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Does the match-day experience really drive interest in sport?

Do glitzy fireworks really put bums on seats? (AAP Image/David Mariuz)
Roar Rookie
19th November, 2018
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New stadia are all the rage at the moment, with Perth’s Optus Stadium, the new West Sydney Stadium, and potential A-League expansion franchises in Melbourne looking at new facilities in Dandenong and Wyndham Vale.

While stadia are obviously required to showcase sporting activities, there has been equal discussion around the more general entertainment aspect of customer experience at the venue, with particular focus on attracting and retaining new fans.

Initiatives to improve the consumer experience while attending live events are wide and varied, but include:

• Big Screen activations
• ‘Village Green’ style food and beverage areas
• On-Ground pre-game or half time entertainment
• Family zones
• Alcohol free zones
• Active Participation areas for hardcore fans
• Fireworks
• Kiss Cams
• Laser shows
• Music (often loud and synchronized with scoring)
• Kick-to-kick on field post match
• Cheaper and healthier food options

Speaking recently in relation to the 2019 upgrade of the SCG big screens, Sydney Swans Head of Customer and Community Natalie Fagg said:

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve the match-day experience for our members and supporters and the improved scoreboards will be a great addition to the stadium for season 2019 and beyond.@

It’s not just large projects either. English Premier League heavyweights, Manchester United, are considering a plan to introduce gender-neutral toilets at Old Trafford in a bid to make the match-day experience more “welcoming and inclusive” for women.

Not all the initiatives have been welcomed by sports fans though. Diehards have accused venues and clubs of moving too far down the entertainment spectrum and veering into gimmick territory, at the expense of the sport itself.

Events have been described as too ‘Americanised’, too loud and nerve grating.

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Is it more important to get the on-screen product right, rather than invest heavily in the at-match experience?

Although ticket sales and food/beverage turnover are important, this revenue pales into relative insignificance when compared to the revenue generated from TV rights.

Increased security restrictions in today’s anti-terrorism environment can also hamper code’s attempts to hype up the match-day experience – it’s a little contradictory to be told to enjoy your Pimms and Lemonade if it’s taken you an hour to negotiate the ‘Ring of Steel’ and three security searches before you can access it.

Much of what happens at-match is missed during TV coverage, as any downtime in play is often re-directed towards paid advertising, punditry and analysis, rather than wide panning shots of the cheerleaders in the crowd, or the pitch side circus acts.

There is an often-heard phrase in the major sports codes that its clubs are not just in the business of winning games; they are ‘in the entertainment industry.’

While this is a nice sound bite to trot out when courting new sponsors or media partners, it ignores what is the fundamental purpose of a professional sports team – to win.

The balancing act which sports need to try and address is, at what point do you stop getting a return on investment for the time and money put into the match-day experience and say ‘enough is enough’, and let the sport speak for itself?

The money available to sports clubs and organizations is finite, and needs to be carefully apportioned – let me finish with this question to ponder – would you rather spend money on your high-performance unit and win ugly every week, or pump up your marketing and events departments instead, but endure mid-table mediocrity?

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