and oversee the staff. Be courteous and efficient. Scan everybody, but keep the lines moving–turf any problems or questions to the supervisor.
9. Consider opening the doors earlier. I’m not sure why I need to be in there more than an hour prior to the game, but the fact is, many many people are in line at the door before it opens. I know you’ll have to pay more staff-hours, but the money those folks spend inside the arena will probably pay for it. Finally, getting some folks in there earlier will relieve the pressure on the security (see above) to work quickly, efficiently, and consistently.
10. DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE HOCKEY GAME!
I overheard the following exchange at work the other day:
Person one, “Have you been to the new arena?”
Person two, “Look, I’m a hockey fan…”
“Oh, so what did you think?”
“Well, I went once, but I couldn’t enjoy the game with all the nonsense and the loud music. I’m not going back.”
So here you have a person who identifies himself as “a hockey fan” first and foremost, without even answering the original question. And, he’s never going back. I’ve heard similar stories elsewhere and in slightly different context, but the end point is the same. In their first season, I think the Phantoms did a poor job with the game-day experience for people who identify themselves as “hockey fans.” Perhaps they were catering too much to the “casual fan” in the Lehigh Valley in their first season. If there’s one thing we learned this past season, it’s that minor league hockey and minor league baseball are not the same. There are fewer games, and more die-hards on the hockey side, it seems. I don’t think you need to turn it into a circus every night. I’m not suggesting they get rid of Ben or the orange-suited hype team–just that they fine-tune how they use them and how much they are involved with and distracting from the GAME ON THE ICE. And, I will suggest that they not pay a “professional fan” thousands of dollars to jump about and give away T-Shirts on the big screen. Seriously. If you want crazy fans, they’re already there–have the orange-suited team guide them. You need a featured guy? Look, just find one at the bar at Chickie’s at 4:30PM on game day. Pick up his tab and he’ll do it for free. You wanna give a way shirts? Have the orange suites handle it. Cut it with the circus and and loud music every free moment. And keep in mind that I can’t see the ice when these shenanigans are happening in front of me. There are already plenty of crazy fans wearing orange masks or foxes on their heads, or whatever. Harness it; don’t add to it.
Use the power of the big screen and the game-day team to teach the casual fans about the sport of hockey and the etiquette of the game, for the fans. Get meLVin involved. I think these folks are doing a good job, I’d just like to see our attention directed towards the ice as much as possible–where they play hockey–and not as much in the stands and on the big screens. Maybe spend more time talking about the players and the lineups–the standings and the schedule. Folks still need to know about the upcoming games and promos, and whether tickets are readily available or whether a game is getting ready to sell out.
Again, I’m not really complaining about anyone personally–I just want them to ask themselves, “What does this have to do with hockey?” before scheduling between-action shenanigans. If the answer is “nothing,” then perhaps try to think of something else. I love watching the kiddos play hockey. I love watching meLVin do stuff on the ice. Heck, you could even come up with a “family friendly” version of the “ice girls” and have them skate out for the scrape.
11. Take advantage of the Phan Club. The fans who’ve put together the “Phan Club” have been hard at work, doing the right things to support the team. They can be your eyes and ears in the community, as well as “cheerleaders” for the team and the games. I don’t mean in the super-fan sense, although some could probably be convinced–but more like ambassadors for the fan experience. There are many ways this can help the team and the organization, and I’d hate to see the team turn on them, as the IronPigs once did, many moons ago. It’s a resource, and it’s mostly free. If the team is worried about a rogue organization with a bunch of loose cannons, just dedicate an employee to coordinate things and make sure the messages are accurate, and fix any potential mis-understandings. Having an “official” fan club (in lieu of a “booster club”) can be another way to put the emphasis on the hockey rather than on the circus. It can also be a way to widen the fan base both locally, and geographically.
12. Use the jersey auctions for “Phantoms Charities.” Oh, you thought they were? Not all of them. Some were more for “team profit.” No matter, I’m sure those who got the jerseys are still happy (myself included). However, it wasn’t always made completely clear to those of us who were bidding. See above under “communications” and “hunger for quality merchandise.” I did enjoy the live auctions, though, and as long as the auctioneer’s cut isn’t too high, it’s probably more effective (read: profitable) than the Qtego system the IronPigs now use, or the old “block the clipboard” methods of yesteryear. And I’m certainly in favor of having them several times per season. Just let us know where the money goes, if it’s not for your charity arm.
13. Improve Cell and Internet Service. Big cities usually have “repeaters” on top of the buildings, so that those down within the concrete canyons can receive cell and data service on their mobile devices. With the increase in traffic downtown and all of the new construction, better coverage is needed. The Phantoms and the Arena should lead the way. Now that people are heading downtown to eat, shop, and go to the museums and the arena, the capacity and availability need to be better: for business and for safety. Oh, I know, I shouldn’t be staring at my phone during the game–and I’ll try not to. I just want to be available for emergencies and not have my phone die because it’s struggling to connect.
So that’s it. A bakers’ dozen from me. Please add your ideas and solutions to problems in the comment section below (rather than in 7 different Facebook threads). Please keep it civil and constructive. And I’ll….
…see you at the arena,
@Kram209 (or, 106…)