Thursday, April 9

Using the Economy as an Excuse

Let me explain how this post came about. On Tuesday, I was invited by K-Man to attend the final Bobcats home game of the season. Then today, a friend of the blog was discussing sports bucket lists. I wondered if anyone had "attend a Bobcats game" on their list? Probably not, but why? This post is not about bucket lists or about the Cats, but I will use both to illustrate a problem that currently plagues America and not just in sports. More after the break...

When I think of my bucket list, I include both Wimbledon and the Kentucky Derby. I am not a huge fan of tennis or racing of any sort, but the opportunity to have the experience is what I treasure. Just as people will pay slightly more to buy paper clips at a store where they have positive encounters, fans will do likewise to watch the same two tennis players compete at a different venue, because of the atmosphere. It's why going to Wrigley Field is on people's bucket lists, but seeing the Cubs in person is not (or at least not as often). On certain nights, all the venue needs to be is a backdrop to the drama unfolding, but often the scene needs to be a part of the experience. Federer and Nadal could have played on the streets of London and last year's Wimbledon final would still have been epic, but if Tiger had carved up a municipal course in 1997, it wouldn't have held the same weight as becoming the first person of color to win the Masters. Many of the bucket list destinations have history on their side, but they also have a human elements. The mint julips and gaudy hats of the Derby, the strawberries and cream and strict dress code of Wimbledon all add unique character. The tennis courts and one and a quarter mile races are not exclusive to these two events and while history plays a role, the effort of the organizations in charge greatly enhance the adventures of the patron. This effort is what this post is all about.

At the Bobcats final home game, we were not treated with the customary t-shirt that had been a tradition of every "Fan Appreciation Night," dating back to the old days of the Hornets. Instead customers were given a small reusable shopping bag and a Sprite keychain with a BOGO coupon. I don't need another t-shirt, but a reusable shopping bag and a straight to the trash lanyard keychain were a disappointment. The team did do several halftime giveaways, but thanks to a Breyer's craving (the lone decent food buy at the arena), that was rendered null and void for yours truly, but again it was stuff I didn't need or want. Beyond that, the experience was no different than any other Bobcats game. There was a ceremony at the end, where players gave autographed jerseys and shorts to select season ticket holders, but there was little to no value to anyone not receiving the gift. This was the Bocats organization last opportunity to make a lasting impression that would make the fans long for next season and they failed miserably.

Organizations across the country are using the economy as a way to make customers expect less and less, instead of using this time as an opportunity to work harder and convince people to spend money on their product or event. Instead of developing cost effective ways to enhance the experience, companies appear resigned to mediocrity. More and more, life has become about what's not included, instead of what is. People don't require costly giveaways to have an enjoyable time. In most cases, a little effort and ingenuity will more than make up, but everywhere companies are too prone to saying, "It's the economy" as an excuse for providing the customer with less.

The Bobcats have become the epitome of these lowered expectations. They have the same cliché halftime acts night after night. Nothing against the unicyclist kicking bowls onto her head, but I've seen her more times than I've seen Sean May in a game. Speaking of May, the Bobcats selected him to take the mic and thank the fans before the game, but he was delivering the same speech he's been giving for the last month. It's the last game of the season and the owner (who was in attendance), the coach, or even a starter couldn't be bothered to take thirty seconds to thank the fans? Another opportunity lost. How difficult would it have been to create little vignettes with players describing their favorite moments of the year with accompanying game footage to play during the timeouts? Remind people why they care about your product. The whole night reeked of everyone except the players on the court mailing it in. Raymond Felton's career high scoring night was never acknowledged, despite him setting the mark in the 3rd quarter. The "closing ceremony" consisted only of names of season ticket holders being read. Why not give the players (or at least the cpatains) the mic to thank the fans one final time for their support and give the fans one more chance to show some love for the players they've cheered for all year long? The down time at games should be a blank slate for theatre, comedy, etc. not just giveaways where only a few get an improved experience.

It's too easy to blame the economy when a nose to the grind stone mentality can convince people to want to make your company a continued part of their lives, stock market be damned. One of the things I always remember from attending Reds games was the cheesy races they had on the scoreboard. It cost the team nothing to re-use those year after year, but they were always part of the experience and kids were always raising their fingers to cheer on their selected number. In today's tough times, companies would be wise to embrace cost-effective means to enhance the customers enjoyment, rather than throwing their arms up and expecting the customer to accept the new lower levels of service. If more companies and teams would do this, they just might find themselves on people's bucket lists or at least willing to spend to be a part of the greater experience.

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