Fan Experience is No Game

The Chicago Cubs have one of the oldest, most dated ballparks, but it ranks second in fan experience according to an article in Forbes.  Fenway was ranked fourth.  Both Fenway and Wrigley offer standard ballpark fare at a significant premium to the fan so why the high rankings?

Their superstitions and histories are beloved by its fans who can recall events 20 to 30 years ago like they happened yesterday. Steve Bartman and Bucky Dent never suited up for either team, but both made dramatic impacts on the fan experience.  These stadiums offer history, lore, Americana at its best and worst.

Modern sport stadiums have none of the above, so they must look to the tangible to appeal to fans. Newer ballparks not only have enormous nostalgic shoes to fill, they are often funded by the public to some degree, increasing the sense of ownership and scrutiny.

Forbes rankings focused on the prime factors for a positive fan experience: affordability, accessibility, fan participation, and concession quality.

Coyle’s mystery shopping assessments of sporting venues reveal, among purist and casual fans alike, an acute appreciation for modern amenities and services. Clean, bright walkways are consistently cited as being important to the overall experience. Today’s fans expect engaging, approachable, visible and alert security staff that provide a greater sense of ease and comfort in the stadium. Fan assistance stations need smiling faces, mobile vendors need to keep their backsides from obstructing views, and greeters/ushers are expected to make sure fans return to their seats in-between plays.  Mystery shoppers in ballparks are likely to encounter more staff members in critical situations on a 4-hour visit to a ballpark than a two-day stay at a hotel. Staff engagement is key.

What about concessions?  At Citi Field, two of NYC’s most lauded restaurateurs, Drew Nieporent and Danny Meyer, have successfully set up shop, clearly demonstrating that a big part of the experience is about satisfying the modern fan’s evolved palate.  More importantly, it shows that ballparks are now being more things to more people; the product is only partially on the field.  Ballparks are acutely aware that they compete with hotels, restaurants, cruise lines, and other experience ventures where the product on the field is almost always consistently great; a luxury that some sports teams don’t have even before the first half of the season is gone.

Wrigley Field is an anomaly for ball parks.  Sports fans outside of its historic walls now look to other stadiums offering friendly staff, easy accessibility, and varied concessions. Without the positive fan experience at the stadium, the game is always subject to blackout.

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