It seems that everyone in sports business is familiar with the adage that “hot dogs taste better when the team wins”. Why is that school of thought – that fans are happier with all aspects of the event experience when their team is winning – so prevalent?

Well… because it’s true.

At Turnkey, we’ve been doing research with teams for the past twenty years. During that span, we have consistently found that winning DOES have an impact on fans’ satisfaction, with many aspects of the event experience that aren’t directly impacted by the team’s on-field play (customer service, facility cleanliness, promotions, etc.). In addition, we know that winning – duh – helps teams sell tickets.

So – where does that leave clubs that aren’t performing up to par on the field, court or rink? What can those teams do to sell tickets, and keep the fans buying those tickets satisfied to the extent that they become repeat customers?

1. Be honest about your product in your marketing. Now, that doesn’t mean a team comprised of rookies should tout “2015 Lottery Pick or Bust!” as their tagline… but that same team shouldn’t go with “Meet Your 2015 World Champions!” either. The Philadelphia 76ers, a young team comprised of many promising but unproven players, are currently walking this line well. Their current slogan, “Together We Build“, acknowledges that the team is focused on competing in the future, and the campaign behind the slogan emphasizes that with a literal blueprint design and the text “Building the Next Big Thing for Philadelphia”. That slogan is both truthful and encouraging – it alludes to the importance of unity and the workmanlike devotion required for eventual success (two traits that Philadelphia fans are likely to relate to) without over-promising short term results.

2. Counter, don’t ignore, customers’ biggest “objection” to your product. For example, this article published by Penn’s Wharton School of Business, discusses the plight of Hummer, a brand dismissed by certain consumers because of its gas-guzzling reputation. Suggests Wharton marketing professor Stephen Hoch, Hummer sellers and marketers should counter, not run from, that “objection” by “fram[ing] an offer to get rid of the objection” – in this case, offering free gas to Hummer buyers. 

Struggling teams can use this approach by offering deals to ticket buyers that tie in to their team’s on-field play. Offer retroactive discounts or vouchers (for merchandise, food, tickets, etc.) if the team gets shut out, loses X games in a row, etc. Yes, this acknowledges that things aren’t going so well on the field/court/etc., but it’s also a direct, logical response to fans who use “The team’s just going to lose, so why should I buy a ticket?” as an excuse not to purchase.

3. Court specific customer groups. As this article by Heinz Marketing suggests, make your product about “more than just the game” by creating promotions, seating areas and other customizations that appeal specifically to certain segments: families, college kids, etc. For example, adding a hot new bar or restaurant area to your venue and then marketing that area to, say, 20-somethings by offering beer specials, bringing in great bands, showcasing free activities like pool and old school video games, and partnering with a few appropriate sponsors may bring in new fans who aren’t overly interested in your club’s on-field play (at first) but want to experience your product for other reasons.

4. Over-service your current customers. A percentage of your customers will stick with you for at least a few tough years; make sure you do everything you can to keep those customers in your corner. Empower your sales and service reps to give them special perks and go “above and beyond” to demonstrate how important each of those customers is to your organization. Emphasize friendliness and service when you train your in-arena staff – don’t give any customer a reason to feel negatively about your brand because they were, say, treated rudely by a vendor or ignored by an usher. Those interactions do make a difference.