SBJ/June 16-22, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL gives teams expanded fan experience study

The NFL last month sent its clubs a 50-page study, “Voice of the Fan,” detailing the findings of its most extensive analysis ever of the in-game experience, including results from an independent consultant and polling of tens of thousands of fans.

The NFL commissioned the in-game analysis, which studied behavior and preferences for fans of all 32 teams last season, and included stadium visits from LRA Worldwide. The league previously had not hired an outside firm to visit each team’s games.

The study ranks each team, one to 32, in seven categories, and includes best case examples of entertainment and practices that generate positive feedback from fans. The league expects the study to help teams identify areas of weakness in their game production, while offering details on initiatives that worked at other teams, and even outside of the NFL.

Improving the in-game experience has been a priority for the NFL in recent years in an effort to ensure that stadiums are full, and this study was an attempt to analyze how that effort is proceeding and what works and doesn’t. 

Brian Lafemina, the NFL’s vice president of club business development, declined to disclose many of the details of the study, including the cost and, particularly, how clubs ranked. In fact, the report that each club received showed only its ranking, and not the rankings of the other 31 teams.

One result from the study that Lafemina did discuss is that, despite the continuing and expensive effort to upgrade wireless capabilities at stadiums and to offer sophisticated in-venue apps, fans largely respond most positively to video board entertainment. 

Any Given Sunday
Stadium experience: SportsBusiness Journal reporters went to games in 12 NFL markets over the first few weeks of last season. The project was built on their takeaways from their time at the stadium, taking in the game as any NFL fan would.
“Three or four years ago it was all about apps in the stadium, and it is still very important,” Lafemina said. “But we started to dig deeper into the game enhancement and technology section, and what became clear to us — the most important thing was the video board. Not just how big and how clear it is, although that is incredibly important, but how you are programming it, how are you producing a three-hour entertainment event. 

“There are seven big buckets,” Lafemina continued. “Arrivals, safety and security, game-day staff, in-game enhancements and technology, game entertainment, concessions, and leaving the stadium. Within each of the buckets, we go deep on all of them.” 

The league since 2007 has polled fans about the game experience and sent results to the clubs. In 2013, the league, through the teams, polled season-ticket holders via email after four different games for each team, or 128 total contests across the league. While the league did not provide a total figure for number of fans polled, Lafemina said it was in the tens of thousands. The league hired Turnkey Intelligence to conduct the polling.

For the most recent study, the league wanted a more objective take. So last year the NFL hired LRA Worldwide, an experiential customer service consulting and research firm with a heavy presence in the hotel industry, to review the teams’ game productions. LRA’s website lists hotels, concessionaires, theme parks, clubs and casinos as clients. An NFL spokesman said, however, that LRA has worked for the NFL before, and also with other leagues, including the NBA.

The new study of the fan experience is the most extensive ever done by the NFL.

In large part, LRA’s findings meshed with the fan polling, Lafemina said.

Team executives Dick Cass, president of the Ravens, and Mark Donovan, president of the Chiefs, praised the 50-page report for offering insights into how clubs can improve.

To that end, one feature the league included in the recent report was “drivers,” or essentially analytical conclusions on areas in which it is worth spending more money. For example, 30 percent of all fans, a sizable number, identified in-game presentation as important. Of those fans, however, only 8 percent identified the halftime show as something that mattered.

The league is in talks with Pointlogic, a data analytics firm, about digging even deeper into the raw numbers to give teams more guidance next year with the “Voice of the Fan” report.

The idea, said Julie Perlish, NFL vice president of consumer insights and research, is to estimate actual fan satisfaction percent increases tied to specific initiatives. 

The NFL is hardly alone with its push, with the NBA being one of the leaders in crunching data and polling fans. Many of the NFL clubs themselves are active with focus groups and polling.

The New England Patriots, for example, long have known, both from focus groups and observation, that one of their biggest fan gripes is difficulty getting to and from the stadium because of limited roads incoming from nearby highways.

Last year, the team commissioned a parking study that led to rerouting access roads and changing parking lot configurations. In the 2013 “Voice of the Fan,” Lafemina said, the response of Pats fans surged in a positive direction in response to questions about stadium access.

The league will continue to study fan behavior and preferences each year, but has not committed to hiring LRA or another outside firm for future studies. LRA is not involved in any other work for the league, and the NFL declined to make LRA available for comment.

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