Suspense in sports storytelling
Use suspense with sports related storytelling.

I’m sitting here writing this blog as I am my wife is watching the Bachelor and I must say one thing they do really well is build suspense (well actually this was last night since I’m posting this on a Tuesday). The entire show is built on suspense. They keep teasing you with little clips and sound bites of the different characters saying different things that keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing about what the outcome might be and who is going to end up in a romantic relationship and who isn’t.

Even though some of the feelings we’ve see these people feel and hear them say this season are very obviously pointing one direction, the producers of the show have fed us enough other stimuli to make it anything but a sure thing.

Have you thought about that?

Well if you’ve ever seen a sports broadcast or pre-game TV report that’s exactly what they’re doing. So how does this play out in sports in general? Well, that argument can go one of two ways…

1 – Perhaps some teams or organizations refuse to indulge in that sort of drama and therefore don’t allow any comments. I’d be willing to be that most sports organizations spend enough of their time keeping their athletes and staff in line that they don’t need or want to to “feed the trolls.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing athletes, I’m only relating the fact that most teams probably prefer to be private and keep their matters closed to the public…doing everything they can to gain a competitive advantage. By keeping things close, these organizations are either unheard of and not often reported on or always in the news because they are so exclusive that any information that comes out is “news”.
2 – On the other hand, some teams probably have a PR staff that is constantly pushing something out, whether that be good or “nothing” at all. They’ve got daily or weekly deadlines that must be met and they’re doing everything they can to be on the front page or on the headlines that night or the next day.

Either way, regardless of where your organizations stands between these two ideas, it’s important to remember that your audience likes a good story, whatever that might be. Suspense doesn’t have to be a bad thing, you can use suspense to build anticipation about how awesome you are…who’s in the starting lineup today? What’s coach going to do when we score this time? What’s that crazy fan in row X doing to do for the Kiss Cam this time? What does the student section have planned for their team’s rivalry game during the conference championship?

No matter who you are or what you do for your sports team, remember that suspense is good storytelling which makes for good business. Don’t make something up just for the sake of filling dead space, but remember this tool used in good story telling; and sports is good story telling. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s the good guys and the bad. And they’re both trying to overcome some sort of odds in order to be the one to claim victory at the end.

Build suspense. Tell better stories. Engage your fans.

Go Forth.

#SportsConf 2015

Hashtag Sports Conference 2015
Hashtag Sports 2015 #SportsConf

If you didn’t know about this event, you should really check it out. Put on by Hashtag Sports, a curator of sports business technology content, #SportsConf 2015 was a two day event that brought together the digital sports community through interviews conducted over Google Hangouts. They did this last year and obviously had so much success they were able to convince Whistle Sports to be a sponsor.

On another note, while you’re on the Hashtag Sports website, sign up for their email list. They do a great job of curating internet content related to sports and technology. While you’re thinking of newsletters, sign up for Bill’s Sports Business Blog email list while you’re at it as well!

Whistle Sports is another one of those companies that if you haven’t heard of them, you should really check them out. They are quickly becoming a leader in online sports video, giving fans without cable subscriptions a way to be involved with their favorite teams and athletes. They have a similar vibe as what many YouTube Creators have, which really means that they are excited about what they’re doing and having a ton of fun doing it. That in and of itself is a big reason why they’re popular as well – people are drawn to passion and to people living with purpose.

I hope you really take some time and check out the content on the #SportsConf 2015 website. There are some great gems in there and if nothing else, you’ll at least get to see and get to know some of the leaders in sports business today, from media companies to team executives to athletes and everyone in between.

Also, stay tuned for #SBWeek 2015 in Seattle! Next week I’ll announce this year’s sports business networking event location, so make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter!

Go Forth!

Community: My Perspective on Seattle’s “12’s”

Email From Seattle Seahawks Owner Paul Allen
Email from Paul Allen to Seahawks Fans , Thanking Them

I must say that it was pretty cool to live in near a city whose team went to the Super Bowl. Twice. Yes, I’m referring to the Seattle Seahawks who went to Super Bowl XLVIII and WON and Super Bowl XLIX and lost. I didn’t write about this last year, but never underestimate the power of your community. If you take nothing else away from this post (or really anything I write about on this blog) remember that you can never invest enough in relationships and community. Take care of people. Embrace your community. Tell people how you feel about them – especially when it’s something good! Develop rapport and a connection with your people that lasts beyond the field. (Good also for personal relationships…)

The Seattle Seahawks have had a great following on loyal fans for decades, but it was really quite something to witness what has happened over the last year and a half. Pretty much right at middle of last (2013-2014) season, once things started picking up steam in the community and it seemed more and more that the team was continuing to do well and a playoff berth was likely and then guaranteed. Of course the regular fans were already BIRGing (basking in reflected glory) and couldn’t stop talking about the team, but as things started getting more exciting at the end of the season, non-fans started getting on the bus too! By the time the Seahawks beat the New Orleans Saints on January, 11th, 2014 I’d say the excitement was red-hot. Then when they beat the San Francisco 49ers, arguably their biggest rival, on January 19th, 2014 the excitement quickly shot through the roof to white-hot and the most incredible feeling anyone in this area has ever had, or at least as far as community/sports feelings go

The feeling of excitement around town and throughout the region was incredible. People were wearing their jerseys and hats non-stop, not just on “Blue Friday” or over the weekend – but literally every single day of the week. The team was selling more and more hats and scarves, stickers, car flags, large flags, and every other possible piece of merch you can think of – it was Seahawks swag everywhere! The fans of the Seattle Seahawks literally painted the state of Washington Blue. Even down into Oregon and over to Idaho you’d see the “12’s” jerseys walking around everywhere. It was really fun to see.

Then of course after the Super Bowl victory, the real party began – WE’RE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS!!! The next three days were a fog for most people until the day of the celebration parade in the middle of the week following. The parade was supposed to start around 1230pm or 1pm and you’d figure there’d be quite a few people there and a little bit of media coverage, but literally the party started the night before. Police probably started shutting down streets downtown around midnight and people were literally camping on the sidewalks along the parade route. The weather that night was clear but terribly cold – one of the coldest nights/days we had all winter last year – but that didn’t stop these avid fans from claiming their real estate on Seattle’s sidewalks.

If that wasn’t enough, or maybe as a result of all the excitement, local news coverage began a constant stream around 9am and didn’t end until probably 5pm with the evening news. All of the regular scheduled programming that day was cancelled so that each station could cover the story of Seattle’s Super Bowl Parade. By the end of the parade, there are said to have been around 1 million people in the streets and stadiums of Seattle that day. Oh, and by the way, the population of Seattle is only about 700,000 people…so that just goes to show the strong following and sense of community the Seahawks have built in this region.

This past season was very much the same. The disappointment of the Seahawks loss to the New England Patriots was as painful to most fans as last year’s victory was exciting. There are only a few games I’ve ever witnessed and felt such a sinking feeling as I did on Super Bowl Sunday this year. Even still, that feeling doesn’t take away from the excitement leading up to this year’s game and the sense of pride in our community that was tangible. There were still the car flags, the stickers, the flags outside of homes, the lights in the skyscrapers in the shape of “12” – really cool by the way – and all kinds of people wearing the Blue and Green. Overall, the sense of togetherness and bonding was incredible.

But how does one accomplish such a sense of community? Well, look at what the Seahawks have done and continue to do – they gave their fans a name (the 12’s), they told them what to do (create the loudest stadium in sports, which on a few occasions registered on the Richter scale as if it were an earthquake), and they tell them how much they appreciate them being fans on a regular occasion (as evidenced by the email I got at the top). It’s really that simple. Give you fans a name, tell them what to do (How to be a Fan 101) and tell them that you appreciate them. I know it sounds simple, but that’s really all it takes. Sure, there’s alot of work built into those, but it’s still simple. It’s not complex. You can get a whole lot more complicated from there, but that’s really the basic formula. Give them what they want and encourage them along the way to get them to do what it is that you want them to do, then thank them for consuming your product and being there. Every person inside your organization ought to follow the same instructions and know what it is that your organization stands for and why. Regardless of what happens on a field, it’s personal interactions that people are going to remember no matter what your athletes do. Treat people with respect. Tell them you appreciate them.

Go Forth!

The Five Senses: Product Enhancement and Development

Minor League Baseball Concessions.
Minor League Baseball knows how to please fans with unique food items. This is from an email I received from them – Great idea!

Ideas can be a tricky thing in a work place. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you think you’ve got the best idea ever? One that is SURE to save your company, business or team? An idea or new way of doing something that is so revolutionary that you can’t believe no one has done it before…only to get shot down with a gentle (or not so gentle) NO?

Well, don’t take it personally. Or actually, wait – yes, in some ways, you should take that personally. Let’s step back a bit…what’s the best way to share a new idea or way of doing something? Here are a few suggestions on how to share an idea, then we’ll get into a few suggestions on how to come up with great ideas.

If you have a great idea, here are a few suggestions:
– Make sure your idea is relevant to the time and situation
– Make sure you have rapport with the person you’re speaking with about the idea
– Make sure your idea makes logical sense; it’s ok to not have every detail ironed out, but other people should be able to see what you see
– Don’t bring up new ideas at a bad time, like when your team is in the middle of doing something else or during the playoffs, for example
– Don’t go over your boss’ head if that’s not something that regularly acceptable; especially in a large organization, your boss or supervisor should have some idea of what you’re doing
– Develop a culture of idea sharing and constant improvement that encourages new ways of thinking; if you come up with a great idea on your own out of nowhere and no one understands where you’re coming from, nothing you say will be heard

Now that we have somewhat of a framework of how ideas are best shared and delivered inside an organization, where can we start to brainstorm about how to improve? Here are five suggestions – the five senses:

– Sight
– Smell
– Sound
– Touch
– Taste

Let’s break this down in terms of a sports business perspective.

This is one we’re all pretty well familiar with, even without thinking about it much. Today’s sports business landscape is full of new things to see. We’ve got video board displays the size of football fields, we’ve got uniforms that are flashy and bright enough you can’t tell the difference between players and speeding bullets, we’ve got fireworks blasting off at halftime and smoke billowing out of tunnels from which those speeding bullet players emerge – plenty to look at on the field/court/pitch! But have you considered what your fans are looking at as they approach your venue or what they see in your hallways and on your concourse? Depending on your geographical facilities footprint and climate, it might be worthwhile to consider bringing some of the pre-game action outside, especially for basketball or hockey games where the environment would allow for such a demonstration of excitement (with football, people usually tailgate, so you might not need to do as much). You could easily put the band, cheerleaders, mascot, sponsors or any number of displays or signs outside letting your fans know that they’re in the right place and that they’re going to have a great experience. Building excitement begins well before game day certainly, but it can only help you to improve anticipation if you welcome them in all the way from the street to the turnstiles.

What’s the first thing you smell when you go to the movies? Popcorn probably. I love that smell and occasionally indulge in mega-huge-jumbo buttery popcorn even though I feel terrible once I’ve finished the entire bucket…before the previews end. And how about a music concert? What’s the first thing you smell when you enter the seating area? Well, maybe don’t answer that. Researchers have said time and time again that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, so why don’t sports venues try to capitalize on this more? Great question. Think back to the last time you went to a major retail store at the mall – what’s the first thing you notice before you even enter the store – the smell! That’s why many department stores keep their perfume sections close to the entrances of their stores – to draw you in with your nose before your eyes or your brain even realizes what’s happening. Retail figured this out years ago and now there are companies who specialize in this type of installation – piped in smells. My suggestion for sports venues is to first capitalize on the inventory you’ve already got – popcorn poppers. From there, it’s up to you where you want to go from there. In the modern era of artificial turf, it might be a good idea to start with a little bit of “grass” smell at football stadiums. Not too many years ago, one of the things people loved was the smell of the turf upon entering a stadium. Now that natural grass pretty much only exists in a few soccer and baseball stadiums, I’m afraid most of us have already forgotten what fresh mowed grass really smells like. Isn’t that a great smell of summer? Don’t let your fans down and deprive them the strongest sense tied to memory – get some good smells in your building.

Sports venues do this one pretty well and TV has got it down the best – and they pretty much have to because all TV can deliver are sight and sound (which is the greatest disadvantage to TV viewing – another blog topic I wrote about this was Why Sports are Better Live than on TV – Tailgating). Marching bands, cheerleaders, PA announcers, fireworks, click effects, radio broadcast in the restrooms and on the concourse during play – most teams have the music part of their live fan experience pretty well mastered, but not to say there’s not room for improvement. If you want a way to test out whether or not sound is a good investment or not, try installing the radio broadcast audio on the concourses and restrooms. If fans know they won’t be missing a play because they’re thirsty, hungry or can’t hold it, they’re more likely to get up and go buy more concessions. Maybe not, but if you don’t invest in your fans’ experience, they’re certainly not going to invest in you with their time.

How much of an interactive experience do you give your fans? Do you allow kids to get autographs and pictures with your athletes at least a few times per year? How about kids clinics either in the summer, on school breaks or before or after games? Get them while they’re young and you’ll have fans for life. And how about adults – what are you doing for them that welcomes them further into the experience of being a fan? Many organizations do this well with season ticket holders and I agree that is something that needs to be done annually with that group. Those are obviously the people who are most invested in your success and it makes sense to take care of those people. Something else you can do is hold an open house in your venue at least once or twice a year. Even if the athletes or coaches aren’t out there, to literally open all the doors to your club, suites and field sidelines is a great way to welcome your fans into their “home away from home.” Don’t let them on the playing surface if you’re worried about that, but let them on the sidelines and in the dugout, let them shoot hoops, let them sit in the owner’s suite and let them take pictures with the mascot. Doing something like this doesn’t cost a whole lot and even if you charge a small fee and donate that to charity; now you’ve made a tangible connection with the community. Just an idea…

I left this one for last, because I love food and I love going to a new sports venue that serves more than crummy hot dogs, pretzels and nachos. Many more venues are getting the idea that fans are looking for more value when they buy their game tickets. By offering better quality and selection at the concession stands, you’re showing your fans that you care about their stomachs as well as their wallets. I know it is a ton of work to do something like this, but with a good concessions partner, I’m sure you can work something out…maybe do a buffet on the weekends or do a special of the month with a rotating menu that changes with the season. Even if you just open up just one concession stand with something different, at least you are demonstrating to your fans that you’re attempting something new. Some may arguing that doing something different isn’t worth doing unless you’re going to do it well, and I agree with that. On the other hand if you wait too long to change everything at once, you may have already lost your chance to impress the people who needed to know you care about them. Take a look at the picture above from Minor League Baseball. (I understand that this is a unique culture) They’ve taken the food element to a whole new level of competition – looks delicious! Here is another blog post I wrote on this topic – Fan Experience: Food.

So how is your team doing on serving the five senses of your fans? Are you catering to their senses of sight, smell, sound, touch and taste? The only way to truly give your fans a well rounded experience is to hit on all five. That’s the only way you will be able to make your game experience so magical that they’ll choose to continue to spend the money to be there in person. If you do all of those things and your team performs well, there develops a chemistry in the building that can’t be replicated anywhere else. There really is nothing like the live experience – both music and sports – and that experience is not on accident. It might seem that way to your fans, as it should, but when you break it down to the five senses, you’ve got a realistic focus to develop ways of improving what you’re doing.

Even before you start breaking down different ways to sell tickets and get people to come to your venue, make sure you’ve got a great product first. Start by making something people actually want to buy and be a part of, then figure out how to maximize your gate receipts. If you don’t have something worthy of spending money on, ticket sales will be an uphill battle.

I hope you found value in what I’ve shared here. One of the goal of Bill’s Sports Business Blog is to provide tremendous value in everything I post. Some posts will be longer than others and some will be more insightful, but either way it’s my goal to make sure I provide value for your time in reading. I appreciate those of you who have made it this far down. Thank you!

If you’d like to support Bill’s Sports Business Blog, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link the next time you buy something. Thank you for being a fan!

Go Forth!

Sport CRM – Customer Relationship Management

CRM opt-in page
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Opt-In Information Form

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

True in many areas of life and especially in (sports) business. If you always take out the same ads, do the same promotions or hand out the same fliers, nothing will change and you’ll likely see the same or similar revenue numbers year in and year out. If you don’t change anything up, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

So how do you get more without jeopardizing the integrity of your organization? Three little words – customer relationship management.

The purpose of any business is to provide value in the marketplace to its consumers by offering products or services. In order to dig in to this a little more, I’ll assume you are affiliated with a team or organization already in existence and already doing business. In order to grow from wherever it is that you are now, you’ve got to learn as much about your customers as you can. You have to make it a priority to know everything you can about them. If all you know is their email and mailing addresses, then great. You know how to get a hold of them.

Quite honestly, in this day and age, that’s not enough. The digital age we live in has shaped our fans into beings that have come to expect personalized service, pricing and attention. The more you know about your fans, the better you’ll be able to serve them exactly what it is they desire from your organization. Outside of the performance of the team, you have the ability to customize absolutely every aspect of the fan experience and it all starts with CRM – customer relationship management.

Just as your team operations staff and coaches are dissecting every move of their athletes, so should you be gathering data and dissecting every move of your fans and customers. This might sound shady, but it’s not. People share all kinds of information online every single day with numerous entities that track their every move, search query, transaction and click, often without knowing. Even when they do find out that they are being tracked online, most people don’t care or perhaps do exercise some caution, but still continue to browse and click. The people who don’t use the internet at all are probably becoming fewer and fewer as we progress as a society.

If you can afford it, just go buy the data on your fans. Yes, it’s possible. There are several companies that specialize in collecting consumer information from 3rd parties and then turn around and sell that information to companies looking to build CRM systems and learn more about their customers. They collect demographic information including everything from household income, job titles, property and real estate valuations, cars driven and even some pyschographic information such as which social networks are used, what they type into search engines, what their political views are and so on.

If you can’t afford to buy your customers’ data, just ask them straight up. (Be careful though…even when people give up a lot online, most people are still a little sensitive when answering direct questions) There are plenty of free and low-cost survey tools out on the internet, so find a marketing or statistics professor or graduate student to help you pull together a list of valid and reliable questions and ask your fans through email. Start with your season ticket holders, then move on to your mini-plan buyers, your single game ticket buyers and eventually everyone that buys merchandise from you online. You can collect their information during checkout, include a link to the survey on their online invoice/receipt, track their responses by group and come up with some idea of who these people are that attend your games.

That’s the first part of customer relationship management – getting their information.

The second part of customer relationship management is the analysis of that information and interpretation of your findings into something meaningful for the organization and for your fans. This is also called data mining. Do your fans like a certain type of music? Play that during time outs. Do they purchase tickets at certain times of day – say lunch time or late at night after the kids go to bed? Hire extra staff at lunch and make sure your website works. Do they buy more colored shirts than white? Print t-shirts in every color possible. Do they watch certain TV channels that you might want to advertise on? Place your ads on those networks and perhaps their websites too – every hear of “on demand?” This is just the tip of the iceberg, so really dive in and take your time with this process.

Furthermore, don’t forget about good old fashioned phone and face-to-face conversations. You can learn a great deal about someone just by asking them questions. The more personal you get with your fans, the more personal they’ll likely get with you. Your CRM system will also track those conversations for you so you can always make sure everyone on your staff has the most up-to-date information about every one of your customers.

Your job as someone who works in sports, at least on the business side, is to make it as easy as possible for your fans to get what they want – tickets, food, swag, you name it. You want a low barrier of entry to what it is that you offer. No matter what sport and no matter what level, you are there to provide something of value that other people want. Collect customer information. Analyze your data. Provide better value and service.

Go Forth!