SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Disney Institute, NBA align

The NBA is partnering with the Disney Institute to create a leaguewide customer service program to improve the fan experience at NBA arenas.

A steering committee of about nine NBA teams and key concessionaires Levy Restaurants and Aramark met recently with Disney Institute executives in Orlando to begin the creation of a standardized arena customer service program.

SBJ Podcast:
John Lombardo & Abraham Madkour discuss
the NBA's effort with the Disney Institute.

Participation in the program, which is still being developed, will be voluntary, with a near six-figure annual cost to be paid by each participating team. The program will include strategies for teams to improve customer service during game nights along with employee training, and the development of specific customer service standards that will be put into place over time.

Sources said that the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs are part of the league’s steering committee, but league officials would not disclose the teams. The Nets and the Magic have used Disney training in the past.

Disney Institute executives will travel to participating NBA teams to customize the program. The number and names of participating teams have not yet been made final, but the program will begin this season and was largely driven by the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department.

“We are working with Disney to set our own service standards,” said Amy Brooks, senior vice president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department. “It will be position specific. There will be behavior guidance for what an usher will do, what a concessionaire will do, or what a ticket taker will do.”

The Disney Institute for two decades has been working with companies to improve customer service and employee training. In recent years, it has worked with a variety of sports clients, including the NFL and major college sports programs such as Michigan State, Tennessee and Arizona State.

While other leagues have used outside services, this marks a deeper alignment where a league has partnered with a group to formulate a specific set of industry standards on the fan experience. It comes at a time when all teams are focused on improving the door-to-door and especially in-arena experience. Disney has forged a solid reputation since making sports a key growth area of its business, and teams that have worked with it praised the approach and training resulting in stronger customer service.

“The focus on the fan experience was a guiding principle into every piece of the development of the Amway Center and it manifested itself through our relationship with the Disney Institute,” said Alex Martins, chief executive officer of the Orlando Magic, who is helping lead the NBA’s expanded involvement with the Disney Institute. “At this point, there is a pilot program with a handful of teams as the first step. Beyond that, there is a league intent to provide it in every one of its buildings.”

The Magic has spent roughly $500,000 with the Disney Institute since the Amway Center opened in 2010, which includes the first-time training and subsequent follow-up. Disney Institute staffers are not embedded within a team organization but visit frequently.

The Nets last year become a Disney client and have extended their agreement to continue to train Barclays Center employees.

“We have aligned with them in every way we can,” said Brett Yormark, chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center. “Other NBA teams are now giving it a shot. The league wants to get the consistency across all NBA venues.”

“Our goal is to create the best game experience in sports,” Brooks said. “Disney is a brand that is known for exceptional service.”

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