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The Return Of The Fan

The Return of the Fan

Sports teams are working diligently to get their world back to normal by opening their stadiums back up to a limited number of fans. As a sports marketer, this is a good thing … as a sponsor, this makes for an interesting proposition … as a fan, this needs to be done with my safety in mind.

I was going to call this a conundrum but thought better of it. A conundrum is a confusing or difficult problem. Whereas this qualifies, I’d prefer to look at this as an opportunity for our industry.

World events that are beyond our control have a way of accelerating positive change. Oftentimes, the most impactful of these are negatives. Things like recessions, wars, or pandemics can bring about advances that were lagging in more stable times.

Necessity is a driver of innovation, right?

Advances in technology that make the sporting event safer for the fan also bring with them opportunities to enhance things like sponsorship, fan experience and community outreach. Let’s look at a few that we can expect from our local teams.

Let’s start with ticket purchases and parking. These now touchless digital financial transactions beg for bank or credit union sponsors and before you call me Captain Obvious maybe you build in reasonable incentives (cheaper parking, special ticket pricing) for customers of said sponsor. You could even broaden your consumer reach by having a special tab on their website that facilitates the transaction and promotes it to all of their customers.

Digital transactions for ticketing and parking are data opportunities. As long as the team doesn’t overdo it or provides proper incentives for the information I provide them, I wouldn’t have any problem answering 3-5 questions for a discount or a giveaway. Think of the benefit you could be for a sponsor who may be seeking valuable information on consumer behaviors.

Digital tickets also help to solve or at least better manage other issues. With an all digital ticketing system I now know pretty much everyone who comes to the game. Before, I could hand my ticket off to pretty much anyone and the team would be none the wiser.

In a weird way, the pandemic lets teams fine tune the fully digital ticket process more easily due to limited capacity requirements. Digital ticketing also helps to eliminate ticket scalpers who in my opinion, do not enhance the fan experience.

Teams are also improving concessions by automating the process so you aren’t standing in line. (Now if they could just do something about the prices). Intuitively, concession rights holders will have fewer employees so prices should go down, right? OK, well if you don’t buy that argument then convenience should help them sell more products, right? OK … thanks for playing along, prices are not going to go down unless teams realize that they are an impediment to fans coming back, which they are whether they want to hear that or not.

Face mask requirements seem pretty consistent amongst the teams and of course present opportunities for fan incentives and sponsorship activations. I still find compliance to be a real issue with our community. I base that on all the chin straps I see at the gym every morning which is really disconcerting and a bit of a challenge for the teams. They’ll need to goldilocks their enforcement as rigidity will be off-putting and being lax will make fans feel unsafe.

I look at face masks too as a great vehicle for community engagement. I’d love to see a team provide new, safe, clean masks to underserved communities or essential workers in our state. Selling them in your team shop is fine but providing them to the people who work in grocery stores or perhaps live on a reservation is a great community outreach idea.

I could go on but no one is paying me for these ideas (just kidding). Really, the professional teams in the market are on it. They have been working diligently to make sure they can get fans back to their stadiums safely. Whereas I’d feel a little safer taking in a Diamondbacks game outside, I still think that the Coyotes, Cardinals and Suns have taken the steps necessary for fans to feel comfortable returning to cheer on the home team.

As with any conundrum, or problem, the opportunities are abundant. New and innovative sponsorship ideas should come from these circumstances while teams work to enhance fan experience and safety. It may take awhile (or it may not) but I personally cannot wait to be back in a packed stadium with thousands of fans cheering on the home team.


About the author: Ed Olsen is the CEO of Line Drive Sports Marketing. He is an adjunct professor at Arizona State University and has lots of opinions on all things sports. Find them here.

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