Thoughts about our National Pastime and occasional thoughts for the Good and Welfare of the Reader (and maybe the writer)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thinking about the Stadium Experience

A few years ago we did some research for a bank. The subject was The Branch of the Future and the idea was to see who physical appointments, blended with technology could be used to improve the customer experience and, more or less equally important, the branch employee experience. Part of the research was a series of focus groups with people who visited branches regularly (many do not, using ATMs and the internet to conduct their banking). Our goal was to see if we could come up with two sets of insights – first, a notion of what people notice about a bank branch and how the impressions affect their overall attitude about the bank. The second set of ideas was to gather some thoughts on what improvements people might suggest.

That second idea did not work out as well. It rarely does. Customers are not bankers nor are they retailers or are they architects and systems designers. In fact, in a typical focus group procedure, if a person demonstrates expertise we generally exclude them, preferring to talk to the proverbial "man in the street." Some disagree. They point to the classic story that the notion of putting an open box of baking soda in a refrigerator to absorb bad smells came from a focus group. The other side counters with the notion that even a blind pig will stumble on a truffle from time to time. It can be argued successfully, that a focus group is an excellent way to obtain reactions to what it is shown and a bad way to stumble on the truffles of breakthrough innovation.

Anyway, the study of the Branch of the Future was revealing because it does turn out that people notice the level of service they are getting but they also notice the physical aspects of the environment – the layout, the convenience of certain features, the ease of operation and, not surprisingly, the general d├ęcor, upkeep and cleanliness. We also learned that those impressions begin as the customer approaches the bank and includes the layout of the parking lot, the drive-in lanes and overall upkeep of the facility.

Yesterday, I drove to Fort Myers to the City of Palms ballpark to see the Red Sox play against the WBC-deprived Detroit Tigers. With Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen, Miguel Cabrera and Armando Gallaraga still off at the tournament, the Tiger lineup was no match for the full-strength Red Sox.

The starting pitchers, Edwin Jackson for the Tigers and the Sox' Brad Penny acquitted themselves well, but the final 7-6 score indicates how far behind the bullpens are. The hitting highlight was back to back to back to back home runs by Mike Lowell, Jason Bay, Chris Carter, and Ivan Ochoa. You do not see four consecutive home runs every day, even in spring training. The Tiger highlight was getting a hit once Penny left. Brad's three hitless innings came on the heels of the no-hitter turned in against the Bengals by Ricky Nolasco, et al the day before.

City of Palms Park is nice spring training site but it does not have long to live. Faced with competition from Sarasota and Vero Beach, the commissioners of Lee County have gone all out to develop a plan to build a new Red Sox facility. The new park will solve a problem for the team by putting the minor league fields adjacent to the stadium. They are now 20 minutes away. You would not think that matters, but in the Spring, after the batting practice and other warm ups, the players who are not needed for the game will go off to the other fields for more work.

The new stadium is designed to create an experience for the fans by featuring a southwest Florida of Fenway Park, complete with the Green Monster in left field and, I think, a Pesky Pole. I am not sure what they mean by a southwest Florida version – maybe there will be an alligator pond at the base of the wall.

That got me to thinking about the customer experience as it relates to baseball parks. What are the factors that enhance that experience – or detract from it? And, do they matter in terms of getting rear ends into seats?

Here is my top 10 list. After I hear from some of my correspondents, I will continue this series with thoughts on some of the baseball stadiums that I have visited.

1. General neighborhood ambiance. How does it feel as you walk up or drive up to the ball field?

2. Parking.

3. Entry and first impression on entering.

4. Stadium amenities – food stands, rest rooms, team stores . . .

5. The seat itself.

6. Food and drink – quality, cost, availability.

7. Information – program, score card, scoreboard.

8. Fan behavior.

9. Official distractions (some would say "fun activities," so you know my ingoing prejudice).

10. Egress

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