Mr. Precourt, I saw on Twitter the other day that you were interested in some feedback and thoughts on ways to improve the Crew and build the brand while increasing fan support. I thought I’d put together seven ideas that would be rather simple to implement and could lead to positive results.
Local, local, local – More local options in the stadium could be a big hit. Having Yellow Boy Polish Boys and Elevator beer in the stadium right now is excellent. Expand upon that and it could be an even bigger win for the club. The Columbus food truck festival draws huge numbers every year. Why not have a food truck tailgate night? Set up a big food court in the parking lot, get a couple bands to play and watch the people show up to check it out. It could be a big win for the team.
Take a page from Mark Cuban – One of my favorite marketing books is “Creating Customer Evangelists”. In in there is a case study of the Dallas Mavericks. It includes a lot of things, both positive and negative, that Mr. Cuban does. My favorite thing that is mentioned in the book about how he connects with his fan base is incredibly simple. He puts his email on the scoreboard multiple times at every game and solicits feedback. It gives him a great way to connect with fans and creates a culture of openness with the Mavericks.
Go incognito – You have a great opportunity. While people who are really paying attention know what you look like at this point the majority of the stadium staff and fans don’t. If you want the most honest feedback you can ever get from your customers and to experience the most honest experience without stadium staff putting on a show for you, now is the time to do it.
It gives you the opportunity to experience the exact product you are putting out there. That’s not to say everything you will see or hear is negative, far from it. You’ll find some areas of opportunity, but you’ll also find some great ideas and best practices to benchmark.
The issue when you become more recognizable in Columbus is twofold. Everyone, in any industry, no matter what, is always on their best behavior when the boss is around. You won’t get an honest view of what typical customer service looks like from your employees if they know who you are.
From the fan side, if they know who you are they might be intimidated and wish to sugarcoat or bring their pet issues in to the conversation. Either one of these may not result in the most genuine feedback you can achieve.
Do it for the kids - Colin from Watershed wrote a great blog article on Pencilstorm about the lack of children’s ticket pricing at Crew Stadium. It would be a great idea to have a discount rate for kids in the upper deck or the south end. Making it affordable for families to go without sacrificing the revenue brought in by club/field seats makes great marketing and economic sense and could help to boost attendance numbers.
Kiss some hands, shake some babies – To win in this town you need the media. My suggestion on this one is to take either the New York or the Toronto match and close the Upper 90 Club. Create a mid-season media day out of it. Give away free Upper 90 Club tickets to every member of the media you can find.
From the sports guys on the local television stations to the part time DJ on CD 102.5 to everyone in between. Feed them, buy them a couple drinks and put your staff in there to talk to them. Have Bobby or Bliss come in beforehand and present a pre-game coaches chalk talk for them. Put local personalities (Mayor Coleman, Columbus Sports Commission, etc.) in there to talk about how important the media supporting the club is to the city. Of course you should be on hand as well to walk around and get to know these people.
I worked in radio in Dayton for 4 years. The Blue Jackets would do this every year with the radio station I worked for. They also gave us tickets to give away and mailed jerseys to everyone on our staff (including the part time overnight weekend person). This caused a radio station that was very focused on Bengals and Reds before that to become more aware of the Blue Jackets and their product. We started talking about them.
The same could be done with the Crew. Give these media guys goodie bags when they leave. Nothing crazy, but something they can stick on their desk that will remind them of the great time they had at Crew Stadium. Creating top of mind awareness can help to penetrate the Ohio State-centric media and help to get the word out.
Hit the bars – Massive Report put on an event a few months ago called “Operation June 1 Sellout”. It didn’t work as well as we planned. We did learn some things though. When we were going around hanging up fliers and promoting the event I kept getting the same questions from business owners. “When is the next game?” was the question I kept hearing.
Columbus suffers from a lack of schedule posters and Crew swag in its local bars. Sure, the pub partners and the supporter bars have some gear in them, but what about every other bar in this city? I’ll use the campus Buffalo Wild Wings as an example. Sure, it’s full of Ohio State stuff. I’d expect it to be. This bar has sports memorabilia for teams as far away as the Buffalo Sabres. There’s no Crew gear, pennants, banners etc. Even something as cheap as a schedule poster could be stuck right next to the Clippers, Buckeyes and Blue Jackets schedule posters that are in every bar in this city. Budweiser will probably print them for free if you slap their logo on it and I’m sure if you asked they’d distribute them for you.
The Crew have done some great bar promotions in the past. I love the coasters that I have seen in local bars promoting specific games. I really think continuing that is a great idea. Expanding upon it would be even better. Chris from Massive Report did a survey on Reddit last year. His question was very simple. Why don’t you go to Columbus Crew games? The main reason that was given was being unaware of the schedule. Consistent reinforcement including promotion like this could be a big winner for the team.
Get on the bus – One of the biggest problems facing the Crew is transit. Parking is more expensive for a Crew game than a Blue Jackets game (and they play downtown) and the police like to ticket those walking to the games if they cross the railroad tracks. Add to that the drive on the north east side of the stadium being closed to pedestrians by CSC and it makes it difficult to walk to the match.
I propose a very simple solution. Have a supporter’s shuttle. Start the shuttle 3 hours before match time and have it run a circuit. Have it stop at Hendoc’s, Lane and High, Ruby’s, 4th Street and Suzi Cue. Then have it run back in to the parking lot. Take a second bus and run it south stopping in the Brewery District, Short North, 5th and High and the Campus Gateway. I know for the first one the owners of the bars have already stated interest in subsidizing a shuttle like that. If you picked pub partners (Barleys, Jimmy V’s etc) for the south shuttle as well you could probably run the whole thing for little to no actual out of pocket expense.
Meet John Davidson - I also had a few suggestions that came in from Twitter. Meeting John Davidson from the Blue Jackets was one suggestion. He is doing great things to try to re-brand the Blue Jackets and is having quite a lot of success so far. Other suggestions from fans were expand marketing beyond Columbus, fill all three DP slots, empower your top performers, and invest in revitalizing supporter culture.
Like I said earlier, these are just a handful of suggestions. (I hope I’m not overwhelming you too much during the first week.) I hope and expect it's the beginning of a dialogue. You have a lot of customer evangelists out here who want nothing but success for the club. You also have some talented folks in your front office as well. This letter was meant to do nothing but supplement the work that they are doing and the goals that they have accomplished. Thanks for taking the time to check it out and I hope to hear your thoughts at a later date. (For all of you who aren’t the new owner of the Columbus Crew feel free to leave your feedback below as well.)
Cheers and Good Luck. Matt Goshert