Ep. 22: Solutions To Making The Fan Feel Loved with Jonathan Harris
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Jonathan Harris, Founder of JH Sports Plus, joins Rob Cressy to talk about solutions to making the fan feel loved. How can teams and brands use technology, data, and knowledge to make that relationship with the fan last longer? Who is in charge of making the fan feel loved (the marketing department, the technology department)? What can we learn from how the amusement park industry personalizes your experience? What can teams and brands do to make fans feel loved other than giving discounts?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04) Welcome to the GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is Jonathan Harris, the founder of JH Sports Plus consulting and advisory services. Jonathan, great to have you on the show.
Jonathan Harris: (00:34)
Thanks Rob. Great to be here.
Rob Cressy: (00:36)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Jonathan Harris: (00:41)
Absolutely. Thanks for the time again. My name's Jonathan Harris. I'm the founder of JH Sports Plus, like you said, I've been in minor league baseball for about 20 years in a variety of roles, but most significantly, over 12 years, I founded and ran as CFO with my partners professional sports catering, which was the only concessionaire to minor league baseball of its kind. We grew that business from a small startup to over a hundred million dollars in 35 clients across the country. That's where a lot of my great experience came from. Currently I'm taking a lot of that knowledge from building a business from the ground up and seeing everything it takes to run a food and beverage operation, to other team owners in sports and beyond.
Rob Cressy: (01:33)
One thing that we were talking about before the show that I want to start out with is solutions to make the fan feel loved. How you can use technology, data and knowledge. Can you expand on this a little bit?
Jonathan Harris: (01:49)
That's right. When you were talking a little bit before the podcast, one of the things that we as consumers, you know, even though we're in this great business and we're lucky to be in it, sometimes maybe it's hard to lose sight that we are consumers too. I was just having this conversation once with my wife, you know, she was getting emails from a restaurant that we had just gone to and they asked her how her experiences was. Then they gave her a coupon for the next visit. And I asked her how that felt and it was overwhelmingly positive and one thing that we as consumers like and we can lose sight of, but what we really want for our guests, not only hot food and cold beverages, the ballgame, but also how does that feeling linger on? How does that feeling of love that we love our guests? How does that carry outside the ballparks too? Of course we want repeat customers just like everyone else in an industry where, costs are, it's sometimes hard to get a family to a ballgame. How do we make it enticing and how do we show that not only do we know them, we love them, and we want them to come back. So how do we use the data and technology, not just from a, you know, a big brother aspect or something like that, God forbid. But how do we use that data to really tell our fans and our guests that we know them and we care for them?
Rob Cressy: (03:17)
So do you feel like teams or brands do a good job of this? Because on the surface this seems like something that we would all say, of course you would want to make your fans feel loved. But then if you think about it and you say, all right, well tell me off the top of your head, all the brands and teams that you feel loved by. And I don't think that we're going to come up with a lot.
Jonathan Harris: (03:40)
No, that's exactly right Rob. And that's kind of the thing that it's kind of made me scratch my head for a little while is, yeah, you go to a game, you'll get an email from the ticketing provider, right? You might get an email from the team, but it really feels very boiler plate. Right? It feels like something that was automatically automated. Yeah. It's very automated. It doesn't feel real. It doesn't feel unique. Right. So the real question is how do you use the data that we are getting from people into a way where we're not just saying "you know what Rob, after I've crunched all these numbers and I've sat in front of a computer for all these hours and poured over the oldest data, let's raise prices 3% or let's drop prices 3%" or something like that.
Jonathan Harris: (04:33)
It's how do you really market, how do you engage your fan to a point where they feel, you know what they seem to really get it. I got this email and they really knew exactly that I bought nachos that day. That makes me feel special that they know that I like nacho. They saw that I got nachos twice. Um, so you know, here's a coupon for 20% off nachos. Next time you get off or you know what the nachos are on me or on the team. How do you create that data flow and use it to engage in market to the fan directly in a, in a more special insignificant way. What I would say is someone who's doing an incredible job of this who was on this podcast is Jesse Cole, owner of the Savannah Bananas who is all about the fan first experience.
Jonathan Harris: (05:26)
But what I would ask you is, all right, so who was in charge of this? Because if we say yes, we believe this and yes we can capture the data. I think what it ends up coming down to is accountability and often times the things that make the most sense, someone's going to say, yeah, but what does this do for our bottom line right now? Or they take the short term mindset instead of the long-term branding, relationship oriented mindset. But I'm bringing it back to the original question. Who all ultimately is in charge of making the fans feel loved? That's right. It really boils down to the organization itself and the strategy that they put in place to empower their employees to do that. And it also takes tools and investment. So finding the right system, finding the right way to capture that technology and, and implement it.
Jonathan Harris: (06:21)
That's really the job of the organization. And it really takes a really strategic, forward thinking organization to not only put their money where their mouth is, but also empower their employees to mine this data and use it in a very creative way because it's something that is not done over the landscape of a sports team. It's not something, you know, what you know, where you'd really do find it, Rob, is in amusement parks. That's really where you see a more holistic approach to the use of technology and bundling and catering to each and every particular individual and family.
Rob Cressy: (07:01)
How so? Can you explain that a little bit more?
(07:04) You know, an amusement park and I've been to, I've been lucky enough to go to the IAPA conference, which is here in Orlando. And I've gotten to talk to a lot of the point-of-sale system providers out there that use kind of a holistic approach to how they engage with fans. If you go to an amusement park, you'll go online and you'll find ways to really make the experience you're out from FastPasses to bundling food to getting discounts and really engaging with the client at the point of attack with the fan at the point of attack, which is I've decided to take my family to this amusement park. And they do have a very sophisticated way of not only engaging that fan and guest to the point, you know, where they're going to make their purchase, but also they have data where they see, you know, when you take your pass about the amusement park, they know what gate you went in, they know what rides you rode, they know what you purchased. It all boils down to also, you know, what kind of loyalty programs are in place. So it's kind of wide ranging and they opened their arms really, really wide at parks and it's, I think a model not only for just minor league baseball where you don't necessarily have a captive fan, but you know, sports as a whole.
Rob Cressy: (08:29)
I'm on board with you on the flow of an amusement park and the ability to capture each of the different things. But then I think about my experience as a sports fan when I enter a stadium, and let's assume that I purchased my ticket off of a third party site because that's traditionally the way that I do things. They don't have me right there. So now they scan me in on the Gates and then that's the last time that they track me or anything. When I buy anything, but despite the fact that I am on my phone the entire time, I would love to be able to use wifi. So God forbid they say "hey, give us your email so that you can log into the wifi." So can you give one action step that a team or a brand can do to say, "listen, we want to make the fans feel more loved. We want to use technology." Like what's one thing someone can do because God forbid knows this is a larger ongoing strategy.
Jonathan Harris: (09:31)
Sure, absolutely. It's a great question too. And there's a lot of different ways you can attack it. You could post something on a video board or make an announcement or flash something to a text message, where if you download an app or sign up for a loyalty program, you receive 25% off your purchase right then and there. That way the fan benefits monetarily from that offer. Then at the same time on the organizational side, you capture that person's data, email address, other things, likes, dislikes, birthdays, whatever it is that the kind of data you want to capture. And in a perfect world, like you said, Rob, everyone's on their phone, right? No one really wants another card in their wallet, right? So in some way to white label or create an app, an application where the team is actually capturing that data through that app, and then you can use your mobile app at the point of sale. Boom. There you go. You're off and running.
Rob Cressy: (10:39)
How much of this has to be around "monetization" on the point of sale? So for example, when you say we're going to give you 25% off, I agree that that would benefit the fan monetarily. But then does that really make me feel loved? Does this really stand out? We're recording this on Cyber Monday, so we are inundated with offers nonstop in our lives. "Discount, buy this, do this, do this." It's really a lot of those percentages off. They can just raise the prices $20 and then give us a 20% discount - we don't know the difference. So playing devil's advocate, if we're not going to be pulling the lever of discount, because for me you're always trying to get my money, what would be the next thing that we can do?
Jonathan Harris: (11:32)
Well, it also opens up the door to what we call the "sleeves off your vest strategies," right? Unique experiences for your kids, for your family. Sit in the dugout, get a signed bat. Have your kid come out on their birthday gratis. Again, that's a little bit more monetary, but again, you want to feel loved. There's a million ways that sports teams and the organizations that are blessed to be in this business provide unique experience for our fans and guests that doesn't cost a lot, but it makes people feel like a million bucks.
Rob Cressy: (12:15)
You nailed it. Me, the sports fan, 25% off: I'm not interested. Unique experience where myself or my kids could go up and meet the mascot before or a meet and greet with the players because now that makes you feel some sort of way. You're always get a dopamine hit when you buy something. But if all of a sudden you get to meet a player or you get to walk on the court or the field and then guess what you're going to do: you're going to take a picture and then you're going to post that picture on social media and then you're going to tell people about it and then the next time people see you, they're going to say, "Jonathan! I saw that you were down at the Bulls game and you were on the floor. How in the world did that happen?! Tell me about it." And you're like "this is incredible! I went to a Bulls game and they've got this loyalty offer where they said, 'Hey, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,' and I went there." Now, you're creating this positive word of mouth and this is what I love so much about marketing in fan engagement; the opportunity that is there because I believe the majority of teams in brands aren't willing to go the extra to say what can we do to provide a unique experience? And I think it all comes down to what you said at the very beginning with the example with your wife. It is about we're all consumers and that's always been my marketing mindset and why any brand would ever work with me because I'm the target demographic. You would say, Rob, how do we market to sports fans? Now I would say, let me think about this for a second. What would I love for a brand to do for me? And let's create exactly that.
Jonathan Harris: (13:53)
So right. I mean, how many times you've sat around a bar or a dinner table with friends and you talked about the 25% off you got on nachos. That being said, I don't want to throw that out the window, because I think it means something to people. But when you're sitting at the bar or you're sitting around the table with friends, or with your family, or other kids and you say, "we sat in the dugout for batting practice," or "we took a picture with the mascot, or the mascot came to my house with a birthday cake." That's the stuff that resonates. Those are the stories that we live by.
Rob Cressy: (14:33)
So what we're talking about now is putting together this overall narrative, because if you were to lead with experience and then all of a sudden say "you know what Jonathan, we want to thank you for coming to this Bulls game. Here is 25% off Joe's apparel right now. Or the next time. "And 'oh by the way,' you know, what else I think would work. Give this to a friend." Imagine if your friend had the ability to benefit from your loyalty to a brand.
Jonathan Harris: (15:06)
Absolutely. I mean there's so much you can do with that. The world really opens very, very wide with this kind of approach. There's so much that you can do, there's so many ways you can connect, and there are so many ways you can spread that love.
Rob Cressy: (15:24)
All right - so once again, in a short conversation, you and I very quickly figured out how to make fans feel loved. But once again, why is this not happening more, and what can be done? We've given these action items here, but a lot of it, you hear theory, but I want to try and understand tangibly from an organization level cause you've got experience working with teams on the highest level. So take us into sort of that mindset: what is their challenges for why this might not be happening?
Jonathan Harris: (16:01)
A very big challenge is the segmentation of a lot of the points of sale systems, right? You've got a lot of different things getting data and a lot of people, lot of different organizations coming at you with a different type of system. Everyone says, "we integrate this, we integrate that." But, the key is really who out there is really using it in a holistic manner? I'm from their ticketing system to their merchant system, to their food and beverage system. Words are cheap, actions speak loudly. What I think is the issue, at least from my chair and what I see when I've been in this business for almost 20 years is reports on Excel spreadsheets, right? "You're still seeing, well, I've got to get data from here. I got to get information from over there," so what's going to be to pull everything together so that we can really connect with everyone on a very holistic manner. That's, to me the root of the issue.
Rob Cressy: (17:13)
Is this something that should be led by marketing or by the technology side of things. If I'm looking at two different departments that could do this, there's the marketing department that could lead this, but the marketing department may not know the execution, or you can say "let's go over to the CTO and say, 'listen, you understand the technology side of things, so you have the ability to execute it,'" but they may not have the mindset that a marketer would have. So where should this originate?
Jonathan Harris: (17:47)
I think it really needs to originate from all the department heads because if you listen to every department head, from the tech, to the marketing, to even the box office, food and beverage - I think if everyone pulled on the same side of the rope with this particular type of solution, and sat there around the table and said, "okay, we have this 'box.' And we opened that box and solves or addresses all the things I need from an operational standpoint or from a data output standpoint. I think that everyone would see that it's a solution that works for everyone. So I don't want to say it's someone's decision - it's more of a collective organizational decision where you're pulling the greatest needs of each one of these departments. But at the end of the day, we know that the marketing, the, the ability to market to people is really in the hands of those marketing folks. Everything kind of flows from there. Ticket information, food and beverage sales, like it's all one, it's all in that box and it's hard to say. It's really, specifically one person's job to lead the charge. It's kind of has to be a collective effort.
Rob Cressy: (19:14)
And I love that last point. It is not just one person's job because oftentimes that can be the challenge. Someone will just say, "oh, it's marketing," or "oh, it's tech that needs to handle this," and it needs to be an overall organizational or brand philosophy to say "what can we do to be more relationship oriented?" And we know that this is going to have a positive monetary impact on both the short term, but on the long term basis we're going to be able to increase border maps, we're going to increase our fan base, we're going to increase our loyalty. This will have a positive effect on everything that we do, so this is everybody's responsibility. As we wrap this up, is there anything that I didn't ask you that you would think would be beneficial for the audience to hear?
Jonathan Harris: (20:04)
I don't think so. I mean, I think in this time of the year where we're getting, like you said, absolutely bombarded with ads and offers and emails and things of that nature. My sense is I would ask everyone out there, especially in this business, to think of something that connected with you. Because again, I mean even in my Gmail today, I must've had, I don't know, 75 emails by the time we started this podcast, all with different offers and how many of those 75 really resonated with me, really connected with me. And if that's what the output is from our organizations, our teams, from our marketing departments, you got to assume that the person on the other end is kind of like, "eh, send that to the trash can send out to the trash band." What are we going to do on a day to day basis out there to make sure that something stands out, someone feels the connection. It's not something that's boiler plate size to be molded and carefully crafted.
Rob Cressy: (21:13)
And you know what I say is in addition to that for an action item, take one piece of content or messaging, and personalize it. Right now we're going to be in very much automation and funnels and things like that where you're just going to say, "hey, thanks for ordering. Here's your ticket." Think about this from the user experience: what could you do to stand out, connect or make someone feel some sort of way? Because there are a few brands that you can get that have funny emails. The subject line is thought out and their tone of voice - maybe that's the best way I can leave this - is think about your brand voice and how that can help build that love for the fan because they love your brand, but it's the way that you speak to the sports fan in a non-automated way where it's not just "here's your tickets, see you at 8:00" but instead maybe there's a GIF of something funny where you're like, "I understand how the internet talks and we're going to speak the same way." So Jonathan, I really enjoy this conversation with you. Where can everybody connect with?
Jonathan Harris: (22:21)
You can email me at email@example.com. You can hit me on Twitter, you hit me on Instagram at @jhsportsplus.
Rob Cressy: (22:37)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. What is one thing that you would like to see a brand or a team do to show you that they love you? 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 at Rob Cressy.