NFL Experience…Not So Fantastic.

Last Monday, I was up in the Bay Area on business. My 10 year old son was on Christmas break, so he was with me on the trip. As die-hard Steeler fans, it was a no brainer to try and grab tickets to the Steelers/49ers game at Candlestick Park. Monday Night Football, two 10-3 teams fighting for playoff position, it was bound to be a classic. And it was to be my son’s first NFL game. I made a few calls and lucked out. 2 tickets in the lower bowl. A monumental occasion, a boy’s first NFL game. Father and Son. The stuff great memories are made of.

Only it didn’t turn out that way. Of course our experience would have been better had the Steelers won (or even put up a fight). But with Big Ben on one wheel and playing on the road, I prepared my son for a likely loss. What made the experience so brutal wasn’t the Steelers performance on the field. It was the fan experience at the stadium.

Although broadcast and sponsor revenue are critical to all major pro leagues, stadium revenue is arguably most important. A full stadium drives ticket sales as well as revenue from parking, concessions and merchandise. And a packed house gives the home team critical home field/court advantage. Here’s the thing: happy fans spend more money. Happy fans make more noise. Happy fans become repeat customers.

Which is what really blew me away about our Candlestick experience. It seemed that Candlestick really doesn’t care a lick about fan experience.

We planned to arrive at the game in plenty of time to check out tailgating, grab some food, watch pre-game warmups. Remembering the old days when my dad and I used to go to LA Raider games, I decided to leave plenty of time to get into the parking lot.

Getting to the game was brutal. The last 3 miles took us over an hour. Bottlenecked traffic, SUV’s turning right from the left lane, and left from the right lane. Three lanes total leading into crammed parking lots. Sadly, getting into a stadium hasn’t changed much since the 80’s.

Then there was the will call line, which took another 30 minutes. Finally tickets in hand, we waited another half hour to get through security and into the stadium. Every single fan was patted down by slow moving, unmotivated part-time security guys. Fans grew impatient and irate. That’s no way to welcome customers into your building. If it weren’t for the now famous power outage, no way would we have made kickoff.

Inside the stadium was no better. Food lines were ridiculous. Choices were very limited. My son had fries and a large Sprite for dinner. I waited in line 20 minutes for a cold burger served on a frozen bun. And as we waited in line, a nasty fight broke out between obviously hammered 49er and Steeler fans. My son was shocked and frightened. I had to shield him and then calm him down. The fight lasted at least 5 minutes, and security never showed up.

We left the game with 5:00 left, hoping to beat the crowd. 45 minutes later, we were still fighting our way back to the freeway. On the way out, countless drunk fans spotted our Steeler gear. We were cursed at, had beer thrown at us, and got flipped off several times. I expect some of this, but as the father of a 10 year old, I guess I’m getting conservative. I felt like I had put my son in a situation that he wasn’t ready for.

I can’t comprehend why the NFL allows this kind of experience to happen. Shouldn’t franchises be held to certain standards? Every Starbucks in the world has customer experience standards. Why don’t sports teams? I know Candlestick is a dump waiting for the demolition ball, but things like crowd control, efficient security and decent food don’t require a new stadium. Teams that neglect fan experience not only hurt their own bottom line, but they damage the reputation of the entire league.

The NFL is the most popular and successful professional league on the planet. It’s absurd that the live experience for some fans still leaves so much to be desired.

About Bill Sanders

SVP of Personal Brand Management at PMK*BNC. Helping icons from all walks of life to connect with their fans and monetize their brands.
This entry was posted in Athlete Marketing, Sports Business, Sports Marketing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to NFL Experience…Not So Fantastic.

  1. Chris Osche says:

    Unfortunately you are not alone. I have several friends and colleages that have experienced similar “horror” stories at NFL stadiums. Personally, I would rather stay at home than go through the rigors of the NFL “experience.”

    Many will argue that Candlestick isdifferent because it is an out-dated stadium and does not have the same amenities of the newer stadiums. I disagree with that premise. Customer service is an attitude. Creating a safe, welcoming environment for fans is achieved through training, responsiveness, and a “fans first” mindset. Technology is a tool to support the fan experience, not a solution to the problem.

    Revenue growth stems from an exceptional fan and sponsor experience. When fans come first, revenue will follow.

    I hope your son remains a Steelers fan and has a chance to experience the good things the NFL has to offer down the road.


    • Bill Sanders says:

      Thanks Chris. Far too many businesses neglect customer experience. It is especially unforgivable in sports, where fans (customers) have so many choices regarding free time and discretionary spending. Some teams do well, but far to many don’t. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. Joseph Reddick says:

    I agree. As you mentioned Bill, the customer experience should be the most important aspect for a professional sports team to look forward to achieving. So while doing so, you create more customer loyalty where fans feel more involved with their respective teams. Also with having a Sports Management degree and understanding the market, I’m able to agree with your personal grievances. Being able to advance with the current state of the sports market is beyond important, because it enables professional teams the opportunities to activate different marketing tools. For instance, the fan experience should have been a major focus for that game. With ticket sales being a major influential measure in terms of sports revenue, it’s important that teams start to rely on fans being involved and their willingness to support their teams.

    Bill, as someone who has admired your career and aspires to go down a similar path as you have, I have a question for you. With database marketing still being an efficient marketing aspect for pro sports, do you feel teams should start to focus more on marketing via internet more than television?

    • Bill Sanders says:

      Thanks so much for your reply Joseph, and for your kind words! To answer your question, some teams are doing a great job with targeted marketing. The internet allows never before available targeting, and many teams are doing a great job using those tools. Other teams however are still stuck in the 20th century. Their ads are focused on local newspapers, and TV/Radio ads during their own broadcasts! Talk about waste! The difference between some teams is night and day. It never ceases to amaze me. Thanks again for the input, and best of luck with your career.

  3. Paul Lambert says:

    Most popular league on the planet? …A regular season EPL game can easily get more worldwide views than the Superbowl.

  4. Bill Sanders says:

    Last Super Bowl drew 111 million viewers in the US alone. You may be correct if you state that World Cup games draw a larger global audience, but most experts feel that those figures are exaggerated because they tend to include #’s from all of the games total, and that those games are every 4 years. The Super Bowl is one game, and it happens ever year. Now if you want to debate which LEAGUE is most popular, I’d say the NBA. Soccer is enormous, but it is not alone. You say tomato, I say tomatoe. Thanks Paul!

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