SBJ/August 1-7, 2011/NFL Special Report

Former NFL exec offers league some advice

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The NFL lockout has come to an end, and it’s back to business as usual for the league and its 32 member clubs. But should it be?

Since the end of winter, the thought of no football this fall has caused a chill of despair to enter into the hearts of all fans, regardless of the colors they bleed. “Business as usual” is not going to cut it.

As a former NFL team executive, I would like to lend some advice to all NFL personnel as they kick off a new collective-bargaining agreement and the 2011 season. It’s the perfect opportunity to rebuild relationships with fans and clients and to solidify their fandom.

1.
Do not raise prices

If NFL teams do only one thing to give back to the fans, this should be it. It would be very easy to come out of the lockout claiming that the new CBA cost the teams more than they bargained for — their reasoning for why prices have to be raised. Don’t do it; it’s bogus. Even if it’s true, do not place the burden on your consumers this season. Show them that you appreciate their patience and dedication with a price freeze. If you need more revenue to foot the bill, open up the casino category. That should immediately help with expenses.

2. Have a fan appreciation experience during season kickoff
I am not just talking about calling the first game Fan Appreciation Day. It’s much more detailed than that. You have to provide fans and season-ticket holders with true value, so get creative with the experience you create. Have fun with it: Involve players, create special content, give away real items, provide real value. Let the real people who pay your salaries know that you mean business. At the concession stands, offer $1 sodas, and price other items at a real savings. Your cost of a fountain drink including a cup is less than 75 cents, so pass the savings on to your customers and show them that you appreciate them.

3. Meet with all sponsors individually and update them on revelations
Set up meetings immediately with your sponsors and tell them about the new CBA. Keep them in the loop and inform them of any changes that may affect how they do business. It’s important to communicate to them and make sure they understand all the nuances of the new agreement. The more honest you are with them, the more they will feel like part of the process and true partners.

4. Offer all sponsors bonus inventory to help market their brands
I do not care how sold out you think you are. Every team has inventory that it can provide to its clients. Be thoughtful about your clients’ brands and their goals, and give them some inventory that fits their needs to show them you appreciate their business and understanding.

TENNESSEE TITANS
Titans players hand-deliver tickets to season-ticket holders.
5.
Owners and executives should commit to social media engagement

This is a great opportunity to enter into social media and to interact in a strategic way with your fans. This means every owner, player and executive. Just make sure you have a well thought out strategy before you jump in. Show the fans that you are real and that you care about them and their needs.

6. Give extra perks and benefits to season-ticket holders
One day of appreciation is not enough for season-ticket holders, club seat members and suite holders. Do nice things all season. Bring select folks down to the field for pregame warm-ups, and I do not mean just the high-priced VIPs. There are many highly paid business executives at teams; earn your pay and create something of unique value that the fans will love. Do not just fall into the rut of the same old cookie-cutter promotions.

7. Players should commit to signing autographs after games for the season
Players should not be excused from showing the love to fans and paying customers. Many do this anyway, but all players should have to spend some time after games signing autographs and meeting fans with smiles and the respect they deserve. Players need to invest time with the real people who pay their salaries. If they do, it will not only be good for business, but it also will benefit the players and the image of the league.

These tips are not the lost secrets of success. It’s not as much about knowing what to do as it is about actually doing it. If you are at the league or a team and are a true custodian of your brand, devise a plan to win back the hearts and minds of the fans. Let them know you care and mean business. It can help the despair they felt over the lockout fade and make them less hesitant to spend more money on your sport and its products. n

Lou Imbriano (lou@trinity1.com), former CMO of the New England Patriots and COO of the New England Revolution, is CEO of TrinityOne Sports (Trinity1.com), and author of “Winning the Customer.” Follow him on Twitter @LouImbriano.


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