As each sporting season winds down, the annual question arises, “What Should We Do For Fan Appreciation?” Giving away prizes seems to be the big thing and for a day or weekend our facilities are close to if not full.
The rest of the season can be questionable in attendance. We work hard to get season ticket holders, premium seat holders and groups. We give ‘experiences’ to select groups and occasionally to season ticket members. We try to create an amazing event for premium and corporate. All this is well and good, but at the end of the day, shouldn’t we be showing our appreciation daily? Why do season ticket holders often feel that they are most recognized just prior to renewals? Why do we make an occasional call to them to ‘see how they are doing?’ and make it seem like we care? What can we do to care?
People nowadays have many places they can choose to spend their hard-earned money. Entertainment choices are far greater than they used to be. While many of our sports venues keep raising prices, the true appreciation and value of those who support them most often does not. And yet we expect them to continue to spend their hard earned money on us and be loyal. My question is, why?
Think about a restaurant you go to that you really feel special when you go. Or a store you shop at that they recognize you and you feel special when you go there. Or an organization or club or church that you attend that when you go, you feel included and your presence is appreciated. Now think about how our members feel when they attend a game, day after day or week after week and ushers don’t recognize them or treat them as if they are first timers, they are not visited by those who sold to them, and there is no feeling of inclusion or special when attending.
Years and years ago, if you read clips from ‘back then’, you saw facilities full and people engaging with each other. You see pictures of people wearing branded merch that only they were allowed to have as they were members of this exclusive club. You saw them attend early to watch warm ups, or have a club that was just theirs at no extra charge. Some were even given names as season members such as Diamond Club or Red and Blue Club, etc. They were special.
Then came the 80’s when things changed and where it used to be about those who supported us, it became all about us and we expected the fans to rush to us and be part of us. We took away many of the things that made them feel valued. We gave them a season member gift, a picnic, etc. and said, ‘yep, we’ve done our job.’ And now we sit and wonder…where are our members? Why are they dropping in numbers unless we are a winning team or a team that uses it for leverage for upcoming all-star games or multiple properties where you have to support the weakest one to get the best one?
We’re entering the 2020’s. What can we do to make people feel valued, appreciated and have them want to be a part of us again?
If we call them members, what are we doing to make them members other than have them buy season passes? What does it mean to be a member of a wine club? A craft beer club? Gyms? xxx of the month club? Now what does it mean to be a member of our club? Can you see why a wine club might be a lot more appealing than a membership to our games? The wine club I belong to, Naked Wines, includes me in all sorts of things. I pay the monthly fee which is an autodeduct, but I get greatly reduced prices, stories/pictures, personalized messages from some of the wine growers, I get education about the wines, I get an offer EVERY MONTH for something extra…a free bottle of wine of their recommendation (and if I don’t like it I can pick a different) , a free mega bottle at select times, cards I can use as gifts for holidays in which I can give a bottle of wine and the recipient gets $100 already in their club account if they join and I get a reward, etc. If I don’t like a wine they will credit me. I feel valued. Some of the craft beer clubs give you specialty shirts/jackets each year, samplings, freebies, discounts, etc.
What do we offer? A discount. “Your own personal rep”…for what, I’m not sure and many teams have such turnover I wouldn’t even include that line. A season member party. A gift tbd. And done. What could/should we be doing year round to show we value them? Do we send a player message /fun story throughout the year? What can we give them free one month? How can we break the chain of what we’ve been doing since 1980 or 90 and show value in a different way? What do we do monthly? Why do we still insist on charging them significantly, raising prices yearly, when they are the only people loyal to us? How can we best reward that loyalty? Think monthly not yearly. Think different. Think ‘wow.’ Think how business members could best join our ‘club’ … investing in a corporate bank in which they can spend the money however they want…prime seats for a game, a suite, all inclusive, etc.
How can we best strategize our pricing strategies for our most loyal people? One team told me it didn’t matter what they charged, so they might as well charge as close to regular as possible, since those are people who like the sport anyway. Nothing says we appreciate you coming back more than keeping the price high.
Yes, we are a business. Yes, we must make money. But as season member numbers keep dwindling, why gouge them? If I can get the biggest savings (and a significant one) by being a member, then that’s what I will do. If I can buy additional tickets to select games at a reduced rate, I will do that. If I can purchase these prior to general public at a reduced rate, all the more reason I will buy additional. If I can get a special group rate because I am a season member, I just may introduce more people to your product. If you have lots of suites available and offer me one at a reduced rate, I just may introduce my company to your product. But let me know that this is a strategy you created just for me, your most loyal customer. And remind me about it throughout the year. Give me an early time frame to purchase this in so I can plan.
Personalize our connection to our most loyal members. In today’s world of videos, messaging, face time, etc. what are we doing to personalize our connection? Do you go out into the venue and video yourself saying high and showing them the team warming up for a few seconds? Do you take a picture or go to a new concession booth opening and video a tasting of some of the new offerings and send it? I’m not talking a video made by marketing to go out to the masses. I’m talking about you….the person who wants to keep that member year after year. A video of some charitable work your department or staff is doing for the community, a funny monthly video of the xxx Report, your own little monthly video ‘news cast’ of what is going on in your team world, can do wonders. A personally signed birthday card, a fun birthday card that is a picture in the facility that you create with your mascot holding a sign saying ‘happy birthday xxx,’ something that conveys “I think about you. I care. You are important to me.’
I could (and have) created a list much longer than this, but the key is this: we have to reverse the trend that the members owe us instead of us owing the members. We have to give them fun, a reason to smile, a reason to want to open up an email or a note, a feeling when they come to our games that they are part of the inner circle. They’re not just a fan. They are a member. And, as such, we need to create the club that makes it a true valued membership with perks, rewards, insights, and monthly caring. Our ‘point system’ to redeem for things is so not a membership perk. It is, more often than not, a convenience we shoved off on our part to not show our most valued members their value but rather let them select ‘what they want.’ What they want is to not have to work for their appreciation, belong to a true club with a membership that others want to be part of, and be given opportunities and insights others won’t have.
If you are approaching the offseason, now is the time to meet with your team/sales staff and brainstorm what a membership to a club really means. From there, design your program.
Kathy Burrows, SOS…Sold Out Seating…Helping YOU create 2020 vision and beyond for your team.
For strategic planning, sales/retention/leadership training: firstname.lastname@example.org
Will I see YOUR team/staff/you at the Seattle Sports Marketing and Career Fair In October? So much to experience, so many key people to meet, so many ways to advance your career…at so little a price!