In each episode of The Playbook presented by FanFood, host Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment and hospitality. We invite industry veterans to talk about how customer expectation have changed in today’s world, and how businesses need to change accordingly for greater operational efficiency and better guest experience.
Listen to the Gameday Playbook on:
Chris Madden, Co-Founder at Matchnode, joins Rob Cressy to talk about what the in-stadium experience will look like in the future when fans return. Why will it be important to not have a “one size fits all” approach for messaging to fans? How can teams create more digital interactions to engage fans? What challenges will there be when fans return to stadiums? How can teams own the entire fan relationship, including after the game ends?
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Rob Cressy: (00:08)Welcome to The Playbook presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment, and hospitality. I’m your host, Rob Cressy. And joining me today is Chris Madden, Co-Founder at Matchnode. Chris, great to have you on the show.Chris Madden: (00:30)Thanks so much, Rob. Very excited to be here to chat with you.Rob Cressy: (00:33)Can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?Chris Madden: (00:38)Yes, I will. My name is Chris Madden like you said. I’m the co-founder at Matchnode. Matchnode is a digital advertising agency in Chicago. Excited to work with sports teams among other sorts of clients. We’ll just say over the years have listened to Rob’s pods and consumed a lot of his content, your content, your video pods, in particular, I had to take the chance to be when I’m going to be on your podcast. I got to put on an NBA Jam T-Shirt, man. I got Tony Kukoc and Dennis Rodman here on my NBA Jam team.Rob Cressy: (01:11)My man, I absolutely love that. And I actually met Tony Kukoc at an event once. And one, he was gigantic. And then two, I asked him about the sort of like, how do you get to the NBA? But more specifically like the routine. And it was something crazy like he made a thousand shots a day for like his entire life. And I don’t remember what the number was, but whatever it was is he did it every single day. So, if you ever wonder, what does it take to make the NBA? If you’re not making it at least a thousand shots a day from when you’re a teenager, probably don’t have a chance.Chris Madden: (01:51)Yeah. And as much as Tony Kukoc loves basketball, there were probably days where he didn’t feel like making a thousand shots.Rob Cressy: (01:57)Well, and I think that is actually the key to success. When everything’s puppy dogs and rainbows everybody’s good. But what do you do on the days in which you do not want to do something? And I know for myself, I try and specialize in those moments and you can actually break it down really simply because all it is is the absence of taking one step or one action. Because so often I think the simplest example is the gym. So many people have a block when it comes to fitness. You know what? I really just don’t want to go today because I’ve been going three days in a row, or I had a tough workout or I worked hard or kid’s, dog, insert whatever excuse. But the simplest thing that you can do is put on your running shoes. Set the clothes out the night before in the one action is what builds the momentum to allow you to overcome it. Because you know how many times in my life I have gone to the gym when I didn’t want to and immediately turned around when I got there and being like, you know what, Rob? You made it this far, I’m going back. None, 0%. So, the key is you just have to be aware of what can you do when that little trigger goes, I don’t want to do this. That should become a red flag that says, Ooh, I know that this happened sometimes red flag. Now, what do I do when that happens? Oh, what’s the one action I can take.Chris Madden: (03:23)Man, I love that. And I almost was going to give the exact same example because one of my breakthroughs, the same story going to the gym, going to yoga. I would have walked to class every day. And what seems like a big effort, I’ve realized all I had to do was go put my shorts on. It was no problem for me to walk into the other room, put my shorts on. And like you said, once I set my shorts on, I didn’t go. So, taking something that seems big and scary and turn it into something small and quick.Rob Cressy: (03:47)Oh, of course. And I think that is the key to so many things in business and in life is taking what is complex and making it simple. Because if you just say, are you going to just put on your shoes. I can do that. That’s way less intimidating than having to create this idea of what you think going into the gym has to be.Chris Madden: (04:06)Absolutely.Rob Cressy: (04:08)Well Chris, not that we’re here to talk about that, but that was a great start. And what we’re going to jam about is you’ve got some great experience in working with professional sports teams and certainly from a customer experience and fan engagement standpoint. What we’re going to jam about is looking forward. More specifically, when these arenas and stadiums open because it is an inevitability. We don’t know when that is going to be, but a big part of the customer experience certainly in the world of sports is in the arena, in-stadium. So, let’s talk about rethinking what things are going to look like when stadiums reopen.Chris Madden: (04:50)Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Very excited to talk about this. Something we’ve been thinking quite a bit a lot. We have some clients, including the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, the Cubs ownership. We didn’t sell tickets to the Cubs games, but we drove a lot of people to Gallagher Way, which is the entertainment district that builds around Wrigley field. But for the Bulls and Blackhawks, we were selling tickets. And when COVID hit this was a nice problem in the grand scheme of problems, but of course the arena shut down. We couldn’t sell tickets. So, we’ve been in conversations with our clients, the teams I mentioned as well as some other teams were hoping to start relationships with about what they’re saying and what they’re doing. So, excited about the chance to talk about this. You know, there are three eras. One is the current era we’re in which we don’t need to get into, but it’s like playing during the pandemic and we see how the NBA’s handled that. Just finished the finals when we’re talking now a couple of nights ago. A lot that they did went well. We see what some college football teams, the NBA, the NHL, the WNBA. All these different leagues are playing through the pandemic best they can. Some of them are going very well, some of the very challenging.We’re looking forward to what we’re calling it the first half of 2021. When we see arenas reopening and teams are going to be playing during what we’re calling the end of the pandemic. We hope that the pandemic is going to be ending in the first half of 2021 with vaccines and therapeutics and things like that. If you don’t buy that as a different podcast, but for the first half of 2021 we think that like the NBA in particular, given that they’re indoor arenas, they’re going to be racing to get a new season started and a weird timeline. They’re trying to hold off as long as they can so that we can make progress on therapeutics and vaccines, and they can get as many games as possible in with fans in the arena. So, what are those early games gonna look like? It was probably quite different than hopefully what the second half of the calendar year 2021 will look like. And even in the second half of the calendar year 2021, like this third phase when hopefully the virus is no longer a concern, there’s going to be a lot of things that are different and remain and changes that stick. So, this first reopening there’s going to be a lot of focus on contactless experiences getting into the arena. Potentially ordering food to your seat. Like this, the sponsor of this podcast here, ordering food at your seat on your phone and then someone who brings you the food. It’s much less likely to have contact with people you’re not playing to, than if you have to go stand in line for concessions. The same thing with merchandising. The same thing with getting into the door with a digital ticket on your phone that doesn’t get swiped. So, this first era, the end of the pandemic, the first half of the calendar, the year 2021, it’s going to be all about making fans feel comfortable and safe in the arena so that they want to go again.Rob Cressy: (07:42)Yeah. And I love it. And I think this messaging is going to be extremely important. I think this is going to be before you get to the game during the game and after the game because what we’re dealing with are levels of comfort, but at the same time, we’re dealing with different types of fans. So, if you think about it we’ve got diehard fans who, ‘ll go to any Blackhawks or Bulls game, no matter what because that’s what they live in die. You’ve got the casual fans who like sports and want a good experience. And then you’ve got someone who may be coming in from out of town who may go once or twice there, but it’s not a big thing for them. So, right now, I think on the lower end, the people who can give or take going to an event, they’re probably not going to be the ones in this first phase we’re going to be going. Cause they’re a little bit more concerned about things, but we’ve got the majority who are, let’s just call them fans. We like to go to games. We enjoy the experience we root for the teams. We might not be die-hard, but you know what? We feel a sense of pride in going, and then you’ve got the diehard fans. So, can you talk about the importance of the messaging to each of them because it’s not a size fits all?Chris Madden: (08:56)Yeah, it’s not a one size fits all. And this gets well into the work that we do a lot for teams. You mentioned those three different fan segments. That could be a good example of how different teams would look at their groups that they’re going to message to. And then you’re also getting at, I think you need to overlay each of those three groups, comfort and approach your feeling about COVID and the safety of being out generally on top of those three groups. So, in any of those three groups, just my personal experience has been sometimes surprised by certain people in my life who changed their stance on COVID that first day. Maybe though it wasn’t a big deal, that scare happens and they’re really worried. So, I think just like each person’s personal take on the pandemic is going to impact no matter where you are in those three groups. But for example, I can certainly see some of our clients going to season ticket holders, or maybe the NBA might be doing some of this right now is they’re considering when to schedule and how to reopen.They’re probably going to do a lot of just surveying. When are you comfortable coming back? Would you be comfortable coming back to an arena without a half full vaccine? Would you be coming back to an arena only if everybody has a vaccine? And so I’m sure that they’re doing a lot of work right now to pull some of that information out of season ticket holders, for example. I agree with you, I think that like for the casual fan who is much as looking for a night out and something to do. I’m going to go to the United Center here in Chicago because it’s a fun thing to do. And I like the NBA and they’re playing the Bulls are playing the Raptors. Sure, let’s go. They’re not like super into the Bulls, huge Bulls fan. And they’re not like crazy NBA, It’s just the thing to do. I think some of those people will probably be some of the last to come back because they are again, looking for a thing to do at night. And we’ve all been locked in so much, maybe a restaurant’s going to scratch that itch, or maybe they can go somewhere that doesn’t have 18,000 people. They might be slower to come back.So, I think some of our messages that we’re working with and our strategies with the different teams that we work with will answer that. And we probably won’t run ads to that group as much. The people who want to come back we think early on, A that subset of people who are comfortable generally that are not the ones that are being most strict or careful within the protocols or guidelines. So, this group that’s more comfortable generally and then people who are super huge fans of the WNBA or a particular team, particular league or a game. So, it’s those really avid fans that are most comfortable with Covid that are coming back, and then I think like there’s going to be an element at the beginning of proof that you got the vaccine or prove that one way or another, that you’re safe for everybody else to be around. We’ve gotten used to getting our temperature checked when we walk into places so I think the NBA has been extremely innovative and on the cutting edge, whether it’s the saliva test that they helped develop where even things when you walk into the arena that assure that you’re safe to be there.Rob Cressy: (11:55)I think one thing that stands out to me is you talked about the touchless cashless and certainly FanFood is a great option to elevate the customer experience for that. But, having just the game on in an almost entirely digital experience in the arena, I do believe there’s going to need to be more to elevate the customer experience. Because they’re arguing me some elements that were taken away from the experience. So for example, Benny the bull brings out a t-shirt cannon. Well, where does that fall in the reopening phases of where we are now? It’s something that a crowd goes nuts because people love free stuff. So boom, if all of a sudden giving away free stuff via the Canon’s gone well, what are we replacing it with? And certainly, if things are more digital than does that mean there is more emphasis on the jumbotron.So, certainly, we love the coffee bagel, donut race that may happen, or insert whatever it is. But I believe there’s going to need to be more done to make sure that the customer experience is better because there are going to be a good amount of things that are taken away. There is going to be a natural skepticism. So, for a large majority of the audience, it’s not going to be the same as a year or two ago, going to a bulls game where you have that feeling, you’re excited, you’re grabbing a beer, you’re getting something to eat, you’re finding your seat. You’re watching the game and it’s an overall good thing. We never got into the arena being like, Oh my God, who’s around me, who’s touching me. There’s just a different awareness level. So, it’s something where if you know, the mindset is that coming in the stadiums or arenas, and the teams are going to need to do something to make that even better for me. And I don’t know if that means, when you get into the arena, they take a picture of you with Benny of the bull or the Blackhawks ice girls or a cutout of Michael Jordan or something like that. But I believe something needs to be done as a positive replacement to make this a better experience because otherwise, I’m just going to watch it at home if it’s only about the game.Chris Madden: (14:08)Yeah, I would agree. I would argue that that’s one of the areas in which the different teams and arenas have done a lot of really great innovation. It is a full entertainment experience to be at an NBA or an NHL game these days. You mentioned the jumbotron, the United Center replaced their jumbotron before last season. And so they’ve got this huge, everyone that gets installed at any big arenas like the largest one in the world for about six minutes before a new one goes up somewhere. So, they did just make a large investment in the jumbotron. I live like a lot of confidence in the people who work those areas of the events that they’re like extremely creative, but the one example you gave the Dunkin Donuts race at the United center where it’s coffee bagel iced coffee, bagel, these days and the doughnut, of course, going in a race. So, the Bulls turn that into a digital experience when COVID happened and they stopped doing it. There’s a digital game you can play now and they’re pushing people to. So, there may be more digital interactions with those sorts of things.You made a good point about going to have a beer that also changed a lot of the arenas to make there be more spaces to congregate. There are like bigger bars and things I feel like in arenas than there used to be. So, I think for some period of time, they’re gonna want people to get their food delivered at their seat and not be standing around in the bar for 25 minutes at halftime because it’s fun to be out and about among all the people. And so those sorts of things, I think you’re right that the in-arena entertainment experience, they’re probably at a lot of time right now and in the past six months to think through how that’s going to happen. Maybe there are things that happened in the NBA bubble that helped with that. Even though there weren’t fans there, there’s just a lot of innovation around what’s happening in the building or on the court where the teams are playing. So, I don’t have a lot of doubt that the creative people who work on that are going to come up with some great, some great substitutes. And I think that then some of those substitutes improvements add ons as you mentioned, are going to bleed over into this even better period, call it a year from now where people are not afraid of COVID anymore because everyone is vaccinated. And so what are those things that will stick and be in and change the experience long-term beyond just this window where we’re going to try to go back to arenas, but people are still worried cause COVID is still out there.Rob Cressy: (16:36)So, if things are going to be more digital, I see two extremely important things. The first one’s an issue that’s been forever, wifi connectivity. If we’re doing a more digital experience and if we’ve ever been to the United center or some of these places, and there are 20,000 people all on wifi trying to get it and it doesn’t work, well guess what? All of a sudden, that’s a huge negative. And I know from my own standpoint, that’s almost a reason for me to not go to the game because I’m tweeting NBA games or NHL games as things happen or doing live betting and things like that. And if the connectivity is not on point, because why would I ever go somewhere that makes my digital life worse. But that’s what we experienced in large gatherings and if everything becomes more digital, well that becomes a huge problem.And then number two becomes the execution from stadium, team, or partners. So, if Dunkin Donuts creates a mobile app around this donut race or something, that thing better work and I know maybe Dunkin Donuts’ll work fine because they’re used to this, but rinse and repeat this across every single sponsor. Because I know so often excuses can be made for why something doesn’t happen. And all of a sudden the users don’t use it and they get a bad response and the campaign didn’t work. Well, guess what? There are real business repercussions when this giant sponsorship around digital that you have doesn’t work. And I want to make sure that everyone emphasizes the execution side of it because it’s not just good enough to create it. You need to execute upon it.Chris Madden: (18:15)And the wifi one is an excellent point. And I’ve had that experience of the wifi is just super slow because there are so many people pulling on it at once or even the cellular networks not good enough. And there are moments during the game where everybody’s getting on their phone. Of course, there are moments in the game where no one is because everyone’s watching the play on the court on the field or whatever, but I’ve had that experience certainly where I’m trying to back in the day when I used to take Uber’s call trying to get an Uber at the end of the game, but it’s not just that the Uber’s are hard to get because of the logistics of the car, it’s you can’t get the connection to get to Uber. So yeah, those that digital connectivity is an excellent point.And I think that some of these things, again, are going to be shorter-term because long-term the real value of bringing people, digital extensions are great all the time and in my opinion, but the real value is people being there for the live experience. And when we get through this, trying to play through the end of the pandemic and the pandemic is over I see that there’s going to be, again these things that are going to stick and be left over as far as digital extensions, but there’s also gonna be, you mentioned gambling. We’re both I think in the state of Illinois right now where gambling is legal here in the state. There’s already been announcements on this with some arenas, but the big win is going to be having the wagering happen at the arena in a sportsbook in the arena which of course, again, it’s already happening in places.And I saw some of the DraftKings people saying that they’re going to have sponsors to just basically push lines in your favor if you’re in the arena. Meaning there’s going to be a company that’s going to put up the money and where that money’s going to go to is like, cover the difference between what the line should be and what the line is. So, they’re bringing you to the arena to get a special line. So again, that’s not a digital thing though. All of the digital pieces we’re talking about and watching different games cause you’re betting on not just the game you’re at, but all the other games, all that stuff needs to be upgraded from the digital infrastructure point of view to marry the stuff that’s happening in real-time. That’s unique because you’re at the arena that you can’t get anywhere else. Cause ultimately that’s why people are going to go because it’s something you can’t get anywhere else. And so the digital extensions are really important short-Term and long-term, but I think they’re going to have to be balanced with the in-person experience too.Rob Cressy: (20:36)And remember this, everything that you see with sports betting, and that was a great example that you gave right there. But when you see every single sport betting marketing campaign, remember this, it is all about one thing, user acquisition. All they’re trying to do is sweeten the pots to acquire new users to then get them into the funnel to create a long-term value for them. So, if they create, Hey bet the Chicago Bulls at plus 23 today for Michael Jordan, the reason they’re doing that is just to acquire users. But I think it’s also important to think about every other company that is in there. Their mindset should also be to acquire digital users, which brings me to the last part of this cycle, the Postgame messaging or communication. So, we go ahead and do the Dunkin Donuts race, or we sign up with DraftKings or whatever in the arena. But I believe if we’re going to have a significant digital experience, then what does the post arena experience look like?Is there a campaign already created from these brands that say, listen, we know when someone comes into our funnel because that’s essentially what it is, is a marketing funnel. We know when they come in here, we are going to do X, Y, and Z to cultivate the relationship, to communicate with them regularly because I believe that’s an area that is actually a huge weakness. That when the bulls score a hundred and you win a free taco and you bring your ticket in and you go there it’s cool on a, you get a free taco, but they should own more of that relationship. And for me, that would be one of the biggest things that these brands or any brand or company can do is own the post-game relationship so that I can continue to live in your world and it’s not just a one-time thing.Chris Madden: (22:32)Yeah, absolutely. You got to nail the up if you’re going to spend that much money to where the customer in the first place. And I’d say the sports teams are looking to do the same of just like own the relationship for a greater percentage of your week before and after the game and all the different things that might be watching YouTube highlights and counting fan engagement and counting your engagement is getting a pretty complex and big story about the NBA ratings. How are we counting that? How are we counting people watching online versus not? But you’re right, that it’s all about customer acquisition. The teams see it the same way. And if you’re gonna spend money to acquire the customer, but not follow up properly so you can increase the lifetime value and maintain that good relationship, it’s not a good thing. It’s like getting off on a good foot with a person that you like and meet, and you’re like going to be, maybe we’ll be friends and then neither side follows up. So, you got to nail the follow up if you’re gonna spend the money on the front end to start to get the customer.Rob Cressy: (23:34)Quick side note on the rating side of things, they’re almost irrelevant to me because it’s a generic number. And as we’ve talked about going into that number diehard, regular fan, a casual fan, so what audience are you most trying to appeal to? The one who’s just going to be wishy-washy maybe a look at it, are they ever really going to be a customer anyway? Or are we saying that by someone who is a lukewarm fan watching the game, they see one commercial, so that equals an ad impression for our advertisers? So, we know that 12 cents goes to Coca-Cola and we make money from this. Like, what are your thoughts on that? Because for me, I’m a bigger believer in speaking to the niches and building a community. And, you know as both of us being basketball fans, this was a slice of heaven. And quite frankly, I don’t care if not the casual fan didn’t watch it because man, that NBA finals and specifically that game five, that was one of the best games I’ve ever seen.Chris Madden: (24:38)I agree. And the hard hardcore NBA fans that I’ve talked to saying the same thing, that it doesn’t matter to me how many people are watching it. And it was such an amazing break amidst all of this to see that and the skill and the quality of the gameplay of the bubble were really amazing. Ratings going way, way back like I remember being a kid and being shocked that the Nielsen ratings were literally just people writing down what they watched on TV and like that’s how it was done. So, I don’t think that I’ve ever been counted well. I do think something I haven’t heard too many people discuss that I think is a factor. It’s just the way people consume the NBA is different. And when the NBA fan of 30 years ago, some big percentage of their time thinking about the NBA wasn’t there watching the games. I think now there’s a lot of people who are listening to podcasts, reading articles, playing fantasy, maybe doing daily fantasy betting where they’re barely even watching the games or they watch like the 9 minute YouTube highlight the next morning just because the NBA has opened itself up to be consumed in this way. But I have a feeling and I don’t know this for a fact it’s speculation, but in a feeling, MBA is like gonna be a little bit concerned until they actually see everybody come back to the arenas. Because just too much has changed and it’s been a long time. And the thing that does matter for ratings of course, is the TV contracts, which feed the salaries and everything else. Like the whole economic structure of the sport is based on people watching it on TV. So it matters for that reason, even if it doesn’t affect my enjoyment that much.So I think that there’s a lot to be considered. One thing I think that fits in this digital extension in that if you’re not going to have the fan in the arena, how do you own that digital relationship? And this could be a jumping-off point to some other discussion, but I don’t know if you’ve seen them Rally House. I grew up a Notre Dame football fan and they’ve got this second screen experience where you can pay per game or pay for the season and in exchange, you basically get your screen is going to have this like super Notre Dame football experience where there’s like former players are sitting in a room. You’re video chatting with friends across the country, maybe your former friends or roommates if you’re an alum and you live anywhere else. I think these things are really cool. That’s an organization admitting to the many people that aren’t going to be able to get into the stadium each week and say, well, how do we charge the people who aren’t there and give them a better experience as our fans?Rob Cressy: (27:06)You nailed it right there. To me, I hear you on the TV side. The digital side is what I care about more because think about it, how many of us are grumbling over direct TV, Comcast, all the sort of TV providers, whereas everything’s going digital. You actually described me as a basketball fan. I love all things, sports. I love playing basketball. I’ve played my entire life. I’m a long time Bulls fan, but here’s the problem. The Chicago Bulls have not been good since Derrick Rose got injured. And it wasn’t very much in my interest to watch a team that wasn’t making the playoffs for the last few years. But, guess what? Even if I wasn’t watching Bulls games, I’m listening to Zach Lowe’s podcast and Bill Simmons and Jalen and Jacoby. I’m playing fantasy basketball. I’m doing sports betting.TNT, I love Chuck and Ernie and Kenny and Shaq. So, I am almost the perfect example of the new modern fan. And we’ve talked about this so much on this podcast where I know as much or more about basketball than 99.9% of people. But if you were to look at my consumption of watching basketball, it is probably in the lower spectrum because there are so many other things buying for my attention, but I love the culture of basketball so much that I’m willing to deep dive into the digital world, even if I may not be doing it on a live experience on TV.Chris Madden: (28:36)Yeah. I mean, I think that’s absolutely right. I think that’s a lot of what’s been going on as well. So it’s an exciting time. It’s been a bad time for so many people in lots of ways, but a really hard time for sports franchises. All of the people who work in the arenas who work at the organizations that you never see unfortunately are probably catching the brunt of some of this. But I think that the innovation and the fearlessness around change a lot of successful organizations can get kind of stuck in what they do because it’s worked in the past and that all got thrown out of the window with this. So, we’re looking forward to, of course, once the fear of the pandemic ends and it’s really just an entertainment dollar decision of like, do I spend my dollar to go to this arena or am I going to spend it to go out to dinner and do something else with a different group of people? That’s where my agency will continue to come in because we drive revenue for teams. We’re selling tickets and getting leads for season tickets, corporate group ticket sales.So, we imagine that we’re going to see more people wanting to do that. There’s a lot of teams that haven’t been doing it because I don’t know why, but it just seems like now no one really has much of a choice other than, they’re all going to have unfortunately big holes in their budgets and big holes in 2020 that’s going to be dragging on them for years. And so when things do get better imagine they’re going to be doing a day and the teams are going to be doing everything they can to get all the revenue they can out of all of us as fans.Rob Cressy: (30:09)Chris, I really enjoyed jamming with you. And I got to give you a shout out for that shirt because it is a branding tip. The more personalization that you can give something the better. And certainly, for someone like you, that is straight out of my playbook when I’m on someone else’s podcast and I know something about them, I am going to give an Easter egg as a little hat tip to the host. Where can everybody connect with you?Chris Madden: (30:35)Go to Matchnode.com if you want to reach out to us particularly for agency business like I was describing. Or personally, you can find me on Twitter @MaddenCM. So, those are the two best ways.Rob Cressy: (30:49)And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. And here’s what I’m curious about. How quickly will you be going back to stadiums or arenas to watch live sports? I want to know sort of where your temperature is. Are you dying to get back there or are you going to be a little bit cautious? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @FanFoodondemand. On Instagram @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @RobCressy.