SBJ/Feb. 9-15, 2015/Opinion

How teams, venues can enhance the ‘sizzle’ rather than ‘steak’

During my University of South Florida graduate class trip to Los Angeles last month, we met with representatives of Legends to provide the students with a better understanding of the consulting space in sports and entertainment, particularly as it relates to venues.

Mike Tomon, president of Legends North America, sports and events, made a statement in his introductory remarks that really struck me, and my mind has been racing on the concept for several weeks since. Tomon explained that Legends does not limit its scope by defining itself as a sports and entertainment company. “Legends’ business focuses on enhancing the experience and overall value proposition wherever people choose to congregate,” he said.

I interpreted those remarks to mean that those who work in any business where people come together to participate, spectate, view or consume need to take special effort in creating a special place where people can gather and to provide a meaningful experience for the audience that has chosen to gather in that particular space.
 
SportsBusiness Journal’s Don Muret recently wrote a story detailing what the Miami Dolphins are doing with “living room” suites (SportsBusiness Journal, Feb. 2-8 issue). I recall Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel saying to me, “The challenge is getting people to leave their living rooms, so we are creating our own version of the living room in our stadium where we hope they will enjoy the comfort of a living room and the enhanced experience of being there live with great amenities requiring little or no effort on their part.”

A wiffle ball stadium highlights the
Park in the Park at Petco Park in San Diego.
Photo by: BILL SUTTON
I just returned from a visit to San Diego’s Petco Park, where I saw the Park in the Park for fans to create their own experiences, such as a picnic at a Padres game. I also saw a wiffle ball stadium there, giving those fans wishing to be more active an amazing experience.

There are reasons for this attention to what can be described as addressing the “sizzle” (non-game-related aspects of the experience) rather than the “steak” (the game and the on-field aspects of the experience).

> EXPERIENCE: Not everyone arriving at a sports venue is planning on or hoping for the same experience. Consumers come with different agendas for their respective experiences. Thus, the more opportunities to offer diverse experiences within the venue, the more diverse the audience can be. We have seen this with seating, food and beverages. Now the changes will be more physical or technological in nature, allowing consumers to decide how they spend their time in the venue.

> CUSTOMIZATION: This is a key catalyst in consumer spending. Here is what I want; I want it now; and I want to consume it on my own schedule. With the exception of the live sporting event, appointment viewing is on life support. The issue becomes, How can my experience be customized or enhanced to my interests and needs to make it worth attending?

> COMPETITION: There is a great deal of competition for eyeballs, fingers and dollars. Do leagues play too many games? Are consumers less engaged? The number of games available to me every day, and especially on weekends, positions the television as a real deterrent to attending. The cost equation of having a good seat and buying season tickets often forces the consumer to choose something else. How can I create a big-game mentality?
 
> ORGANIC VS. MAN-MADE: Duke University, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball; bleacher fans at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field; PNC Park’s Left Field Loonies; the 12th Man; MLS in Seattle and Portland; Green Bay and SEC football; and almost any game in the EPL — I know I omitted a few, but the fan experiences are unique and are able to create and convey that can’t-miss-the-game mentality that has become far too rare in American sports. These experiences are fan-generated and fan-powered. No amount of scoreboard prompts and in-arena hosts can create passion and enthusiasm that is sustainable and instills a bucket-list, have-to-be-there mentality.

> TECHNOLOGY: Mark Cuban does not want the fans to be plugged in; he wants them to be active participants in the game. I applaud Mark for that, but the reality states otherwise. A car dealer has no control over the buyer who purchases a car and drives it off the lot. People consume in a way and at a level that is meaningful to them. Technology is a tool to enhance consumption and perhaps to alter it in such a way that people consume more for reasons other than pure enjoyment. Fantasy sports is a good example: That experience has been enhanced further by third parties such as FanDuel and DraftKings. Don Corleone would be proud. I defy anyone who has ever watched a movie in an Imax theater, watched a Cowboys Game at AT&T Stadium, or has seen the technological pregame pageantry at a Cleveland Cavaliers game to honestly tell me it doesn’t make a difference.

> MILLENNIALS AND PLURALS AS BUYERS: Younger consumers need more than what historically has been provided. Want proof? Look at the trends in student attendance for college football and basketball. Or look at the demographics of professional sports teams. They came as children because their parents brought them, but they don’t make the decision on their own to attend with any frequency or regularity. That won’t change until venues and delivery systems change in a way that promotes the event and the venue as a fun and interesting place to gather.
When identifying where people tend to gather, I would define the experience/venue as CAMPING:

C – Compelling
A – Affordable
M – Meaningful
P – Personalized
I – Innovative
N – Natural
G – Gratifying

It is not how one individual thinks about things, but really how that person’s respective circle or network would think and, more importantly, how they would react and ultimately act.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.

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