A New Paradigm for Sports Venues: The Fan Experience
02.29.2012
Deanna Francl in Brand, Sports, Sports Venues New Paradigm

Photo via Flickr user clydeorama

This is the second article in a five part series. Read the Full Report.

If you asked any fan of any sports team to name a favorite, they’d each tell you that their team is the best. Meanwhile teams would tell you that they have the greatest fans. And they’d both be telling the truth. In their hearts, they both believe this—the connection between sports teams and fans is that deep. So, if you’re the owner or operator of a sports venue, and you want to create the type of home field advantage that maximizes fan engagement and sponsorship ROI, and that builds a sense of community, then the first of four strategies we’ve proposed (as Ron Turner previewed last week) is to take the time to get to know the fans who buy your tickets, fill your seats, and cheer (loudly!) for your team.

When designing the fan experience it’s important to remember two things: 1) find out what makes your fan base unique, and honor that uniqueness in real and authentic ways—show respect for the community that supports you; and 2) maintain a laser-like focus on creating value for every single fan that enters your venue. On the surface this might seem challenging since each fan defines value differently; the differences between club seat licensees, suite owners, and general ticket holders are often magnified, for example. But if you’ve invested in understanding your fans and what matters to them, the process of creating value gets easier—quickly.

By “understanding your fans” I don’t mean just looking at fan demographics though. Really get to know them as people. Don’t make assumptions; connect with them so they can tell you directly. Understand their motivations, their influences, their opinions. Understand what it means for them to be a fan—and how or why they even became a fan in the first place. Was the honor of being a fan passed down from a previous generation, like a family endowment? Did they marry into it? Did they move and adopt a new home team? When you ask this type of question, you’ll hear the emotion in fans’ voices as they talk about what the team means to them. Talk with them. Wear their colors. For many fans, the ritual of a game-day is what they look forward to all week; their fellow fans are like family and the game is a reunion, so go out and tailgate with them. Have a beer and a hotdog with them. It’s not until you experience the game day experience from the fan perspective that you can truly appreciate what it means to be a fan of the team and create a game-day experience that blows their mind.

Hosting focus groups, I’ve had the experience of asking fans what they want in a game-day experience and many just say they’re happy to be there. But it’s not that simple; there are many layers to the game-day experience, and when you keep asking the right questions, it’s clear that fans want to be wowed. Basics that might seem obvious like clean bathrooms and short lines at the concession stand are often a pleasant surprise, so providing those amenities consistently are step one. Then come the elements of entertainment; a game-day needs to have multiple dimensions. The primary dimension will (and should) always be the actual game on the field, court or rink. But when you compare the total hours spent at a sporting event to the time spent watching the actual game itself, it’s clear there are multiple opportunities during timeouts, halftime or even post-game to add dimension to the fan experience—to entertain, to create rituals, to delight, to wow—and to enhance the game itself.

As a way to understand how deep fan-ship really goes, we recently asked a group of football fans, “how far would you go?” Would you play hooky from work to go to a game? Would you spend a night in jail to defend your team? Would you get a tattoo representing your team? Would you name your child after your favorite player? We received at least 75% yes on all questions. So don’t you think this level of commitment to the game, to the team, has earned the same in return? I think so.

Click here to download a summary of our research on sports venues’ new paradigm.

Deanna Francl
Deanna Francl is a principal in Gensler’s Washington DC office and a leader of the firm’s global Brand Design practice. With a career founded in brand strategy, marketing and client service, Deanna is focused on the deep emotional connections that customers feel with brands, and on the impact that design has on those connections. Deanna is passionate about helping clients articulate their core values through storytelling, and illustrating those values through design. Contact her at deanna_francl@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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