Have You Put a Pool in Your Football Stadium Yet?

TFootball Splashhe Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League are in the midst of renovating their home stadium, EverBank Field. This renovation features the standard stadium upgrades like gigantic scoreboard screens, but it also includes one peculiar one: replacing 9,500 seats with a party deck featuring two swimming pools with cabanas. That’s right, swimming pools in a National Football League stadium.

Pools and other recreational amenities are not uncommon in minor league baseball stadiums across the country. Those teams are looking to create an experience to attract passive fans and the uninterested to come to games. So why would a team in arguably the most popular sport in the country need to resort to a gimmick like this?

Therein lies the marketing lesson.

Not All Markets are the Same

Many times renovations like this include adding seats for more tickets and revenue. This makes sense, as tickets to NFL games are typically a hot commodity and most games are sold out. The game itself is the attraction. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for the Jaguars, who have had to place tarps over thousands of seats in order to “sell out” games and avoid local TV blackouts. Here’s a quick assessment of the Jaguars’ situation:

  • Demographics – Of the 32 NFL teams, Jacksonville has the 4th smallest metropolitan area and the second highest population turnover rate in the country.
  • Lack of interest – The team has made the playoffs only twice since 2000 and has had just as many winning seasons in that time span. Losing seasons plague attendance of many NFL teams, but the effect is exponential when factoring in these other circumstances.
  • Lack of loyalty – The Jaguars are still a relatively young franchise in just their 20th season of existence. Most teams have existed for 50-80 years and have generations of loyal fans.

A stark contrast to the Jaguars’ plight is the Green Bay Packers, who play in the smallest metropolitan area in the NFL (and the other three major sports leagues). However, the Packers’ unique ownership structure has nurtured a profound connection with their hometown. The Packers have a storied history as one of the NFL’s founding franchises, including the most NFL championships (13) and numerous legendary coaches and players. All this leads to a diehard fans base that spans generations, packs the stadium every Sunday and would find pools in Lambeau Field sacrilegious (and really, really cold).

Jags stadium

Image: Jacksonville Jaguars

Adjusting the Experience

Jaguars fans were not going to help the team maximize their profitability as a football franchise. The organization saw that the standard fan experience of just enjoying the game was no longer cutting it in the Jacksonville market. Thousands of empty and tarped seats leave a lot of revenue on the table. The Jaguars needed a new approach to bring people, or more importantly, revenue into the stadium each Sunday.

“We’re targeting businesses who want to entertain some of their clients or even their own employees,” said Chad Johnson, the team’s senior vice president of sales in this ESPN article. “What we’ve built here you can’t get anywhere else.”

The team had to appeal to the people of Jacksonville, particularly the high earners and business leaders who weren’t necessarily Jaguars fans. The pools provide a unique and more lucrative fan experience for the team. I don’t know the math, but I’m guessing the projected revenue generated by these cabanas would be more than regular seats would bring in if they were full. It’s definitely more than empty seats.

While the pool is the biggest splash of the renovated stadium experience, there are other things that are being implemented to attract more than just Jaguars fans to the games. The team will broadcast NFL RedZone – the league’s exclusive, real-time highlights program – during games. Rather than focusing solely on the action on the field the team is providing a better experience for the casual fan. Fantasy football’s popularity may make this a standard practice in stadiums, so the Jaguars may be way ahead of the game day experience curve here.

With a small and unreliable pool of fans, Jacksonville is relying on those who are looking for a unique experience and not necessarily wanting to see a football game. With this party-like mindset, football is secondary to the experience. To compare, having a luxury suite at a Packers game (comparable to the pool package in Jacksonville) is a unique experience because of football. The game makes the experience, rather than the backdrop.

Playing to Win

With increasingly connected consumers who have everything available at their fingertips, owning your niche is important. Like any good marketer, you have to know what your audience wants, because they can and will get it somewhere. Larger corporations have used their consumer data to anticipate needs and deliver useful experiences. Consumers are used to being heard and expect a personalized or at the very least a local experience.

Just as the Jaguars are counting on a uniquely Jacksonville experience rather than a typical NFL game experience, your niche is looking for a uniquely “me” experience rather than an “everyone” experience. Find that niche, make them love you, and turn all of those connected consumers into an advantage as they communicate their experience with those looking for a similar one.

Competitors, fellow franchisees or nearby locations may all sell the same thing, but customers for the same product don’t always want or expect the same experience. A more granular understanding of your target markets will tell you if and where you need a standard game day experience or if you should shake it up with some swimming pools. Sure it may seem sacrilegious to the traditionalist in your industry, but you’re not doing it for them. You’re doing it for the ones that pay your bills.

The Importance of Getting it Right the Second Time

brand experience, marketingEveryone knows that the interactions and experiences with a product or service is what ultimately shapes the brand. Everything about the process of wooing and delighting customers is, or should be, carefully structured to align the customer’s perception of the brand to what it’s desired to be. But then there’s a fumble. Somewhere, somehow the brand promise wasn’t delivered.

When an “oops” happens, the clock is ticking. All of the positive brand equity that has been built is quickly eroding away. As carefully strategized as prospecting, sales and service strategies are, resolution must be more so.

The Accenture 2013 Global Consumer Pulse Survey reports that 51 percent of U.S. consumers switched their providers (retailers, satellite/cable, phone, etc.) over the past year in frustration over the service that they received, a 5 percent increase from 2012. Many of the frustrations cited in the survey were a result of inconsistent delivery or poor issue resolution.

Compounding the problem is that customer expectations are rapidly increasing. So too is their ability to announce to the world their displeasure. To pile it on, technology is lowering barriers to entry, increasing consumer choice and the competition. The customer can quickly and easily jump ship and damage the brand’s reputation.

But, there is another opportunity to right the ship.

So You’re Sayin’ There’s a Chance

The Accenture survey also found that 81 percent of those who switched said that the provider could have done something to prevent it. That’s right, there was a second chance to salvage the customer relationship and brand reputation.

To take advantage of this second chance, the response must match the customer’s perception and expectation of the brand (which was influenced by the brand in the first place). If a brand is built on being people friendly, going through a 5-level automated phone menu before reaching an actual person probably doesn’t match the customers’ expectations.

The brand promise must permeate the organization’s response to its failure to deliver. Well crafted, customer-friendly resolution procedures and engaged frontline employees can salvage the brand experience. (Here are few ideas on how to do that.)

Not only do you have the opportunity to keep the customer, these situations open the door to build the brand. Resolving the problem can be just as compelling of a story, therefore restoring or elevating your brands perception.

For example, when several Southwest Airlines flights were delayed for a few hours, pilots ordered pizza for their passengers. These Southwest employees were empowered to delight passengers in line with the company’s brand promise. The story made the rounds on the news and social media, adding to the legend of Southwest Airlines’ experience.

Resolution is a part of the brand experience. These experiences are tied to strong emotions, both positive and negative and are what shape a brand. Like any relationship, there will be bumps in the road. Those brands that overcome them become stronger and enjoy more loyal customers. People will come back for the experience of working with them.

photo credit: star5112 via photopin cc