What the Baseball Playoffs Can Teach Entrepreneurs About Fan Engagement
Serendipity. I found it the other night when I had the good fortune to be working in Houston on the same day that my home team, the New York Yankees, played the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Through a stroke of luck, I ended up with a ticket, sitting 37 rows up behind the first base line.
My ears are still ringing from the once-in-a-lifetime experience. The fans were constantly standing. The energy was palpable. I could feel the tension of each and every pitch through every fiber of my body. And because my overactive mind can't just be there and enjoy the game for its own sake, I started noticing the subtle things that made this experience more tense, more exciting and more engaging than any other sporting event I've attended (and I'm a tomboy from a small town in Kansas, originally, so sports are in my blood).
And I got to thinking about how you can cultivate this type of experience.
Turns out, those shifts can teach entrepreneurs and business leaders a lot about the fan experience -- the fans who are your customers, clients and ambassadors. Here are three lessons I learned from Game 7 of the ALCS MLB Playoffs.
Provide an easy means for fans to get involved and enrich their experience.
They've already bought into your concept, product or service (or, in the case of the Astros, they've already gotten on board the fan train). Give them a simple way to get involved and enrich their experience.
Upon walking in the gates of Minute Maid Park, attendees were given an orange sign with a giant Houston logo on one side. The sign could then fold up into an accordion-style fan that not only helped the H-Town loyal navigate the humidity (practical application) but also created an extra element for fans to get involved in the atmosphere of the game by using that as a noise making device by clapping with it or hitting it against seats.
The effect was almost deafening -- in an amazing way.
Think about what simple item you could add to enrich the product experience of your customers. How can you add a new feature that could amplify usage of an application? How you can offer something small that sets the tone of the experience with you as a coach or consultant? How can you provide a little bit of education around a function that will make someone's product interaction even better?
Let your fans drive their own experience.
At most sporting events you have a team, off the field, that's in charge of the fan experience. Part of this involves playing music at specific times, setting the atmosphere, and providing beats that will lead to mass crowd chants and cheers.
In the middle of the game, Astros MVP candidate José Altuve came to the plate for his third at-bat. The fans, going wild every time he'd walk toward the batter's box, were harmoniously chanting "Olé, Olé, Olé;" this time around. About five seconds into that chant, the pre-scheduled opening notes of Queen's "We Will Rock You" to get fans stomping and clapping.
But, the fans were louder than the massive output the stadium speakers could provide, and those engaged (everyone but Yankees fans, which were few and far between) ignored the beat pushed at them and continued the "Olé" song.
After a couple seconds, the music was turned off, letting the cacophonous voices of those leading an organic cheer carry throughout the stadium without interference.
This sort of course correction is something that businesses often forget to do. We plan, we strategize and we think we know the best way for people to experience our product or service. But sometimes the fans, customers and clients know best. In those moments, smart businesses will get out of the way and let their fans take control and drive the experience. Doing this allows for even more enthusiasm, buy-in and involvement. Plus, you'll learn more about what makes your fans tick.
It doesn't matter who starts the cheer as long as everyone else joins in.
Spell out everything, even if you think your fans should know it.
I've been to many arenas, stadiums and ballparks for events. There's something about a live sporting event that gets into my bloodstream. If you've never been to a baseball game before, there are a few traditions that take place. One is the singing of the National Anthem prior to the first pitch. One is the seventh inning stretch, which is typically accompanied by a singing of "God Bless America" and then "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Most ballparks I've attended do not provide a means for people who are unfamiliar with these songs to get involved. But, at Minute Maid Park, the Astros fan experience team made this clear, displaying the lyrics to every song in multiple places around the stadium.
Even though most people know the words to the anthem, it's this little extra step that encourages open singing and involvement.
I've never seen a game where so many people sang each and every word. Even I, who can't sing a lick and terrifies people with my lack of vocal ability, found myself starting to sing. It was contagious. And when "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was substituted with "Deep in the Heart of Texas," the crowd went crazy singing and yelling. Again, the lyrics were broadcast for all to see and join in.
What are you assuming that your customers already know? What little thing, like providing lyrics, could you do to make it ridiculously easy for your users to get more engaged? What small change could you make to your onboarding process that would make new clients feel encouraged to use your product in a new way?
And if your life ever puts you in the path of being able to attend a major sporting playoff event, I encourage you to experience it. There's little else that can compare.
As a good friend of mine, a classical cellist (and non-sports fan) once told me upon me taking him to his first NBA game, "I may not understand or appreciate all the nuances of sport, but I think musicians can learn something about creating experience from watching a live sporting event. Not that people will ever be chanting or screaming at the top of their lungs throughout one of my performances, but there's something to be said for engagement that I think we can all learn from."
I couldn't agree more.