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Are You Eliminating Brand Arsonists?

The idea of focusing on the brand is very appealing to sports marketers.

But in many ways, the marketer’s aim is on logos. It’s on setting music in the venue or promotions. Sports marketers especially like to talk the ear off of anyone who will listen about on what the logo, value statement or positioning of the call to action looks like for their brand.

It’s part of their marketing plan for fan development. That marketing plan covers everything in a sweeping format which shows off every way that a customer will be affected by a product once they enter the facility. That is the customer experience.

However, marketing plans tend to be left due to a glaring error, something that affects the brand continually yet is rarely noticed by the sports marketers in that marketing plan overall. While everyone talks about the fan experience, few focus on what the fans actually experience.

Take frontline ambassadors, for instance.

No marketing plan tends to cover the engagement with frontline ambassadors, those minimum wage, game staff workers who end up interacting with your customers more than anyone else. And while each marketing plan covers whether the fireworks will go off at halftime or if the music is playing enough classic rock hits, those frontline ambassadors can damage your brand and cost you fans.

Who Are Brand Arsonists?

Just because game day staff are affordable, temporary hires for the sports product and you place them in a security jacket does not make them any less of a threat to your fan experience plan. In fact, because they appear to have positions of authority within the game structure, their presence can be more harmful to whether a fan chooses to come back to your venue.

These game day staff engage your fans the most. Imagine all of your efforts on a marketing budget thwarted because of a negative interaction between a frontline ambassador and a fan. This can also be something witnessed by a group of surrounding fans, making the negative feelings corrosive and continually damaging.

No matter what a sports marketer spends on fireworks or promotions, it can end up being marginalized by a fan’s experience with a grouchy parking attendant or a concessionaire who blows his nose in his hands behind the counter. Hiring those third-party vendors who employ temporary staff members with bad teeth that snarl instead of smile at your customers diminishes your brand.

It’s also what retention staffs receive back when surveying customers on why they aren’t renewing their seats or bringing another group of 200 out to your venue. Yet budgetary reasons are often listed by the team for why third-party vendors with the cheapest bid often get the contract, despite the lack of training methods by those vendors toward their transient staff. It’s the ultimate adage of ‘you get what you pay for.’

This doesn’t mean that every game day staff member is a brand arsonist. But some folks are unable to gain full-time employment for a reason. And with a poor attitude of ‘it’s just a paycheck,’ they can set fire to your brand in several ways that are harmful in the long term to how a customer looks at your entire operation.

What the Fan Reacts To

Despite the best efforts of a franchise’s executive staff, fans don’t see the marketing plan as its laid out. They see what happens in real time at a game, not every piece of wisdom and mission statement bore out in text. That’s why the fan experience is built on every venue touch point, including the frontline ambassadors.

Being treated well by the frontline staff isn’t a given. Executives should take it upon themselves to consider any staff and any engagement as an opportunity to build the brand. That means focusing on every piece of clothing, jewelry, evidence of tattoos or other factors that a frontline ambassador may show up with on game day to work. The worst type of logo imaginable for any fan is to be greeted by a person who smells of liquor or ear lobe gauging (stretched ear lobe holes popular with today’s youth).

This is about an often conservative, family-friendly crowd being inundated into an environment that is not what they expect or want. These are customers, after all, who are paying for your product to deliver upon their standards of added value. Frontline ambassadors, along with the third-party vendors who hire them, cannot have a laissez faire attitude when it comes to fan interaction and branding of the franchise’s product.

Frontline ambassadors, from what they wear, what they say and how they react to situations, are the most impactful component of a franchise’s brand to those customers who have already purchased the game day product.

Make Brand Ambassadors

None of what I’m writing should be viewed as an opportunity to punish some low-wage staff member into submission. Far from it – franchises need these folks to operate at the highest efficiency possible in order to provide the best game day experience. As I’ve stated previously, those frontline ambassadors are very important to the brand’s integrity and should be viewed as an opportunity for the franchise to succeed at building retention with its customers.

Instead of presenting a bunch of draconian laws that don’t work for the game day staff to rebel against, it is imperative that everyone be brought together for training. That means helping each vendor setup guidelines and evaluations of staff, to ensure that every touch point of a fan’s interaction is treated with the most amount of respect possible. One strong suggestion is to build a system where secret shoppers can end up being rewarded through their surveys.

This means building safe guards for your brand as well as making every vendor’s staff feel as if they are part of the team. Never should anyone on your full-time staff give temporary workers the feeling that they are arbitrary members of the franchise. Everyone should be in this together as a whole unit functioning to make the best fan experience possible.

Try to develop a true way to engage your frontline staff as well. If that means that you have to pay for them to take training for three straight days prior to the start of the season, it should be worth it to the organization overall. If ticket sales training needs this, so do those frontline ambassadors who may end up creating or destroying some of the upcoming opportunities for renewals.

Covering Every Touch Point

Frontline ambassadors are one of the franchise’s biggest game day focal points, and that needs to be built into the marketing plan. Don’t just list a bunch of promotions and attendance figures; engage on each touch point that a fan will interact with on their journey into the venue. That should cover not only employee appearance, but also what messages they are delivering to fans when asked questions. Everything should be consistent to the brand message that you want to deliver.

Developing a true sports marketing plan means covering how every touch point engages a fan’s experience:

When someone asks for security to help with an obnoxious fan, how do they react to the complaining fan and the accused?

Does the merchandise vendor not count back change correctly or understand how to run a credit card machine?

Are the bathrooms and concessions stands clean or do they appear as if they are rarely attended to by staff?

Do ushers check tickets and know their section’s customers, or are people randomly sitting where they choose in seats bought by other fans?

All of these questions should be covered in the marketing plan then implemented in training of game day staff. Again, if you get what you pay for, a few hundred dollars to spend on customer service and interaction training by your game day staff should be worth it to your organization’s ROI in order to ensure quality controls. Make the secret shoppers and other guest services vendors actually work for their money to find issues because your game day staff is top notch at providing engagement to fans.

The NBA calls this the “driveway to driveway” experience. It’s a matter of seeing every step of the way toward the arena. Exactly what touch points does a fan experience when consuming the product live? This matters.

What Your Fans Truly See

Like it or not, your fans are judging your brand based on what their interactions and touch points are throughout the experience, especially when it comes to third-party vendors and their staff.

Do you train your third-party staff accordingly?

Do you discuss ways for staff to handle upcoming promotions, customer complaints, and other issues that can surface each game night?

Are you focused on third-party staff expectations as well as reviewing and replacing those who are unable to interact on game night without presenting a negative attitude?

All of these factors play into the awareness that a franchise has over its brand. These things are part of the overall fan experience package. Either face them or be destroyed by them. It’s a conscious choice made about on whether or not brand arsonists exist within your game day structure and if you’re able to spot the fires they set as well as come up with preventative measures to keep them from sparking up in the first place.

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