The Five Senses: Product Enhancement and Development

Minor League Baseball Concessions.

Minor League Baseball knows how to please fans with unique food items. This is from an email I received from them – Great idea!

Ideas can be a tricky thing in a work place. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you think you’ve got the best idea ever? One that is SURE to save your company, business or team? An idea or new way of doing something that is so revolutionary that you can’t believe no one has done it before…only to get shot down with a gentle (or not so gentle) NO?

Well, don’t take it personally. Or actually, wait – yes, in some ways, you should take that personally. Let’s step back a bit…what’s the best way to share a new idea or way of doing something? Here are a few suggestions on how to share an idea, then we’ll get into a few suggestions on how to come up with great ideas.

If you have a great idea, here are a few suggestions:
– Make sure your idea is relevant to the time and situation
– Make sure you have rapport with the person you’re speaking with about the idea
– Make sure your idea makes logical sense; it’s ok to not have every detail ironed out, but other people should be able to see what you see
– Don’t bring up new ideas at a bad time, like when your team is in the middle of doing something else or during the playoffs, for example
– Don’t go over your boss’ head if that’s not something that regularly acceptable; especially in a large organization, your boss or supervisor should have some idea of what you’re doing
– Develop a culture of idea sharing and constant improvement that encourages new ways of thinking; if you come up with a great idea on your own out of nowhere and no one understands where you’re coming from, nothing you say will be heard

Now that we have somewhat of a framework of how ideas are best shared and delivered inside an organization, where can we start to brainstorm about how to improve? Here are five suggestions – the five senses:

– Sight
– Smell
– Sound
– Touch
– Taste

Let’s break this down in terms of a sports business perspective.

This is one we’re all pretty well familiar with, even without thinking about it much. Today’s sports business landscape is full of new things to see. We’ve got video board displays the size of football fields, we’ve got uniforms that are flashy and bright enough you can’t tell the difference between players and speeding bullets, we’ve got fireworks blasting off at halftime and smoke billowing out of tunnels from which those speeding bullet players emerge – plenty to look at on the field/court/pitch! But have you considered what your fans are looking at as they approach your venue or what they see in your hallways and on your concourse? Depending on your geographical facilities footprint and climate, it might be worthwhile to consider bringing some of the pre-game action outside, especially for basketball or hockey games where the environment would allow for such a demonstration of excitement (with football, people usually tailgate, so you might not need to do as much). You could easily put the band, cheerleaders, mascot, sponsors or any number of displays or signs outside letting your fans know that they’re in the right place and that they’re going to have a great experience. Building excitement begins well before game day certainly, but it can only help you to improve anticipation if you welcome them in all the way from the street to the turnstiles.

What’s the first thing you smell when you go to the movies? Popcorn probably. I love that smell and occasionally indulge in mega-huge-jumbo buttery popcorn even though I feel terrible once I’ve finished the entire bucket…before the previews end. And how about a music concert? What’s the first thing you smell when you enter the seating area? Well, maybe don’t answer that. Researchers have said time and time again that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, so why don’t sports venues try to capitalize on this more? Great question. Think back to the last time you went to a major retail store at the mall – what’s the first thing you notice before you even enter the store – the smell! That’s why many department stores keep their perfume sections close to the entrances of their stores – to draw you in with your nose before your eyes or your brain even realizes what’s happening. Retail figured this out years ago and now there are companies who specialize in this type of installation – piped in smells. My suggestion for sports venues is to first capitalize on the inventory you’ve already got – popcorn poppers. From there, it’s up to you where you want to go from there. In the modern era of artificial turf, it might be a good idea to start with a little bit of “grass” smell at football stadiums. Not too many years ago, one of the things people loved was the smell of the turf upon entering a stadium. Now that natural grass pretty much only exists in a few soccer and baseball stadiums, I’m afraid most of us have already forgotten what fresh mowed grass really smells like. Isn’t that a great smell of summer? Don’t let your fans down and deprive them the strongest sense tied to memory – get some good smells in your building.

Sports venues do this one pretty well and TV has got it down the best – and they pretty much have to because all TV can deliver are sight and sound (which is the greatest disadvantage to TV viewing – another blog topic I wrote about this was Why Sports are Better Live than on TV – Tailgating). Marching bands, cheerleaders, PA announcers, fireworks, click effects, radio broadcast in the restrooms and on the concourse during play – most teams have the music part of their live fan experience pretty well mastered, but not to say there’s not room for improvement. If you want a way to test out whether or not sound is a good investment or not, try installing the radio broadcast audio on the concourses and restrooms. If fans know they won’t be missing a play because they’re thirsty, hungry or can’t hold it, they’re more likely to get up and go buy more concessions. Maybe not, but if you don’t invest in your fans’ experience, they’re certainly not going to invest in you with their time.

How much of an interactive experience do you give your fans? Do you allow kids to get autographs and pictures with your athletes at least a few times per year? How about kids clinics either in the summer, on school breaks or before or after games? Get them while they’re young and you’ll have fans for life. And how about adults – what are you doing for them that welcomes them further into the experience of being a fan? Many organizations do this well with season ticket holders and I agree that is something that needs to be done annually with that group. Those are obviously the people who are most invested in your success and it makes sense to take care of those people. Something else you can do is hold an open house in your venue at least once or twice a year. Even if the athletes or coaches aren’t out there, to literally open all the doors to your club, suites and field sidelines is a great way to welcome your fans into their “home away from home.” Don’t let them on the playing surface if you’re worried about that, but let them on the sidelines and in the dugout, let them shoot hoops, let them sit in the owner’s suite and let them take pictures with the mascot. Doing something like this doesn’t cost a whole lot and even if you charge a small fee and donate that to charity; now you’ve made a tangible connection with the community. Just an idea…

I left this one for last, because I love food and I love going to a new sports venue that serves more than crummy hot dogs, pretzels and nachos. Many more venues are getting the idea that fans are looking for more value when they buy their game tickets. By offering better quality and selection at the concession stands, you’re showing your fans that you care about their stomachs as well as their wallets. I know it is a ton of work to do something like this, but with a good concessions partner, I’m sure you can work something out…maybe do a buffet on the weekends or do a special of the month with a rotating menu that changes with the season. Even if you just open up just one concession stand with something different, at least you are demonstrating to your fans that you’re attempting something new. Some may arguing that doing something different isn’t worth doing unless you’re going to do it well, and I agree with that. On the other hand if you wait too long to change everything at once, you may have already lost your chance to impress the people who needed to know you care about them. Take a look at the picture above from Minor League Baseball. (I understand that this is a unique culture) They’ve taken the food element to a whole new level of competition – looks delicious! Here is another blog post I wrote on this topic – Fan Experience: Food.

So how is your team doing on serving the five senses of your fans? Are you catering to their senses of sight, smell, sound, touch and taste? The only way to truly give your fans a well rounded experience is to hit on all five. That’s the only way you will be able to make your game experience so magical that they’ll choose to continue to spend the money to be there in person. If you do all of those things and your team performs well, there develops a chemistry in the building that can’t be replicated anywhere else. There really is nothing like the live experience – both music and sports – and that experience is not on accident. It might seem that way to your fans, as it should, but when you break it down to the five senses, you’ve got a realistic focus to develop ways of improving what you’re doing.

Even before you start breaking down different ways to sell tickets and get people to come to your venue, make sure you’ve got a great product first. Start by making something people actually want to buy and be a part of, then figure out how to maximize your gate receipts. If you don’t have something worthy of spending money on, ticket sales will be an uphill battle.

I hope you found value in what I’ve shared here. One of the goal of Bill’s Sports Business Blog is to provide tremendous value in everything I post. Some posts will be longer than others and some will be more insightful, but either way it’s my goal to make sure I provide value for your time in reading. I appreciate those of you who have made it this far down. Thank you!

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Go Forth!

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