Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bono from the cheap seats


Wednesday night ended four months of waiting when UltimateSportsInsider.com joined three college friends to experience one of the great spectacles in stadium concerts - U2 live and their 360 degree tour. As an almost three-decade U2 fan, seeing them in concert is a spectacle like few others.  The band's ability to put 80,000 people in Giants Stadium with over-the-top music, lights and energy that blends politics, history, nostalgia, the present and the future is visionary.

The show also provided me a rare chance to experience the event as a fully invested fan that had no ability to get special seats, a luxury box, free food, good parking, or any of the other benefits that you receive from working in college athletics or as a major donor.

Attending the concert as a regular Joe (or better yet a regular Mike, along with Joe, Larry and Pete) provided a great reminder of how logistics are crucial to the fan experience.  So many aspects of the concert were incredibly memorable, but a number of operational aspects also stood out and not in a positive way:

Transportation - We took the train to the show but arrived too late to see the opening act, MUSE, because there were not enough trains running to take the throngs of people - who had been encouraged over and over via emails from Ticketmaster to use mass transit - one station stop from the main line to the stadium.

Food - Limited selection.  Average quality.  Hefty prices. 

The time and date - As I mentioned above, the show was a spectacle.  But the crowd was slightly subdued relative to what you would have expected.  I believe this was due largely to the date and time of the show - Wednesday night at 9 pm.  The show was originally scheduled to be Friday night at 8 pm, but was changed when the N.Y. Jets changed their game time from 4 pm to 1 pm Sunday - which then necessitated shifting the concert two days earlier in order to have sufficient time to dismantle the stage.  The announcement of the change was less than 2 weeks prior to the show and resulted in significant inconvenience for all who had been planning a huge start to the weekend and were instead faced with a late night in the middle of the work week.
 
As we look to attract and retain fans, expand season ticket bases and sell luxury seating and suites, the three areas mentioned above, and many other seemingly "minor" aspects are part of those efforts.  The ability to move smoothly in and out of parking lots, quality public transportation (if necessary/available) and well conceived traffic plans may not be glamorous, but they are a huge part of the fan experience.  If its not tolerable and the headaches too great, that will impact purchasing decisions.  If food is too expensive, of poor quality, or offers limited choice, that can have impact additional sales in the venue.

Lastly, changing game times and dates is a regular occurrence in college sports and usually happens for television purposes.  It seems that in many cases schools will accept any time or day of the week to get a game on television.  If you've purchased tickets for a specific game and a schedule changes significantly, the fan's experience is altered.  And the next time they're asked to buy tickets, they may think twice - especially if such changes happen regularly.  It's a small test of their loyalty.  Hopefully schedule changes are considered in a broader context and not just reflexively made because television requests it.

I look forward to seeing Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry in concert a few more times.  They never disappoint.  And the aspects of the experience last night that could have been better will be a distant memory because they only happen once every 5 years or so.  But as you try to attract fans week after week in a tight economy, examining seemingly secondary and mundane items are probably more important than ever and might make the difference between increasing a fan base, eroding it, or losing it altogether.


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