Monday, November 14, 2011

Are Bad Fans Costing Your Team Money?

My wife is a huge Steelers fan and I am a huge Patriots fan, so needless to say, Sundays are always interesting in my house. Recently she took me to Heinz Field for the first time to sit in her family’s seats and watch the Steelers take on the Pats. Even though the Pats lost, we had a great time; and a big part of that was because Pittsburgh has great fans. As a sports marketer with a degree from UMass, as well as a current Integrated Marketing Communications student at Northwestern, I wanted to know what the value of a "good fan" is to a team.

Forbes can quantify who has the “best” fans using a variety of team-related metrics (I’m proud to say Red Sox Nation is ranked at the top), and Bill Simmons can make rules for being a fan, but I’m not talking about being passionate or devoted to the team. I’m defining a good fan as someone who can enjoy the game but not be a jerk to the other team’s fans. Even though I was wearing my prized Wes Welker jersey behind enemy lines, most people who made a comment made it about the game and not about me. Whether they realized it or not, the Steelers fans were ambassadors for the city and the stadium, and they (for the most part) did a great job. So, as I’m a Patriots fan, why should the Steelers care how I feel after leaving the game? Because I’m going to go back, and when I go back I’m going to spend more money.   

Compare this to my experience at Soldier Field, where I took my wife for her birthday a few years ago. She was in a Steelers jersey, and the fact that I was with her and not in Bears colors made me a “de facto Steelers fan.” We were minding our own business, but the fans around us were awful – we spent the cold game enjoying our neighbors who insulted us and unapologetically spilled beer all over us. We informed security, but they couldn’t have cared less. Maybe they should have; right after we left a melee broke out in our section. This isn’t anywhere near as extreme as what happened to Bryan Stow (the Giants fan hospitalized after getting beaten up at a Dodger game), but it is not acceptable behavior by any means. But, as I’m not a Bears fan, why should the team care about how the fans acted? Because, even though I now consider myself a Chicagoan (who is originally from Boston), I now avoid spending money on the Bears - all of the Bears marketing dollars are wasted on me. I won’t spend money on tickets, I won’t buy concessions, I won’t buy gifts with the Bears logo on it. The Bears Fan Cost Index (the cost to bring a family of 4 to a game, including parking, concessions, etc) is $557.18. And while I’m just one person, at $557.18 per family, enough people like me could present a significant revenue problem for an NFL franchise with “bad fans.”

What can teams do to prevent the revenue loss? First, they should take people seriously if they have a problem and fix it right there – unlike the Bears security who ignored me. This is customer service 101. That being said, I think the key is prevention. Perhaps teams could have more unifying events at the games – things like the National Anthem which remind us that even though we root for different teams, we all have something that unites us. Teams could also find ways to use influencers to remind fans that they are ambassadors for their city –and not in the form of a stadium announcement, but rather connecting influencers through fans with social  media. I’m certainly a realist, and am well aware that mixing beer with football easily leads to bad decisions. However, with Fan Cost Indices being so high, it would be worth some research to see if the cost “fan reform” could save potential revenue streams – even if it isn’t perfect, the benefits may outweigh the costs. I have a hunch that more great fans will ultimately lead to more dollars for an organization.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.

Ed Jaffe
MS IMC 2011, Northwestern University 

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