FanFood Fireside Chat with Jonathan Harris, Founder of JHsports+
FanFood's Fireside Chat series features interviews with our advisors who are veterans in the sports tech and marketing space. We cover topics from fan experience and stadium tech trends to business strategies and tips on how to run smooth gameday operations.
Jonathan Harris is the Founder of JHsportjhs+, which provides any sports team, ownership or management group with a trustworthy resource, including expert insight to one of the most important pieces of the fan experience, from initial evaluation to execution to on-going management of the business:
About Technology in the Sports Industry
Q: In your mind, what are some big monumental trends facing the sports industry that are at the forefront of your mind, especially when it comes to technology?
A: Fan engagement is the No. 1 thing. Especially in our business, minor league baseball, it's all about how do we make sure that our guests are having the most unique, fun, fan-friendly, and engaging experience they could possibly have. Data technology is a big part of that these days. You see a lot of trends, as far as ticket sales, wavering all over the place. Trying to know our guests as well as we possibly can is really one of the focal points of what we try and do. Then using technology to that end is what I think is a major trend now and something that is not ever going to go away.
Q: You said you want to know who your fans are. What technology solutions are you using to figure that out?
A: We are trying to create partnerships with the right organizations, from a tech standpoint, to find out what Joe Fan and Sally Fan enjoy. What do they like to eat? What do they like to find in the merchandise store? What kind of amusement rides do they like to ride? Collecting and using that information is one of the initiatives that we're trying to undertake.
Q: With that in mind, what are some of the key trends that you're seeing in this space that are making you the most excited? What's something that's firing you up right now?
A: Something that is firing me up is realizing there is an opportunity to really get to know our fans better. It's more of a question of when this is going to happen as opposed to if. Talking to a lot of data mining companies and point of sale solutions, and thinking of different ways to approach ticketing or food and beverage. There's a lot of opportunity there and low-hanging fruit for us as minor league baseball operators that we're looking forward to taking advantage of. We're very excited about what the future holds and we want to try and be at the forefront of the next era of using a point of sale solution to really get to know our fans.
Q: Some things are changing in the space, but what are some of the universal things about sports-going and live entertainment that are never going to change no matter what technology is being used?
A: At the end of the day, people go to a sporting event or live entertainment event for a few hours. We have a very defined window of time or where a family of four or has disposable income and disposable time. So, what are they going to do with that disposable time? They want to go somewhere and do something with their family that's going to take them away from the mundane day to day stuff: school, work, what have you. It's an escape, a place where you can go slam a couple of hot dogs if you want to and enjoy the time with your family. The joy of being with your family and going to a place like a sports event is letting your cares go for a couple of hours. That never changes.
About Social Media and Fan Engagement
Q: You oversee a few minor league teams. What sort of role are you seeing social media playing now in the sports area?
A: Engaging the fans, from a social media aspect, is key. I see it as more of a marketing opportunity. When done right, it can be fun and kitschy and draws some attention to your product. But, more important than having a social media presence is doing it right. Having a go-getter type of employee that's using social media to draw attention to your product is critical. I'm not necessarily sure the exact dollar amount of revenue is coming out of that stream. But, making sure that your presence is felt in a fun, impressive way is certainly vital to your brand. Making sure your brand is relevant and fresh in the community where you're selling tickets is critical.
About Mainstreet Baseball
Q: Tell me a little bit about Mainstreet Baseball.
A: We own and operate four minor league baseball teams. They're primarily owned by Dave Heller, who's the CEO and president of the company. He's been buying and selling teams for probably 20 years now. I've been in minor league baseball for about 20 years now.
What we emphasize at our ballparks is fun. In our ballpark in Davenport, Iowa, we've got nine amusement rides, including a hundred foot tall Ferris wheel. We view our ballpark almost as an amusement park. You go in, you want to eat and drink. You want to be with your family and ride the rides. There just happens to be a live sporting event going on. We place a great emphasis on just putting smiles on people's faces. That's our main goal. We're always looking to push the envelope and try to be as innovative as possible. Um, in minor league baseball. It's a fun world to be in.
Q: You mentioned you've been in Minor League Baseball for 20 years and you know. This might be putting on the spot a little bit, but can you pick a moment or a particular project that's the highlight of your career?
A: I can't necessarily pinpoint a moment. But I started a food and beverage company with my partners at the time. We took it from a $10,000 checking account to doing $100 million of revenue in 2018 was the highlight of my career. I'm grateful for that experience because I learned what it takes to grow a business like that and I made great relationships, connections, and friends along the way. Growing a business like that in the fast-paced environment was a wild ride. I laughed, I cried, I bled but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was an incredible experience and a successful one as well. That's certainly something that I'm extremely proud of. It set me up for the ability to continue to be an entrepreneur for the rest of my career.
Q: I want to move now to FanFood. You are on the company's advisory board. What interests you about the company?
A: The great thing about FanFood is that is they're picking a spot where people have tried and failed. And they're putting a lot of effort behind it. I think that just goes more towards their leadership than anything. The product is relevant in this day and age because of this important trend of people want paying to ensure that the convenience factors there for them without having to buy a VIP seat or be in a suite. Also, I believe that the speed of service and efficiency is critical. It's a one-play, one-click environment that users demand, and people want their food experience to be efficient in the best way.
They want their food to be hot and they don't want to spend a lot of time dealing with the process. So, what FanFood does very effectively is targeting that mindset of the consumer and attacking it to the extent that you people don't have to miss any part of the action or leave a gathering of friends to get a refill or hotdog. I think all of us have a food and beverage app we loved and utilize. It can really change the way you look at a certain product. What FanFood does not only will help the consumer, but also the facilities and sports teams by helping their brand.