The 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).
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.