An estimated €300 million was spent on the renovation of the Khalifa Stadium in Doha which focused on the very latest in stadium design features and digital technology including the installation of an innovative cooling technology, to keep both spectators and athletes comfortable, and track projection, which used laser projectors to screen custom content across the entire running track.
Add to this, sponsorship and retail deals, broadcasting rights, and advertising revenue and the live sporting event figures reach eye watering heights.
However, at the recent IAAF World Athletics Championships the “exciting match-day experience” promised by the stadium’s management did not happen.
As television viewers across the world we watched top athletes deliver the very best of themselves. Records were broken, dreams achieved, hours of sacrifice and gruelling regimes validated by medal winning efforts.
Yet these extraordinary performances were being delivered to an empty house. Despite valiant attempts of family, team mates and the journalist community to cheer them on, these athletes were running their victory laps in an empty stadium.
Amidst the heady heights of billion dollar investments, new technologies and big business deals, somebody somewhere forgot a fundamental element to the live sporting event ecosystem: the fans.
Remember the fans? They are the people who buy the tickets, who support their teams or sports personalities through good and bad seasons, who buy the food and drink, who wear the merchandise, and who travel long distances to venues that are not always easy to get to. The fans are amongst a club’s major assets and deserve to be treated accordingly.
Doha was a perfect of example of how the “build it and they will come” philosophy can be a doomed one, if the necessary steps are not taken to fully engage fans at a human level which means talking to them, listening to what they have to say and making that emotional connection to ensure they actually come to the event and when they do, that their live sporting experience is the very best possible.
Fans are looking for a memorable, emotional experience and what happens off the field is very often as important as the event itself.
There are many elements to fan engagement and much of it happens outside the stadium or arena. However, there can be no doubt that the most meaningful part of engagement starts as soon as the fan approaches the security barrier at the venue with ticket in hand. This is the first of many touchpoints the fan will experience across their game day journey and what happens to them at each one will determine whether their experience is a positive or a negative one.
Organisational process and digital offerings will play a part but whether value is added or eroded across the touchpoints will largely be determined by frontline staff behaviours, The problem is that many of those staff will be part time employees, volunteers or even agency supply staff who simply don’t have the adequate training or capacity to be able to provide fans with the game day treatment they expect or deserve for their loyalty.
Frontline staff need to be given the tools to be able to deliver the best possible experience through training, education and communication protocols. The provision of informed, knowledgeable, empowered staff is a major key to providing that memorable experience. Staff need to be aware of the customers’ needs and to fully understand that their actions make a direct impact on the fan experience at every single event.
An organisation that prioritises, fosters and develops customer-centric thinking into daily activity, where the customer is at the heart of everything they do, will soon translate this focus to their frontline staff whether they are directly employed or provided by third parties. Customer-centric values will influence decisions and behaviours and staff will quickly learn how to use the training and communications resources available to ensure consistency and continuity in their behaviours and actions. By investing in the employee experience clubs and sports venues will find they have to rely less on a home win to strengthen the fan relationship and will also find they are in a much stronger position to secure the next generation of followers.
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