SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/In Depth

Team execs share their in-game approach

SportsBusiness Journal’s Ryan Baucom asked team executives to provide insight on how they review options for improving the in-game experience, and what fans could expect to see next. The following are highlights of their responses, which were submitted via e-mail.

How do you evaluate ideas for improving the in-game experience?

The Minnesota Twins survey fans to measure opinions on such elements as customer service, wait times and pricing.
Patrick Klinger, vice president of marketing, Minnesota Twins:
The Minnesota Twins rely on a combination of fan surveys and internal review/discussion to gauge the impact of the overall in-game experience. Surveys are used to measure everything from customer service, wait times, pricing, music selections, volume levels, video elements, etc. The ongoing objective is to keep said elements fresh and relative to as wide of an audience as possible while maintaining a strong family-friendly culture.

Pam Gardner, president of business operations, Houston Astros: We certainly visit and study other stadiums, businesses and teams in the sports, entertainment and hospitality industries. We research future trends — trade shows, reading trade magazines, relationships with other teams, and through other sources of media — to understand best practices and future trends. We talk to our customers — focus groups, in-game communications and surveys — to get their ideas.

Larry Miller, president, Portland Trail Blazers: One thing we have done is we have given our people in charge of that area permission to fail, to not be afraid of trying new things or experimenting with new ideas. If our people are afraid to fail or fear the repercussions of failing, then they are not going to push the envelope and strive for that “next big idea” and settle for the status quo. That being said, it is important to learn from our failures and build off our successes. We are catering to 20,000 people and everyone has different opinions about what is going on inside the arena. So we try to cater to all tastes inside the building. … One timeout there may be something for the basketball purists, while the next timeout we may feature a funny mascot video — that way there is something for everyone at our games.

Larry Hoepfner, executive vice president of business operations, Columbus Blue Jackets: We seek periodic feedback from season-ticket holders via surveys and season-ticket-holder meetings, and receive constant feedback from fans via phone and e-mail. All ideas and feedback are based on how the proposed changes might fit into our overall game experience objectives and plans.

Alex Martins, president, Orlando Magic: As an idea is presented, we look at how it will fall in line with the Magic brand and if it is in line with our target audience. … The NBA is very collaborative among the teams and we share best practices of those elements which enhance the fan experience. If something is making a difference, we will find a way to implement it into our game presentation for our fans.

What is fan feedback telling you about what fans want to see/have/access in their fan experience?

Klinger: Fans are looking for more access to the game in terms of information on players and plays. Beyond general stats, fans are looking for incremental access to replays, monitoring balls and strikes, etc. Fans are also looking for incremental value in relation to loaded tickets, food and beverage specials/ordering capability, merchandise options, etc.

Gardner: Technology — utilize smartphones more to communicate, replays, order food/merchandise. Fans like spaces where they can socialize and gain different experiences in the ballpark. Fans like to feel like they are part of the team and brand through communications and specialty events. Fans love to get close to the players. Continue to bring themed events to the venues and give fans many new experiences like concerts and other entertainment experiences. Fans love humor and great ballpark entertainment. … Fans also look for choice and quality of food they purchase along with price point. Finally, fans are being entertained visually with HD-quality video and ribbon boards in the ballpark and HD-quality monitors throughout the concourse, club and suite levels.

Portland Trail Blazers fans have told the team they like being part of the show and not just sitting back and watching.
We have heard from our fans that they like feeling as if they are a part of the show and not just sitting back “watching” a show. The fans in Portland are so passionate they are willing to participate in the in-game experience without much prodding. Our fans are also extremely smart so they will take it upon themselves to start chants when they feel the team needs a little boost, but they also participate with prompts from our big screen.

Hoepfner: Regarding seeing — they want to see more replays and have game action available to them. In terms of access and experience, the behind-the-scenes, off-ice experience and access to and with players is very important.

Martins: Fan feedback is telling us that they desire more interactive experiences as well as the opportunity to interact with players as much as possible. We attempt to accomplish this through the many fan interactive elements of the new Amway Center. Fans want to feel included in the entire experience, so in our new building, Amway Center, we offer amenities on all levels (including access to bars and lounges).

What’s next for the in-game experience? What trends do you see?

Klinger: Technology will be the single-largest driver of change in the future game experience. If we aren’t there already, we are quickly approaching a day when all fans will rely on their mobile device to enhance their in-game experience via in-facility applications.

Gardner: More with smartphones/mobile promotions to sell tickets/discounts at ballpark team stores and concessions and create amenities and improve convenience. More branding, marketing and entertainment at the point of purchase throughout the ballpark. … Continue to create events for all demographic segments. Invest and keep improving food and retail experiences. Finally, a high level of service (a five-star service culture) for teams in the stadiums for all customers and an upgraded level of service and perks for premium customers (suites, clubs and prime seating areas) is such a focus. … We will also be monitoring how the 3-D video experience develops in ballparks and stadiums as we move forward.

Miller: Fans want to have more information, access and control of the experience — that is something we are definitely watching. These days you can sit at your computer and control what camera angles, replays or stats are displayed — it gives the fans the ultimate individualistic customized experience. However, despite having all of that control, you aren’t at the event. If we could deliver that customized technology to fans at the game through a handheld device or some other display, I think they would be getting the best of both worlds.

Hoepfner: For Columbus specifically, the in-arena HD experience is going to take off in coming years. Whether that is delivered en masse to all fans or delivered individually via a number of personal devices, no sport is better in HD than hockey. Delivering that feature to fans in different ways is going to be important.

Martins: In Orlando, the in-game experience is evolving to be more authentic and rely more on the fans. Instead of constant promotions, we are making fans a part of the game — showing their passion, fun and competitiveness. Utilizing the Magic TV board to highlight fans in the crowd is making them more connected to the team and enhancing their overall experience. Technology will definitely lead the way of future trends, focusing on digital signage, the use of hand-held portable devices and smartphones, and enhanced statistical information delivered through technology.

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