SBJ/Sept. 2-8, 2013/In Depth

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  • Bucs set sail with fresh approach to business

    Less than two years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent a collection agency after Tom Wiebe, who like other Bucs fans at the time tried to walk away from the remainder of his season-ticket payments. The small business owner had been buying tickets since 1998 but felt fans were being treated poorly by the organization.

    Yet less than 24 months later, Wiebe literally and figuratively waves the Bucs flag, energized by a new off-the-field business approach that is challenging the image of a team as one awash in blackouts and fan apathy.

    “It was like you would leave two tickets on your windshield and there would be four when you got back,” Wiebe said of the fan attitude through 2011. “Now I feel like I am treated differently; they totally turned it around.”

    The Buccaneers have fired up their fan base by focusing on customer service and community outreach.
    Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    Twenty of the team’s last 24 home games, a period of three seasons, were not televised locally because the club did not sell out or come close, which the NFL requires to air games in-market. This season, the Bucs anticipate half to three quarters of their games to air, or at least as many as did in the previous three seasons combined. Season-ticket renewals are over 90 percent.

    “We haven’t given up on any games,” said Jason Dial, the club’s chief marketing officer who, just around the time Wiebe got his collection call, the Bucs hired from Procter & Gamble, where he oversaw sports marketing.

    Dial, 44, immediately set out to change the Bucs’ staid and game-centric business culture, a fact freely admitted internally.

    “It’s [no longer] here’s just the 10 tickets to the 10 games; that is what it was for so many years,” said Brian Ford, the team’s chief operating officer since 2006.

    Season-ticket holders are now called “members,” who can call a customer service representative, the number of which more than tripled after Dial arrived. Sixty-five “Can I Help” employees roam the stadium and parking lots on game day.

    Offseason events are the norm, from poker tournaments, food tastings, movie nights and meet-the-coach nights, to
    the draft day party. Even without a first-round draft pick this year, the team’s gathering attracted 15,000 fans, the league’s high for such events. Thirty-thousand fans attended open practice night last month.

    Just how hard are the Bucs trying to make personal connections?

    When a customer service rep called Wiebe to win him back for 2012 (he had paid the 2011 bill), he spent an hour on the phone with her. At one point, he recalled, he mentioned briefly that he would rather spend his money on an upcoming trip to a Disney resort with his wife to celebrate their anniversary. When they arrived in their hotel room, a bouquet of flowers greeted them with a card signed by the Bucs owners, head coach and players, wishing them a happy anniversary.

    “My boss [at the time] bought two tickets based on my story,” he said. “I had some clients who did the same based on my experience.”

    And Wiebe, who got a bottle of wine this year from the Bucs on his anniversary, is not an outlier. The club’s ranking in internal NFL surveys has skyrocketed from one of the worst in customer service in 2011 to, within a year, the best. And according to the Bucs’ own research, in 2012, 60 percent of those surveyed are very or somewhat happy with the team, up from 14 percent the year before.

    Tough challenges

    It’s not all peaches and cream suddenly for the Bucs, who still threaten to lead the league in blackouts.

    The 2008 financial crisis hit the Tampa region harder than most, and even today about one in 20 houses in the market is vacant. The Tampa Bay market ranks last in the NFL based on median income, 27th in home value and 27th based on unemployment.

    The Bucs say they would rather spend on ways to improve the fan experience than buy excess ticket inventory.
    Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    The region’s corporate base is minimal compared with other NFL markets. No Fortune 500 company is headquartered in the area, with individuals, compared to corporations, accounting for 75 percent of local revenue. The NFL average, Dial said, is the inverse.

    Then there are the area’s pristine beaches. The club’s research, based on a poll of 1,504 residents, found that the top choice of leisure is the beach, followed by theme parks, concerts and then a pro sports event. In fact, twice the number of respondents said they had been to a beach in the preceding year than had been to a sports event.

    With the hot weather not moderating until the middle of fall, early-afternoon Sunday games early in the season are particularly hard sells, especially in 65,890-seat Raymond James Stadium, which enjoys little shade.

    There are also self-inflicted wounds. The ticket waiting list grew to 200,000 after the 2003 Super Bowl-winning season, which is immortalized in the lobby of the team’s headquarters with life-size pewter statues of the top players and then-head coach Jon Gruden celebrating the clinching play. Two years later, the Glazer family, which owns the football team, bought Manchester United of the English Premier League. This led to worries in Tampa that the Bucs owners would focus more on their new team, and rumors spread that the family had diverted resources to the British club. It didn’t help that the press-shy Glazer family declined to speak publicly to refute the gossip.

    Then came the 2008 financial implosion, which wiped out the waiting list and led to attendance issues for the first
    time in nearly two decades. In 2009, the Glazers bought the extra tickets to ensure sellouts, but in 2010, unlike most teams facing empty rows, they rebuffed that policy.

    “As soon as they took them off TV it pissed a lot of people off,” said J.P. Peterson, a former local sports radio personality who spent 16 years in the market.

    All eight Bucs home games were blacked out in 2010 (despite a 10-6 record), six in 2011 and six last year, even with a new policy in 2012 allowing the team to sell only 85 percent of its tickets to get on TV. Fans were so upset, Peterson said he took to linking to illegal game streams on his Twitter account.

    The 2010 blackout acceptance by the Glazers came in tandem with modest spending on players that year, one without a salary cap or floor.

    The nadir for many fans came when the Glazers declined to buy the few thousand remaining tickets to the Sept. 11, 2011, game, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack and an occasion with deep meaning in a region with a large military population and base.

    The team remains steadfastly opposed to buying tickets to avoid blackouts. Instead of spending money to buy tickets, Ford, the team’s chief operating officer, explained the club is investing in marketing, events, customer service, the game experience and research. “Rather than just trying to prevent one blackout, we want to spend our money where it counts,” Ford said.

    Last year the team at its own expense wired the municipally owned stadium with Wi-Fi, a seven-figure expenditure. A new concessionaire, Aramark, came on board, and luxury suite holders once a season are given an all-expense-paid trip to an away game. Two hundred suite patrons are attending the Jets game in New Jersey on Sunday and staying at the Waldorf Astoria.

    The team hired Big Screen Network to produce in-game video, like the firm does for the Super Bowl, to energize the crowd. The club even took its float for the annual Mardi Gras-like Gasparilla parade that Tampa hosts every winter and turned it into a tailgate attraction.

    In the community

    Dial, who spent 18 years in Cincinnati and Michigan with P&G, likes to call Tampa a “tropical Midwestern town.” By this he means that winning, while important, is also rated equal to family values, underscoring the team’s heavy emphasis on getting its players involved locally.

    The team has cast off players not considered good characters. On a wall opposite the entrance to the team’s practice facility locker room, a “wall of fame” highlights Bucs players involved in the area.

    Next to it with equal billing is a “wall of shame,” featuring a half dozen or so players from other teams that are in the news for the wrong reasons. Featured on the board recently were Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, who was recently suspended under the league drug policy, and Joe McKnight, who was arrested on traffic warrants last month and released by the New York Jets.

    The club’s research shows that from 2011 to 2012, the number of fans who said they go to games because of the community ties of players rose from 4 percent to 11 percent.

    “More of the revenue we are seeing is being driven by players [being] a positive presence in the community,” Dial said.

    When the club hired Greg Schiano as head coach last year, Dial managed a 100-day marketing campaign to introduce the Northeasterner to the Tampa community, including an ad featuring a pep talk the coach used at a reception.

    The team also works closely with the local school district. One hundred and thirty schools are now signed up to a program in which students sell Bucs tickets. For each ticket they sell, the club donates $5 to that school’s fundraising campaign.

    The club is reaching out in more traditional ways, with year-round marketing and advertising campaigns. The
    branding slogan, adopted last year, is “It’s a Bucs Life,” which embraces a pirate image. Commercials feature fans in pirate garb and, of course, the stadium’s pirate ship blasting ear-shattering canons.

    The fan-outreach effort is not above taking a knock at other markets. An anthem created last year, and played as a video featuring players before games, starts with “I’ve seen the rain in Seattle, the frozen fields of Green Bay, the gray skies of the Motor City, Soldier Field on game day. The Metrodome is old (at which point in the video the collapse of the dome’s roof is shown). Cowboy Stadium is too expensive. Philly fans are annoying. Raider Nation is offensive.”

    The anthem then proceeds to tout the advantages of Tampa and concludes with, “It’s a Bucs life for me.”

    Then there is the more direct approach to getting fans to the game: cutting prices. The team lowered ticket prices on 35 percent of its seats, and more than halved in recent years the cost of its cheapest seats to $30. Fans also can spread the fees over a 12-month payment plan. And recent free agent acquisitions have also helped blunt the notion the Glazers will not spend the money necessary to win.

    Dr. Allen Haimes, a dentist who has been going to Bucs games since the late 1970s when he moved to Tampa from Philadelphia, said he hears from his own blue-collar clients about now going to the stadium.

    Haimes and his wife, Judith, are such avid fans that they once rescheduled, at what he called great expense, their son’s wedding because it conflicted with a home game. Their daughter’s nuptials included the Bucs mascot. Even he became disenchanted, though, and told Dial that if his dentistry was run the same way as the Bucs, it would go out of business.

    “We were treated like outsiders,” he said of the fans. “Now we know who the suits are. We know their names, we see them when we go into the stadium club, we talk to them, and they have made personal relationships. In the past we had no clue who they were. Jason [Dial] really went the extra mile to bridge that.”



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  • Jaguars searching for the right strategy

    The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are often lumped together: Florida NFL teams separated by a few hundred miles, modest fan bases, issues with attendance, struggling local economies, and owners who later bought English Premier League teams.

    That may be so (though the Jaguars have sold out since 2010), but the teams’ business responses to their similar straits are different, perhaps no more in selling out and pricing tickets.

    While the Buccaneers will not buy unsold tickets to ensure their games are televised locally and have been lowering ticket prices (see story, Page 1), the Jaguars do the opposite: committing to buy unsold tickets and raising prices.

    Unlike their fellow Floridians in Tampa, the Jaguars have shown a willingness to raise ticket prices and to buy unsold inventory to ensure all their games are on television.
    Photo by: Getty Images
    “We think we should have all of our games on TV because that is our biggest marketing tool,” said Mark Lamping, Jaguars president.

    Last year, the team sold out every game without purchases from owner Shad Khan, yet remains committed to snapping up unsold inventory if necessary this season.

    And with the Jaguars at the bottom of the league in local revenue, Lamping concluded, “we have to significantly increase our ticket prices.” The team hiked prices 2.4 percent for this season on average, and that was coming off a 2-14 campaign.

    When the Jaguars first came into the league in 1995, the club ranked second in local revenue. Now it is last, which is not a sustainable business model, Lamping said.

    The Jaguars are working in other ways to increase revenue: expanding their local footprint in part by adding more radio and television station affiliates, and playing one game a year in London for the next four years.

    The team has already seen a seven-figure revenue bump from London, Lamping said, largely because of the greater number of tickets sold (84,000 in London versus 66,000 in Jacksonville) and the higher London ticket price ($126 average versus $90).

    That too comes with expense increases, though Lamping is confident the team can reduce those.

    He was also instrumental in Khan’s purchase of Fulham Football Club this year, and the teams are working closely, already sharing athlete performance data.

    By contrast, Brian Ford, the Buccaneers’ chief operating officer, said his club and Manchester United have no business ties, describing his relationship with his counterpart in Manchester as defined only by friendship.
    Even the two teams’ in-stadium approach is somewhat different.

    The Jaguars plan to show RedZone on their video boards continuously during games, not just to meet fan demands for more content, but in part to lower bandwidth within the stadium.

    “We are not sure being tethered to your smartphone is the right thing to do long term,” Lamping said.

    The Jaguars plan to install the league’s largest video screens in the end zones in time for the 2014 season. The boards are part of $63 million in stadium improvements that also will include building a new fan platform in the north end zone to replace 7,000 seats currently covered by tarps.

    In contrast to the Jaguars’ approach to RedZone, the Buccaneers make RedZone available on an in-stadium app, and invested seven figures last year to upgrade Raymond James Stadium with Wi-Fi. RedZone is available in stadium clubs, and occasionally on video boards.



    Why not Tebow?

    Conventional wisdom is that the Jaguars’ business side would have loved to have signed local hero Tim Tebow, a move squelched early on by new general manager Dave Caldwell.

    Jaguars President Mark Lamping says that it isn’t so, and the decision not to try to sign the quarterback included his input.

    “Something of that magnitude was discussed at length with Dave, myself, Shahid [Khan], we talked a lot about that,” Lamping said. “He could have been a short-term answer to some timely issues.”

    On the other hand, Lamping added, the Jaguars could have lost season-ticket holders who would have viewed the move as a marketing gimmick.

    “I know we would have sold more tickets if we signed Tim Tebow, and we would have lost some season-ticket holders,” he said.

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  • Inside the team playbook

    Swimming upstream

    The Dolphins lost bids to host the Super Bowl and have failed to gain approval for a fan vote on stadium upgrades.
    Photo by: Getty Images

    The Miami Dolphins had a stormy offseason. In May, the team couldn’t convince the Florida Legislature to allow a public vote for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium. Shortly afterward, the team lost not one, but two Super Bowl bid votes among NFL owners. And a few months later, its president, Mike Dee, resigned to join the San Diego Padres.

    The south Florida market has long been a difficult one for sports teams, with so many outdoor entertainment options. Winning could cure some of the Dolphins’ struggles at the gate, but the team needs to quickly find a business leader. The club had hoped to have someone by the start of the season, though that is increasingly looking unlikely.



    How goes Raider Nation?
    Is Mark Davis looking to take the Raiders to Los Angeles?
    Photo by: Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders also lost their president this offseason, though this move was long expected. Amy Trask had been Al Davis’ right hand for some time, so after his death in 2011, Trask’s departure had widely been rumored.

    Davis’ son Mark now runs the team, and sources say he has been scouting locations in Los Angeles to move the franchise from its unappealing stadium in Oakland. The NFL would have to sign off on such a move, and that is uncertain given that the league has struggled for years to find an acceptable way to get the NFL back to Los Angeles.




    Grounded in New York
    The Jets’ quarterback controversy continues to fuel fan frustrations.
    Photo by: Getty Images

    While the New York Jets play in the nation’s largest market, they struggled last year in some games to sell out. With controversy on the field again enveloping the franchise, a poor start could once again raise the sellout/blackout question.

    Fans were already reeling from the failed Tim Tebow experiment last year, and now comes this offseason’s controversial quarterback competition between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith. The Jets have been cutting prices in the upper decks, but even that may not be enough if the circus continues full throttle.








    Another season in Qualcomm
    The Chargers have gotten nowhere on the stadium front.
    Photo by: Getty Images

    With no hope in sight for a new San Diego stadium, the Chargers must make do with Qualcomm Stadium, which Sports Illustrated recently wrote gave dumps a bad name. The club had pinned hopes on the city’s new mayor for a political breakthrough on the stadium front. But Bob Filner resigned over a sexual harassment scandal.

    It’s not an easy task to keep the stadium full with warm weather and beaches as tempting options, and if the team struggles, that job is even harder. The club this year is helped by a strong lineup of nondivisional home games, including national brands like the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Still, the news releases the team sent out days before its third preseason game warning of a pending blackout certainly could be a precursor of more to come.



    Dogged by legal issues
    Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has denied knowing about alleged fraud at his private truck stop company.
    Photo by: Getty Images

    Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s private truck stop company is the subject of a federal lawsuit in Tennessee. The case so far has not legally reached Haslam, but if it does, look for his father, Jim Haslam II, to assume control of the team.

    The question for the NFL at that point would be whether the league forces a sale. Haslam has denied knowing about the alleged fraud at his company, Pilot Flying J. Still, the surprise April raid on the company revived concerns in Cleveland about distracted ownership and potential control changes.

    The team’s preseason transpired with little to suggest the Pilot news had an effect. Dismal teams and horrific weather have not dimmed the Browns’ allure in Ohio, and so far, neither has the Pilot Flying J scandal.

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  • Reviewing NFL team apps

    The list of NFL team mobile application developers totals a whopping six, with only two of the vendors appearing more than once on the list: YinzCam and Adept Mobile.

    YinzCam, built by former Carnegie Mellon professor and now CEO Priya Narasimhan, holds the developer title to 25 of the 32 NFL team apps.

    The “independents” consist of eight teams. Jacksonville, Kansas City, Oakland and Washington each have a unique partner. Adept Mobile carries Miami, San Diego and Cleveland. New England has apps on both the YinzCam and Adept Mobile platforms.

    “The uptake of teams to the YinzCam service was organic in nature,” Narasimhan said. “We had four teams on the platform in 2010. From there, teams kept jumping onboard.”

    A 12-team sponsorship arrangement with Verizon Wireless contributed to the rapid migration as well, she said.
    How does the YinzCam app work, and what has contributed to its popularity?

    Fans inside the stadium, either over an in-venue Wi-Fi network or a 3G/4G cellular DAS (distributed antenna system), can get the NFL RedZone channel within the app. With the YinzCam technology, they can also watch instant replays from four different camera angles.

    “Fans at the game can watch every play and every drive of every NFL team,” Narasimhan said. “Fans outside the stadium can view team news, statistics and other data.”

    Each team is allowed unlimited customization of its app, so when one team innovates, other teams follow.

    “YinzCam becomes an application for team-to-team ideation, and this amplification has had a major impact on the success of the product,” Narasimhan said.

    The in-venue NFL RedZone access and the instant replay functionality are the two things that differentiate YinzCam from the crowd. The company’s license to stream NFL RedZone, however, is nonexclusive.

    The app features from other developers vary from team to team, but none offer in-venue streaming and instant replay. In fact, many teams have opted to offer apps without scores and statistics, perhaps as a cost savings measure. Offering such services usually requires paying an outside vendor to supply a continuous feed.

    The direction that teams take next with their apps may be decided by whether other vendors potentially join YinzCam in their nonexclusive license with NFL RedZone.

    Amie Sheridan(amie.sheridan31@gmail.com) is a writer in Philadelphia.

    Washington Redskins


    Developer: Mobile Roadie
    What it offers: Team roster, game schedule, coach and front office information, team news, photos, video, event listings and links to social media, NFL Fantasy and other Redskins online content. Users can watch live and on-demand video such as news conferences within the app.
    Notable features: Redskins Rally offers a list of Redskins bars, searchable by state, along with Facebook and Foursquare check-in capability. Fans can create photo cards of themselves on a Redskins background to share via social media or save to a device camera roll.
    Added value: The Redskins music section is a nice add-on.
    Biggest problem: There are no game scores or team statistics within the app. Other key features, like league standings, are difficult to locate.
    Sponsor: Verizon
    In-app revenue streams: N/A
    Available on: iOS, Android
    Bottom line: The app is filled with unique features, but it leaves out the basics. Scores, game previews and recaps are a must. The ability to play Redskins music is cool and the Redskins Rally bar-finder is worth a look.




    Oakland Raiders

    Developer: TIBCO
    What it offers: A fan guide with venue information, box office phone numbers, aggregated social network feed, team roster with player cards, game schedule, scores, Raiderette profiles, team news, social media links, video on demand and featured promotions. The Raider Nation section includes exclusive offers, fan polls and an image store.
    Notable features: Though somewhat hidden, integration with NFL Ticket Exchange offers a mobile-friendly purchasing experience within the app including a seating chart and number of available tickets by game.
    Added value: For fans that opt in, the app sends out stadium, game time (nonscore) and image store alerts.
    Biggest problem: The main navigation menu is tough to see at the top right of the screen.
    Sponsor: None
    In-app revenue streams: Banner advertising, ticketing, photo store
    Available on: iOS
    Bottom line: A snappy app with a lot of great features, many of which are hidden in a near-invisible menu. Team statistics are left out, as is live video.




    Jacksonville Jaguars

    Developer: DoApp
    What it offers: Team news, roster, photo galleries, video on demand, game schedule, Jaguars radio, weather, ticket information, social media tools and a link to the team store.
    Notable features: The scrolling news feed and weather feature are nice additions.
    Added value: Fans can submit a story via the app; a nice way to make fans feel connected to the team.
    Biggest problem: There are no team stats or scores. The schedule, shop and ticket sections link to the team website, which does not render well on smartphones.
    Sponsor: None
    In-app revenue streams: Banner advertising
    Available on: iOS, Android
    Bottom line: This app has a mobile-friendly layout at first load, but digging into the individual sections uncovers more than a few links to the team’s desktop site. The app needs some refreshing along with the addition of scores and stats.





    Baltimore Ravens

    Developer: YinzCam
    What it offers: Live scores and statistics, game previews, latest news, live in-stadium video and instant replay, game schedule, league standings, fantasy tracker, draft database, social tools, cheerleader gallery, stadium info, links to team store.
    Notable features: Using augmented reality, fans can wear the Super Bowl XLVII ring or stand next to the trophy. There is also a decibel meter for tracking noise around the app.
    Added value: A concession ordering feature brings food and drink directly to your seat with a tap of the screen.
    Biggest problem: No issues observed.
    Sponsor: Verizon
    In-app revenue streams: Banner advertising, concessions ordering
    Available on: iOS, Android
    Bottom line: The app is filled with creative innovations. It also succeeds in including all of the basics that a fan might expect to find within a team’s mobile app. Access to the NFL RedZone feed and the ability to watch instant replays of every drive really make this app stand out.




    Miami Dolphins

    Developer: Adept Mobile
    What it offers: Team and league scores, schedules, standings, statistics, news, audio, photos, live play-by-play, live blog, roster, depth chart, cheerleader photo galleries.
    Notable features: Fans can buy tickets within this app via Ticketmaster.
    Added value: Members of the Fin Club loyalty rewards program can earn points while using the app to redeem prizes.
    Biggest problem: No live-streaming functionality.
    Sponsor: None
    Revenue streams: Rotating ads within ticketing section only.
    Available on: iOS, Android
    Bottom line: This is your basic, full-service team mobile app that includes everything a fan might want to know before, during or after a game. Aside from the exclusion of a live streaming feature, this app has a quick, simple interface that gets the job done. Loyalty rewards integration is a smart addition by the Dolphins.




    New England Patriots

    Developer: Adept Mobile
    What it offers: Team and league scores, schedules, standings, statistics, news, video on demand, photos, live play-by-play, live blog, roster, depth chart, in-app merchandise store.
    Notable features: mPoints loyalty program gives users points without a required registration.
    Added value: The ProShop is designed for the mobile platform, offering game-worn jerseys and licensed merchandise.
    Biggest problem: No live streaming functionality.
    Sponsor: Verizon
    In-app revenue streams: Banner advertising, merchandise
    Available on: iOS, Android
    Bottom line: A great twist on the Adept Mobile platform is the addition of the ProShop and mPoints loyalty rewards. Without leaving the app’s smooth interface, fans can buy merchandise and check out within minutes. All of the other basics are covered.






    Kansas City Chiefs

    Developer: Locker Partner*
    What it offers: The app helps fans locate their seat at the game, find amenities, restrooms and their vehicle afterward. It offers a media stream with images, live video and on-demand video, podcasts, team contact information, news and links to buy tickets.
    Notable features: The “locate” feature is impressive, giving fans step-by-step instructions to find what they’re looking for at the game.
    Added value: Similar to other apps, a media stream section brings together images, video and podcasts in a single location.
    Biggest problem: Scores, schedules and the basic information that a fan might want to access within the team’s official mobile app are overlooked.
    Sponsor: None
    In-app revenue streams: None
    Available on: iOS
    Bottom line: Basic, yet practical. The app is primarily geared toward fans that are at the game.
    * According to sources, YinzCam will be launching a new Chiefs app before the 2013 season.


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