SBJ/July 16-22, 2012/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: Shifting interests

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  • How teams can best manage season-ticket-holder relocation

    Kevin Shulman is not entirely happy about MetLife Stadium.

    Born and raised in New Jersey, Shulman has been a New York Jets season-ticket holder for almost half a century — an “original sinner,” as he told me. He and his family had seven seats in rows 3 and 4 at the Meadowlands, just behind the Jets’ bench.

    When the new Jets stadium came along, Shulman says, “For 46 years of loyalty, I got a gun put to my head.”

    Shulman was paying $125 per game for each of his seats before the new construction project was completed. The new price tag for MetLife Stadium? Seven personal seat licenses at $35,000 each, game tickets at $350 each, and instead of being in the third row from the field, his seats are now nine rows from the top of the lower bowl. “Every single game I go to, I resent it,” Shulman says.

    Ouch.

    For those who are building new stadiums, the danger of alienating longtime supporters is one of the most delicate situations to address. How can teams best deal with the imminent displacement of many of their best fans when a new stadium is built?

    RELOCATION ADVICE

    Market research: Teams must be sure they understand what they should be charging relative to the market and to others with similar situations and venues.

    Communication strategy: Current supporters should be the first to know about new developments, new opportunities. Teams must over-communicate through multiple channels (email, online, snail mail, phone calls).

    Human touch: Fans want personalized treatment, especially if they’re feeling displaced. Proactive, one-on-one interaction is critical.
     
    The right people: From the sales staff to the customer service staff and support roles, train them well, and cross-train on operations, service, and sales so that each one can field questions and act when necessary.

    Lead time: The displaced season-ticket holder can’t feel rushed or bullied; give that person information and space to make an informed decision, with enough lead time to give everyone the same courtesy.

    “There is no perfect solution,” says Rob Sullivan, senior vice president of consumer and premium sales and service for the Jets. Their 18-month process started in February of 2009, with a 30-page glossy “playbook” sent to each season-ticket holder — a good initial move, especially for older, more-traditional fans.

    “It was a lot of information to give them at one time,” says Sullivan in hindsight. “It was a good piece, but it had so much in it, it was overwhelming to some.”

    A website component was also created, using Ballena technology to allow people to view the seats’ sight lines. Season-ticket holders could either buy their seats over the phone or were invited to visit a special preview center at the construction site.

    About one in four chose to visit the site, but Sullivan says they underestimated the time fans would need to decide. “We had planned for 30 minutes each, but it took closer to 45 to 60. People had lots of questions, and we didn’t want to rush them.”

    To help fans understand the new PSL concept, Sullivan made sure the sales staff was well-trained in sales techniques as well as the details of the new stadium and the improved game-day experience the PSLs would ultimately provide.

    It’s easy to criticize after the fact, but overall, the Jets did a good job of communicating with their longtime supporters to help ease the pain of change. The reality is that passionate fans will often skew the best efforts of any team to clearly communicate, choosing instead to hear what they want to hear.

    The San Francisco 49ers are trying to avoid that perception, as they move from Candlestick Park to a new venue in nearby Santa Clara in 2014. Jamie Brandt, vice president of ticketing and suites for the 49ers, has been involved in similar projects at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa in 1998 and University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006.

    “Right or wrong, PSLs have had a bad rap ever since they were introduced in the mid-’90s,” says Brandt. “The key to the transition is communication: Give the fans an honest view of the situation, communicate the benefits, and make each season-ticket holder feel special in the process.”

    The Niners call their product a stadium builders license instead of a personal seat license — a good idea, adding to the perceived transparency to fans of what the money is for. The No. 1 communication tool they’re using is the official website dedicated to the project (www.NewSantaClaraStadium.com), along with emails, personalized letters and telephone calls.

    Dynamo fans hungry for a new stadium didn’t complain about price increases or seat relocation.
    Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
    Passions are bound to run high in football, the nation’s No. 1 sport in fan avidity and cost per event, but is it easier to relocate fans of other sports? The answer appears to be yes — especially if you don’t have to sell a seat license.

    The Houston Dynamo unveiled its new, privately funded BBVA Compass Stadium in May without requiring fans to buy seat licenses. “We didn’t hear any complaints about price increases or being displaced,” says Steven Powell, the Dynamo’s executive vice president of business development.

    The franchise had been playing at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston since its move from San Jose in December of 2005, and fans were hungry for a new facility. Indeed, the Dynamo’s inventory of 1,100 seats was sold out from marketing only to its current season-ticket-holder base.

    The Dynamo was also dedicated to over-communication. The team partnered with IOMedia to construct a virtual online venue (houstondynamo.io-media.com), and through a strong positive sales effort, according to Powell, the Dynamo was expected to have 12,000 season tickets sold when the team played its first match at its new home, more than double its prior season-ticket-holder count.

    The bottom line? A new stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime event for a fan, and passions are bound to run high, both positively and negatively. Start early, be transparent, train staff well, and communicate often to your best supporters, and most every fan-transition challenge can be minimized.

    Bill Guertin (bill@The800PoundGorilla.com) is CEO of Stadium Gorilla, a professional sports ticket sales training and consulting company.

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  • Organizations dismiss social media as fad at their own risk

    The same way that I’ve grown up watching non-New Yorkers badmouth the Yankees for “buying championships,” I’ve noticed many people in recent years dismiss social media as a fad.

    The problem with most of these critics is that they’re simply being hypocritical. Non-Yankees fans wish that their favorite team had a payroll that enabled them to sign pricey free agents, while those who complain about how much they dislike social media are almost guaranteed to have a Facebook account. Furthermore, these people are also likely to be among the more than 398 million people who Facebook reports use its social network six out of seven days of the week.

    I don’t believe it does any good to complain about facts of life that aren’t changing any time soon. I pity anyone who expects the Yankees to stop signing top free agents or predicts that social media will just go away.

    We are in the midst of one of the most monumental shifts our world has seen when it comes to how humans interact with one another. People don’t call to catch up with friends and family anymore, because we know what they’ve been up to from seeing it in their personal newspapers, also known as Facebook and Twitter.

    The power of social media can be summarized by looking at, arguably, the five most important aspects of multimedia that have evolved since the 18th century.

    The world of multimedia essentially began back in 1721, when the first U.S. newspaper was printed, and has continued to progress over the years with the inventions of radio, television, the Internet and, you guessed it, social media.

    The same way that listening to a game on the radio is nice, but doesn’t hold a candle to watching it on TV, social media has advanced our worlds by giving people (and brands) the power to tell their stories via pictures, videos and voices, rather than just the latter.

    How teams are adjusting

    Brands of all types have taken notice, all but giving up on using ads that ask people to visit their websites, and instead opting to focus on obtaining “likes” on Facebook. It makes sense, as they realize that this is their best shot at influencing consumers, since they are spending such an inordinate amount of time “wandering around” on Facebook.

    Professional sports teams have made a conscious effort to become more social in recent years, and while I believe that most NCAA teams are a little bit behind them, it’s encouraging to see that all teams are working to connect with their fans via social media.

    The biggest downside with social media today is that with so much out there, and what’s hot constantly changing, organizations often try running before walking, thus losing focus of their social media priorities.

    While Facebook and Twitter have established themselves as the clear-cut social networks, there has also been tremendous buzz about Google+, Pinterest and Instagram, among many others.

    Dabbling with different social networks and apps can be beneficial if an organization is maximizing its potential on the most prominent social network, but being the master of one domain is much more beneficial than being the jack-of-all-trades.

    The trickiest part of social media is that it’s still so new when compared to other business facets of an organization. Marketing, advertising and public relations, for example, have been around forever, and thus have proven methods and philosophies.

    Most organizations fall into the trap of approaching social media with a salesmen’s mind-set, as if it were traditional marketing. The problem is that social media is a different beast than these other categories, and it needs to be strategized accordingly.

    When brands post links on their Facebook any more than sparingly, fans view it as them saying, “Oh, you came onto Facebook to look at pictures of your niece’s 2nd birthday party? Well, we don’t care! Click here, read this, and then buy that. NOW!”

    While people are on Facebook, they have a mind-set different from when they’re watching TV or browsing another website. If brands are trying to sell to them in the same manner they do via traditional advertising, they will likely be tuned out and have their future page posts hidden from view.

    The future of social media in sports

    When we look back at the evolution of a fan’s at-home game-viewing experience, it’s fascinating to think about the improvements from radio to TV, and then TV’s own advancements to color, cable, DVR, HD and 3-D. Similarly, I expect professional and collegiate teams to continue improving their focus on their fans’ social media experience.

    While teams want fans to come out to the stadium, they also will continue to concentrate on the growing opportunities to reach their fans via social media.

    I anticipate teams posting more and more of their best content on their Facebook pages instead of their websites, thus posting fewer links that ask fans to leave Facebook in order to consume that content.

    To continue giving sponsors the value that banner ads provide them on their website, teams will integrate their sponsors (and their sponsors’ Facebook pages) into multiple aspects of the team’s Facebook page.

    Lastly, one of the most telling signs that social media is here to stay will come very soon, as every organization, which presumably has a marketing and communications department, will also have a social media department. Instead of assigning one person from marketing, there will be several full-time employees whose job descriptions will consist of strictly social media-based responsibilities. This will lead to the more effective implementation of social media strategies, which will ultimately benefit the initiatives of all other departments.

    Still doubting? Don’t look now … it’s already happening.

    Jeff Weiner (jweiner@esblsocialmedia.com) is CEO of ESBL Social Media, which helps athletes, sports personalities and NCAA teams expand their social media metrics and convert them into revenue.

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  • Why people development is a wise investment for executives

    More than 10 years ago, I authored the book “Why Good Coaches Quit; How to Deal with the Other Stuff.” The title could have been “Why Good Leaders Quit,” or sports executives. Good coaches and executives are still quitting. Why?

    These people are often asked to do more with less and, by the way, do it a little quicker. Stress is a good thing; it prepares us for action. However, too much stress, and we can break down quickly. At the very least, we begin to make mistakes. At the highest levels of performance, this can be quite costly.

    With the challenges facing intercollegiate athletics and professional sports, leaders of our industry are at a greater risk of becoming more insulated, sheltered and isolated. While trying to stay connected, their attempts are often superficial. Communication becomes less meaningful and, as a result, relationships suffer. In an effort to keep up, the most important asset of the enterprise is sacrificed: the people.

    While many athletes use sports psychologists to help them with their performance, most sports executives do not. Athletes often spend 80 percent of their time on practice and 20 percent on performance. In business, executives show up the first day and are expected to perform perfectly right away. They rarely take time out for practice, self-development, reflection and recovery.

    In my role as a psychotherapist and consultant in sports and business, I am seeing an alarming number of leaders who are overwhelmed, stressed out and increasingly exhausted.

    What can we do?

    It begins with self-management. The effective management of others is a result of effective management of oneself. (“Want to be a leader? Manage yourself first,” Nov. 22-28, 2004, SportsBusiness Journal). Paying attention to one’s own behavior, increasing self-awareness, will allow for better “in-game” adjustments.

    In any area of performance — sports, academics, theater or the arts — sustained optimal performance always comes down to the same thing: making good decisions under pressure. If that’s true, then people must be taught how to think.

    Learning environment

    Walking through a football practice, I am confronted with two players: the punter and kicker. Both have been struggling with their results and are upset with the head coach. They have been called out in front of the team for poor performance. Feeling embarrassed and angry, they are determined to not let their team down. They will try harder. On their next opportunity, the punter shanks one and the kicker misses an easy field goal. I guess trying harder is not always better.

    The Head 'Head' Coach Says

    1. Pay attention to your stress level. Stress prepares us for action, but too much causes a breakdown. Breakdowns can be costly.

    2. Take time for self-development and recovery.

    3. Make your messages meaningful. In an attempt to stay connected through multimedia, our messages can become superficial, causing relationships to suffer.

    4. Manage your behavior first to bring out the best in your team.

    5. Develop the person first, and improvement in performance will follow.

    Neuroscience teaches that managing thoughts, emotions and physiology can affect not only the ability to perform, but also the ability to learn. Fear and anger limit perceptions. Strong emotions, positive or negative, will affect thinking, decision-making and, ultimately, actions and behaviors.

    Well-intentioned leaders and coaches who try to motivate by judgment and shame are missing the point. Anger increases the production of stress hormones and ultimately compromises decision-making. It’s not like the punter and kicker are trying to do poorly.

    The job of a manager or coach is to bring out the best in others. They must remember how their behavior affects the behavior of others. If the coach wants better results, he must help them. He must manage his own emotions and demonstrate a desire to help, support, encourage and instill confidence. If a coach believes in them as people, the athletes will give their best effort. If they sense that the coach has given up on them, it’s all over.

    If an executive is committed to creating optimal-performing teams, he or she must make sure that the culture is consistent with an optimal-learning environment. The critical differentiator to sustained optimal performance comes down to how one manages his or her thoughts and emotions. That’s what people development is about.

    People development

    Professional sports have and continue to be invested in player development. However, very little is invested in the people side of sports and sports business. While talent and skill are important, they are actually poor predictors of success on their own. It would be like someone who has a high IQ but can’t think on their feet or get along with others.

    Develop the person first, and improvement in their performance will follow:

    • Invest in the personal and professional development.

    • Stress the importance of self-management; everyone is in a position of leadership.

    • Help people understand that their behavior is observable by others.

    • Provide coaching and support services to encourage learning more about themselves.

    Great business leaders, like great coaches, are not only knowledgeable, but they also have the relationships that make others perceive them as steady and clear in moments of crisis.

    It is not uncommon for those leaders to insulate themselves. Their inner circles can become very small. Typically, they don’t seek an outside perspective until there is a crisis that forces their hand. Great leaders know how to set aside ego.
    Asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength.

    Rick Aberman (aberm001@umn.edu), Ph.D., is director of peak performance with the Minnesota Twins and has been a sports psychotherapist and consultant for athletes, executives and teams in sports and business for 25 years.


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