Sorry You Had To See That

As part of a consulting gig 4 or 5 years ago for a major pro sports team, we offered a number of recommendations on how to better engage fans – particularly as losses were piling up and attendance numbers were in decline.  One of our favorite ideas was something called “Sorry You Had To See That.”  It was simple:  immediately after a particularly bad loss, players would head to the exits – still in full uniform – to thank the loyal fans who stuck around to the bitter end and hand them a voucher to attend an upcoming game for free.

If it was done well, you can’t tell me that gesture wouldn’t deepen fan loyalty and generate a ton of media coverage and word-of-mouth buzz. In addition, you’d be putting people in otherwise empty seats for upcoming games, adding value for in-game sponsors and driving some revenue from concessions.  Is the concept quirky and unconventional? Yes, that’s precisely what was interesting about it.  Fans crave something different, but rarely get it from the franchises within the four major sports leagues.

Ultimately the team was afraid its players wouldn’t be on board and didn’t want to take a risk. “Sorry You Had To See That” never saw the light of day and joined a bevy of other ideas in the Fast Horse close-out bin (stop by and poke around sometime – there are some real bargains to be had).

I was pleased to see recently that a Major League Soccer team tried something similar. After getting blown out 4-0 by the L.A. Galaxy, Seattle Sounders player Steve Zakuani said, “I think the fans deserve a big apology. They can’t pay to watch that.” Apparently team management agreed and offered to refund the money of all 32,000 season ticket holders. Actually, the team is giving one game free to those who renew for 2011 (not quite as appealing as a refund) but I commend them anyway.

I’m also keeping an eye on an interesting piece of sponsorship activation from the River City Rascals, a minor league baseball team in Missouri.  As part of a sponsorship package with a local insurance provider, the team is selling “win insurance” for home games this season.  No matter the score, fans can buy insurance for $2 prior to the 8th inning or $5 heading into the bottom of the 8th and they receive a free box seat for an upcoming game if the team loses. That’s a clever promotion and obviously very relevant to the insurance company’s business.  Even better for the sponsor, fans must redeem their ticket voucher at one of the insurance agency’s offices.  I’ll be eager to see how many fans take advantage of it this season.