September is an exciting time for fans of the two great American sports pastimes, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL). Baseball pennant races are taking shape just as the NFL season kicks off. In both sports, the stadiums where the teams play are instrumental to building fan loyalty. Chicago’s Wrigley Field relies on charm and tradition to draw millions of fans each year even though the Chicago Cubs has not won a World Series since 1908. In Santa Clara, California, Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, offers high-tech amenities such as a mobile app that allows fans to order food from their seats. Whether you are a fan of football and baseball, you can learn a lot about successful local marketing from the 61 NFL and MLB stadiums that drew a combined attendance of 90 million people in 2014. Here is how the best stadiums build brand loyalty:
Limit Your Inventory
Even though both the NFL and MLB have undergone numerous changes over the years, both leagues have kept the length of their seasons remarkably consistent. Baseball teams play 162 games over 26 weeks, and the NFL, 16 games over 17 weeks. Major League Baseball has not changed its schedule since 1961, and the NFL has kept the length of its season intact since 1978. Consequently, NFL and MLB stadiums benefit in two major ways:
- They maintain the notion of scarcity. The window of opportunity to visit a stadium during the regular season closes in October for baseball and in January for football. The scarcity model can stoke demand for many local businesses, an example being the Doughnut Vault in Chicago, which maintains a steady stream of customers by offering a limited supply of donuts. Once the daily supply is depleted, the store closes.
- Associate themselves with seasons. Baseball fans associate going to a Major League Stadium as a summer ritual, whereas the NFL has made it seem like an attractive experience to bundle up, brave cold weather, and watch a game during the dead of winter. In fact, the winter elements can add to the experience: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver is an open-air stadium even though the field could justifiably have constructed a dome to protect fans from the elements. Why? Because the elements create unpredictability, or a wild-card effect that heightens the experience.
Great retailers know that scarcity and seasonality stoke demand. It’s no wonder that Black Friday remains a retail tradition during the holiday season despite mounting criticism that Black Friday sales are disruptive and not always well managed. People respond to scarcity, and Black Friday has become lodged in our minds as a Thanksgiving tradition as surely as watching football.
Provide an Experience
Sports teams cannot control the quality of their product. Even the most successful baseball teams lose a lot of games during a season, and football teams, with their limited schedules, can find themselves knocked out of contention early in the season. The savviest MLB and NFL stadiums create an experience. As noted, the Chicago Cubs rely heavily on historic charm and ambience of Wrigley Field to draw fans. Fenway Park in Boston does so as well, and with a twist. Recently, the Boston Red Sox partnered with Airbnb to offer two lucky fans the chance to stay the night in the hallowed stadium — for Red Sox fans the equivalent of spending the night in the National Cathedral. The promotion was a brilliant way to attract visitors by offering behind-the-scenes access.
The lesson learned for other businesses: don’t take your reputation for granted. No matter how well known you are, or how well entrenched you are in your community, keep finding fresh ways to make customers happy.
In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars have gone in a completely different direction, promoting high-tech excitement over heritage. AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and EverBank Field in Jacksonville offer fans massive high-definition video screens (EverBank’s is the world’s largest) that magnify every nuance on the field for fans accustomed to seeing the action on their own big-screens at home. AT&T Stadium synchronizes one of its giant screens with a mobile experience. Its “fan experience board,” consisting of 40 LED louvered panels, is connected to every fan in the stadium via a mobile app. When attendees press Dallas Cowboys logos on their apps, the board vibrates and emits a digital display. With the app, fans can also snap selfies and have them posted on the digital board.
But not everything in Texas is about high-tech fun: at AT&T Stadium, fans can check out a large art collection ranging from Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror polished stainless steel sculpture to a massive, colorful mural by Franz Ackermann. In fact, the stadium has procured 42 works of art and commissioned 16 additional pieces exclusively for the stadium to comprise the Dallas Cowboys Art Collection.
The lesson learned: surprise and delight your customers.
Make Life More Comfortable with Technology
Major League Baseball and the NFL have an inherent problem: convincing fans to leave their high-tech cocoons, where they can watch as many games as they’d like, to willingly pay money to endure crowded stadiums, long lines for food, and long walks to the bathroom. Increasingly, stadiums are responding by making the in-person experience easier with mobile technology.
For instance, three baseball stadiums — AT&T Park in San Francisco, Coors Field in Denver, and Yankee Stadium in New York — offer the Clear biometric security service, through which fans can to sail through a “fast access” line by scanning their thumb prints. They can also use the service at airports that offer it.
The Levi’s Stadium app where the NFL 49ers play allows for the ability to order food from your seat (and have it delivered there), search for the shortest bathroom wait times, and find the shortest food lines. Similarly, at Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, New England Patriots fans can use an app to monitor bathroom wait times and track parking and traffic conditions.
By using mobile to enrich the on-location experience, sports stadiums offer a best practice to retailers. Along a same vein, Target began rolling out a program that makes it possible for shoppers to use a mobile app to find their way through Target stores, create and manage shopping lists, uncover special offers, and get sales assistance.
Mobile need not be exclusively about attracting customers; mobile and sensor technology can keep them coming back after they have visited your location.
The Connected Experience
Attending baseball and football games will likely continue to collapse the world outside and inside the stadium by satisfying the needs of connected fans. The San Francisco 49ers have opened the Yahoo Fantasy Football Lounge where fans who participate in fantasy football leagues can watch flat-screen TVs and use touch-screen technology to keep up to date on the performance of make-believe teams compiled from rosters around the NFL. The forthcoming Atlanta Stadium will offer a similar amenity. We are a nation of multi-taskers, using multiple screens to manage our lives while we experience the offline world. Sports stadiums, like the best retailers, have become comfortable with the reality that always on customers never get you all their attention. To attract and retain fans, they’re adapting to our connected lives.