Fan Appreciation: Fix It

Fans pack the lawn at Coca Cola Park in 2018. Photo: Kram

 

Do you feel appreciated?

No?  Well, what would it take?  What would your team have to do for you to make you feel “appreciated,” really appreciated?

Yes, yes, this is about the recent IronPigs “appreciation failure,” but it does play in for the other teams as well, as the Phantoms had a bad one this last season, too.

I’ve been to a bunch of these “appreciation days” and never–not once–have I come away with the feeling that the team or the organization has any particular appreciation for me other than the amount of dollars in my pocket and how they can extract them in the present and the future.

But I’m not your average fan, either.  So:

Let’s take a look at what people want.  I mean, what would it take for you to feel “appreciated?”

  1. Stuff.  Yeah, we all like free stuff.  Just admit it.  I give stuff away all the time, but still, a free hat, or an autographed ball or puck, would make me feel good even if I didn’t keep it for myself.
  2. Players.  I get to talk to players whenever I want, kinda–but the fact is, most fans would love the opportunity to say hello to a player or get a quick photo.  And whether they admit it or not, players do appreciate playing in front of full crowds rather than empty stadiums.
  3. Recognition.  Some kind of focus on the fan aspect of the game and access to the areas of the stadium and the field not normally available.  Pull back the curtain a bit.
  4. Discount.  The ability to get stuff for a fair price after paying inflated prices all season long.
  5. The season-ticket kicker.  Season Ticket “Members” should be recognized in an even better way if possible, in a more personal way, optimally.

Over the years, I’ve seen raffles (IronPigs) and other types of drawings (Reading) and chaotic drop it into the crowd (Phantoms) in order to give away “stuff” as in #1 above.  The problem is that the limited amount of “stuff” only pays off for a fraction of the fan base.  Those folks feel “appreciated” but everyone else kinda empty.  And the fights in the stands for the items dropped from the rafters at the Phantoms?  Yeah, that didn’t work.  The drawings the Reading team does are really nice–but only a few folks win, and among the season ticket crowd it always feels like the winners are folks you’ve never seen at the stadium before.

 

Kram Fixes Fan Appreciation Day:

Step One:  Just Don’t Do It.

You know, we might be in the “golden age” right now, here in the Mecca of Minor League Sports (TM).  The IronPigs have made the playoffs for three straight seasons.  The Phantoms look to be able to match that this season.  SteelFC hasn’t had a home playoff yet, but is in the mix for the post-season again this year.  The SteelHawks didn’t do well at all this season, but had hosted a playoff game the year before and had a playoff streak going.

So, often the last game of the season is merely a tune-up for the playoffs–or even if it’s a critical game to qualify–then maybe don’t even worry about “fan appreciation” as a promotion.  Make the focus on the game and the team as they prepare for the playoffs.  You’ve got more games to sell then, anyway, as well as playoff packages to sell, and groups to plan for.

When making up the promo schedule, just leave the last game blank.  You can always add a T-Shirt with 23 corporate logos on it (ahem, Phantoms) or something else, later.  Decide whether you really want to market it as “fan appreciation” before you announce it as such.  If the team is out of the playoffs, that’s when you put this stuff into motion in order to help “sell” the last game when there might not be much other reason to come to the park/arena.

Step Two:  Gimme The Stuff

Certainly, there are plenty of us who don’t need more trinkets.  But still, when someone gives you something, for nothing, it usually will make you feel good about the situation.  Others may covet this stuff.  Kids love it, too.

See what you can do to make sure everyone gets something.  Look, I know there are extra giveaways laying around.  There are leftovers from the Charity arm.  There are other promos and T-Shirts and koozies and various tchotchkes.  There are pucks and baseballs.  Have the interns make up “grab bags” and throw them all in big bins.  Give them away at the door.  Sure, one person might get an autographed ball and another a magnet schedule–but no one gets left out.  If you have time–the team is eliminated early and you have a sponsorship opening–then maybe you can put together a better giveaway.  However, if you’re going to label it “fan appreciation” make sure 90% of the people get one.

Step Three:  Get The Players Involved

Oh, this is a tough one.  Every player is different, of course, but they’re not necessarily going to want to do this.  Especially not before a game.  Bribe them, cajole them, do whatever you have to do, but if they’re not going to the playoffs anyway, a few of them can give up 30 minutes before the game to meet fans at the gate and help hand out those grab bags.  Fans will love them for it.  Yes, I know hockey players have to warm up.  Figure out a way.  It’s the last game and there’s no more games.  Fans won’t be nearly as willing to complain about the duplicate magnet schedule if it was given to them by a player.  People who arrive late will miss it, but they’ll know better for next season.

Step Four:  A Recognition Event

Just brainstorming here:

  • All the fans go on the field or ice after the game (players come out?) and the drone/rafters takes a photo
  • Some other drone-photo fan photo thing
  • Some other post-game event where photos are taken and shared via social media so that everyone will know how much you really appreciate your fans.

Yeah, it’s hokey–but it’s the thought that counts, it’s optional, and it’s a way to say good-bye to the stadium, the staff, and the players after the last game of the season.

Step Five:  Seating Access

If it’s the last game, with no playoffs, and you’re worried about ticket sales, an option might be to make some of the “special” areas into general admission to the game.  The PigPen, the Bacon Strip, the Hot Corner, the Sky Lounges, the Ice Suite–let folks check it out during the game and if may result in group sales for the following season.  Have a ticket rep there to take names and get leads.  Or, you could sell tickets in those areas but charge only regular ticket prices if you want to limit the potential crowds.  Staff is sometimes tight at the end of the season so the tendency is to skimp on stuff, but it could be an investment in the next season.

Step Six:  Dollar Menu

I know concessions are a major profit center for the teams.  And, in the case of the arena, the team doesn’t even really control it.  It might be tempting to try to maximize one last “opening” before the offseason–especially if supplies are running low and staff to run the stands is also at a season-low.  However, if there’s not going to be a playoff series, I recommend putting in a “dollar menu” for the final, “fan appreciation” game.  I know stuff is reasonable compared to the “big” leagues, but still, $4.50 for a water is expensive.  Remember, this is “fan appreciation” day, not “line your pockets” appreciation day.  Come up with the items for the “dollar” menu:  Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Chicken Sandwiches, Chicken Tenders could be $2, Water, fountain sodas, plain pizza slices, popcorn, pretzels–and everything can be “while supplies last” at each stand so if it gets sold out you just post it and folks can move on or choose something else.  You might find yourself with more net profit, anyway, based on volume.

Of course, you can have a sidewalk sale at the team store, too, and even maybe small gift cards shoved into some of those grab bags to generate last-game merchandise sales.

Step Seven:  Season Ticket Holders

I know that Season Ticket “Members” get other perks, which vary from team to team.  In fact, I’ve got a post to write about that given my history as a STH with IronPigs, Phantoms, Reading Fightins, SteelHawks, and SteelFC.  However, it is a “bad look” for you to hold a “Fan Appreciation” day and have the fans who have been there every single game for you feel left out–or get the same crooked-printed T-Shirt that every other fan got.  So what can you do?

Have the ticket reps come around to their clients–the IronPigs did a great job with this during the season this year, just to check on things–and bring along an extra giveaway.  Extra hats that didn’t get in the grab bags, extra baseballs from the charity raffle, or just extra grab bags that didn’t get distributed, can be given to the ticket members who are recognized by the rep as being the actual account holder sitting in his/her seat.  Even if it’s just one per account, it’s the personal touch.  This might be harder to do at hockey–perhaps have the reps sitting at tables with stuff stashed underneath, and let account leaders know via email that they should stop by to say good-bye for the season and that they’ll get an extra surprise.  This doesn’t have to be a big thing, just the personal touch on the last game to remind the best customers that you appreciate their personal support on game day.  You’ll miss some, but again, the personal side of it is what I’m going for here.  And again, if there’s going to be playoffs, then this isn’t as necessary because you’re going to be promoting those games–only if it’s the last game with none left to come.

Finally, if there are players who are on the DL, or are not playing in the game but are in the facility and able, have them come around with the reps or sit at the table and help thank the season ticket holders.

……………………………….

So there you have it.  That’s how I’d make “Fan Appreciation Day” in to a positive, rather than a negative.  And if you decide to just not have it, then at least it’s a zero rather than a negative.  Recently, I feel like it has been such a farce that it’s not even worth having if you’re not going to put the effort into it, and now I’ve given the blueprint for how to do it.

OK, now get out there and make those fans feel appreciated!

@Kram207

 



Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level

7 replies

  1. Kram – I could not have written a better summary than you did. My hat’s off to you. Lets go Phantoms !

  2. I like your ideas, especially about giving some recognition to season ticket holders. I’ve had my season tickets for the Pigs since before my seats are bolted into the concrete! I knew my Rep the first few years, but since he left for another job, I have been passed around and currently don’t have a rep, I’m just in the “pool”. I watched all season as STH’s near me were visited, but no one ever checked on my seats. It would be nice to know there is someone specific to go to when I have a question, or just to thank for taking care of my account. Other than a few employees I talk to at most games, no one knows I’m a STH.

    • It’s not the way it should be, but sometimes it’s true: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I’d reach out to Director of Guest Experience Brad Ludwig and ask who your rep is. Right now on the directory they only have Nick and Cody as Managers of Memberships, so perhaps they’ll be adding (or subtracting?) during the off-season. Touch base from your end, then, and let them know what you expect as a season ticket holder–as nicely as possible because they may not have known you were their client until that moment, either! Hope that helps.

  3. Outside the box idea?

    Get a “fan appreciation” sponsor to point up some cash and take 3/4 of the money to have one (or more) FORMER IronPigs stars to come hand out grab bags at the gate or otherwise help participate in festivities. How much would it take to convince Rich Thompson to take an accounting break and spend Labor Day weekend vacationing in Allentown, for example?

  4. If I think back to the beginning, the phantoms gave me a tour of the building prior to completion, I got to sign a beam, I got to tour the building prior to opening night, I got dozens of pucks signed over the years, I got a few broken sticks just by asking, I got to skate on the ice twice, I got photos with too many players to count, …etc. of course this was in the first 3 seasons, the building years. I did not feel that love last year. Skating and pics with the players were on Wednesdays I believe. You may want to fact check that…lol.

    Looking back on the pigs, players were readily accessible, autographs were freely given, the ushers and other staff knew our names, the food was good and affordable, you would get all the give away items even if you couldn’t attend, our tickets rep would save us one ….etc. Similarly, that is my recollection of the first 5 years. They also lost their shine a bit in the latter years. We did not attend a game last year so I cannot pass judgement on this past season.

    Not as eloquent as your post 😀 Bottom line is when your included you feel appreciated, even in the smallest role.

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