Shoppers help NFL tackle issue
The NFL may be singularly dominant in television viewership, but it is nevertheless facing a problem that is vexing leagues across the country: declining attendance. Leaguewide average ticket sales for the NFL hit a 15-year low in 2019, and no-shows plague even the most beloved, successful franchises.
Many experts consider this to be the unavoidable result of the growth in home entertainment quality and the escalating cost of attending games. The NFL, however, does not cede the point.
“A fundamental tenet of the NFL is to ensure that the best place to watch NFL football is in-stadium,” said Bobby Gallo, senior vice president of club business development.
Since the 2013 season, the NFL has been sending secret shoppers to every game, having them evaluate every aspect of the fan experience without oversight from the club. This year, 93 NFL employees acted as observers. After the game, they produce a report that is then shared with team officials and includes praise where warranted and suggests changes as applicable.
In 2018, the league added a voluntary peer review process, and now every game is reviewed by either a league or different club’s officials. Teams use those reports, along with the Voice of the Fan surveys fans get after they attend, to score customer service and game operations/entertainment performance.
While the reviews do not cover things such as cost of attendance — the primary reason people don’t attend more live sports events, according to SBJ’s most recent Reader Survey — it does include everything from the parking lot experience to the graphics and replays on video boards.
Even if a club’s usual practice isn’t wrong, exactly, it might be updated or tweaked to better serve the different kinds of fans coming to the game. Sometimes teams cater too much to the casual fan over the diehard, or vice versa. Fan expectations about football production are driven by broadcast innovations, so the stadium has to keep up.
“Since I’ve started doing this, the fan has evolved so much, and they are evolving so quickly, so part of what we’re doing is keeping up with how they’re evolving and what they’re looking for in the game,” said Tim Tubito, director of event presentation and content at the NFL, who is a regular secret shopper.
Teams don’t have to take the feedback but they always appreciate it, said Jay O’Brien, vice president of broadcasting and game-day production for the Baltimore Ravens. Tubito and Glenn Hyams, manager of club business development, were the two league observers at the Ravens’ Dec. 12 game against the Jets. “Since [Hyams] travels to a lot of other NFL games, his report is pretty valuable,” O’Brien said. “He compares us to the Lions at one place, he says, ‘Here’s something the Lions do that may work for you.’ That’s completely different feedback from what our own fans give us.”