As our venues sit dormant, our suites and seats empty, social distancing the new norm, the corporate hospitality industry yearns to do what we do best – connect. And so, the ALSD set out to help.
March was madness. The coronavirus brought sports to a screeching halt, leaving fans and front offices on pause. And we haven’t returned to our regularly scheduled programming since.
Instead of brackets, the ALSD started a pool of a different type. We surveyed our members and started calling, texting, and emailing clients, attending webinars, pouring over articles and newsletters, and studying feel-good stories with more frequency.
Our goal was to fill the idea coffer and share it with you. And in a way, it was you who started the chronicle anyway. As many premium clients and their businesses are affected by this situation, you’ve shared ideas with special emphasis on empathy as well as efficiency, sharing ideas that, in execution, are simple and swift, with the hope that this shutdown won’t last long.
The upshot is this notebook, which is far from exhaustive, but it’s a start until we take our finger off pause and start connecting again.
We started with a survey, and roughly 60 premium seating representatives from professional sports and entertainment venues and college venues chimed in. Most respondents, besides NFL teams, had games or seasons postponed either indefinitely or for a certain number or weeks initially. Most are also working from home indefinitely.
Premium and Season Ticket Policies
Many respondents were understandably unclear regarding their organization’s position on premium or season ticket credits, refunds, and rollovers for games postponed or missed entirely. A quarter of respondents had plans to issue credits for future games and seasons or refund a portion of the season lost, with several offering an option to donate and write-off (when possible) the rest of their payments.
Members noted with the option to apply payments to future seasons, venues can spread out the impact of lost revenue over the next year instead of taking a direct hit all at once. Additionally, offering clients a choice, showing empathy, and staying open-minded and calm promotes a certain degree of control we are lacking right now.
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Based on Previous Experience
The ALSD was curious to discover if members drew on experiences that previously stopped sports, such as labor disputes or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Those members who responded stated credits for future seasons or games, refunds for a portion of the season lost, or a combination of the two were offered.
Two inspirational celebrations following tragedy stood out. Following 9/11, a venue sold red, white, and blue shirts, filling each stadium deck in with one of the three colors. Following a separate tragedy, during a game which commemorated lives lost, the opposing team’s band played a tribute during halftime.
Client Touch Points
Notably, members have already taken multiple measures to stay close to and communicate with clients, most members personally emailing and calling. Mass emails also informed clients quickly and efficiently, especially if games were postponed or cancelled, and if offices closed abruptly. In certain situations, namely where seasons or games were not impacted, respondents placed and answered calls or emails only to and from clients with questions. One respondent sent gifts to clients’ homes, and several venues also sent mass emails from a team or venue leader.
Communication Is Key
In addition to the survey, the ALSD started connecting personally with members. Over calls, texts, and emails, we were reminded of how corporate hospitality professionals thrive on interaction. One member said it best, “We are people-people”. We observed our members treating the crisis as an opportunity to connect versus an obligation to. Moreover, because no date is currently circled on a live sports recovery calendar, our members have ushered in new ways to connect, from afar. Virtual happy hour anyone?
We collected a slew of connection-from-afar anecdotes. Some were of the surprise-and-delight ilk. Others prove clients yearn for information most. And more than a few confirm the people-people notion will get us through this trying time (insert tugged heartstrings).
Since we’re in the rising tide lifts all boats camp, keep sending your stories and solutions. We realize not all of them are realistic for you or your venue. Like our conference, the ALSD is just opening the toolbox. It’s up to you to build your best plan.
Without further ado, here is our Connecting Despite Social Distancing Notebook of ideas and cheat sheets to help you get to the other side of the current shutdown:
Surprise, Delight, and Educate
- Spend some budget now to pay dividends later. Clients will remember the Uber Eats and grocery store gift cards. Show we are human, and gift accordingly.
- Create a video of your strength coach teaching an at-home workout video, and the nutritionist cooking a healthy and/or low-cost meal or snack to follow.
- Send handwritten “We Miss You” cards on team stationary.
- Send a non-business email. A simple act of kindness can have a significant impact.
- Lighten things up with personal video montages or screenshots of your WFH staff meetings and share them on social.
- Produce a trivia contest through your team app. Ask questions daily and allow respondents to build a point bank. Announce winners on social.
- Create a “one shining moment” video for your team for this season, especially if it was cut short.
- Email team-centric, printable kids’ activity packets with coloring sheets, crosswords, kids’ trivia. Mascot pictures go a long way.
- Light up your venue or marquee in first responder colors or post a thank you message on a venue landmark.
- Send your mascot out in the community to do drive-by hellos.
- Create learning modules using sports-related examples, such as a basketball stats “class”. Have a player or coach teach.
- Tweet at other teams. See how they are holding up.
- Ask players to read children’s books and share the videos on social or YouTube.
- Enlist your coach to do virtual chalk talks.
- Reengage a former announcer or commentator to do a fireside chat or message just to premium clients.
- Send Lego sets of stadiums, mascots, or logos to clients.
- Record your mascot teaching kids how to wash their hands.
- Have your service staffs call every hourly staff member to check in. Ask if they need help.
- Move in-venue theme nights online to social and temporary website designs. Moreover, create a tribute to medical staff night to hold in-venue when games start again.
- Ask cheerleaders to conduct virtual dance lessons.
- Create a virtual photo booth or AR experience for mobile devices with players, mascots, logos.
- Host a virtual “first pitch” contest on social, where clients and kids find mounds and record their “first pitches” for submission. The post with the most retweets wins a prize or gets to throw out a real first pitch when games resume.
- Start a “one memory” campaign. Ask fans to share their favorite memories in team history and hashtag it.
- Host a virtual gaming tournament with clients or even players if available, or work with a rival team.
- Engage your IT, engineering, scoreboard staffs to teach S.T.E.M. skills to students virtually. Share the videos with local colleges.
The Human Connection
- Enlist your foundation to hold auctions of team merchandise and memorabilia, with proceeds benefitting organizations with unique needs during the COVID-19 crisis, such as counseling and crisis intervention centers, shelters, parks and recreation, and children’s hunger organizations.
- Send videos of student-athletes expressing their feelings about their seasons ending abruptly. Donors and premium clients care about young athletes’ spirits and futures, a driving force for attending in the first place.
- Get players or coaches to engage with the fan base through social media platforms. TikTok anyone?
- Start outbound outreach with empathy and language such as, “We understand this is a weird time for everyone...” Slowly transition into excitement about the club/league resuming, “... We are excited to get back onto the pitch when this thing clears up.”
- Reach out to clients within industries and markets you are looking to learn more about. This initiative can help understand how industries perform and adjust during economic hardships, as well as open the conversation to learn what businesses might be doing to help the COVID-19 efforts and how you might collaborate.
- Promote products clients have shifted to produce during this time in lieu of or in addition to their current products, such as car partners building ventilators.
- Take this time to build your touch point calendar and CRM more comprehensively, based on clients’ personal and professional milestones and celebrations. If you don’t already know birthdays, family makeup, anniversaries, company objectives, research them now. No social media distancing required.
- Volunteer for meals on wheels, park clean up, social distancing demonstrations.
- Don’t assume clients don’t want to hear from you. Reach out, no matter what.
- Consider where you and your clients are in the pandemic lifespan. If businesses shut down weeks ago, or clients are newly home with kids, adapt your outreach accordingly and with meaning.
- Don’t take an angry email personally. Industries and businesses are grappling with shutdowns, layoffs, lost revenue. If you get an angry email, pick up the phone. Call your client, remain calm, and listen.
- Host a virtual town hall.
- Recruit your technology team to create a virtual ballpark tour, ending at the online merchandise store.
- Hold a drawing or donation to present free tickets to medical personnel.
- Organize a drive-thru at your venue for emergency supplies or food and water for those in need.
- Get creative in showing off your WFH space, such as an all-staff episode of MTV Cribs.
Pay it Forward
- Set up a fundraising link for premium seating clients and donors to give directly to students with significant hardships.
- For accounts up for renewal, extend their expiration dates out the same length of time games aren't being played.
- Work with ownership and league representatives to determine if you can compensate hourly employees for games missed.
- For hourly employees, investigate other departments who need temporary help, and transition them to new roles immediately.
- Hold a community donation challenge. Once a certain dollar figure is met, ownership, players, or businesses match or donate a predetermined amount.
- Create a fund to pay for meals for first responders.
- Organize a free lunch pick-up for staff and hourly workers, donated or paid for by players, owners, or businesses.
- Honor refunds if you’re able, upon request, on a case-by-case basis. Or offer incentives to rollover funds to future games/seasons.
- Give donors the option to be credited, refunded, or to make a donation for the remaining portion of the season that will not be played. Donors can also choose to donate any money already given, mitigating any losses on those accounts.
- Create a pictorial list of team partner restaurants, noting if they are offering delivery, pick up, or gift cards. Send this list to clients ahead of the weekend via email or social media to help with meal ideas and options.
- Live your team’s mission. If a core value is community involvement, work with ownership to donate funds to local organizations.
- Purchase gift cards from several partners and pass them out to employees to support local partners in your community.
- Continue building the pipeline, but don’t call with the intent to write orders.
- If a player or staff member has a certain skill such as juggling, encourage them to create a YouTube tutorial teaching the skill.
- Post local grocery partners’ hours of operation and special instructions for populations with different hours.
- Leverage your technology partnerships to execute virtual events, like a concert or happy hour.
- Use your social channels to feature a partner of the week and use your digital team to help create consistently branded messages for each.
- Offer free future multi-month subscriptions to your league’s TV game pass.
- Volunteer to help your F&B partner distribute food to local shelters.
- Discount online merchandise and be sure to note shipping details and sanitation measures taken in the process.
- Send clients discount vouchers to a grocery partner and do a check-in call in advance, telling them you realize how expensive basic necessities can be.
- Set an out of office reply noting 1) how the team is working with government agencies, league and team directives, and health experts, 2) if the venue is experiencing a shutdown, 3) your cell phone number because you will not be answering your in-office phone, and 4) a thank you for patience while adjusting to a new work environment.
- Send a link of the most up-to-date building information. Inform clients how your venue shutdown will help “flatten the curve.”
- Borrow verbiage from other event promoters and planners, such as local parades and festivals. Inform event goers that volunteers and staff are working remotely and may be delayed in responding to emails and phone calls.
- Create your own motto or borrow from public figure lingo such as “Clean hands, clear heads, and open hearts.”
- Address COVID-19 facts and what organizations, such as the WHO, your venue is pulling information and guidelines from on your website. If your event is part of a contingency or series of state, country, or worldwide events, note also that you’re monitoring the organization’s overall guidelines.
- If your venue will host a blood drive or serve as a COVID-19 testing hub, communicate the hours through the media and social channels, and if volunteer opportunities exist.
- Get in touch with the teams in your local market. Because you probably share a percentage of clients, keep messages and policies relatively consistent.
- Check the heatmap on your team website. Where fans are going right now should be the focus of your meetings and resources.
- Start an educational forum or certification program for your team. Load up webinars, articles, and resources to read each week. Turn it into a contest by using gaming or leadership technology.
- Teach your team how to conduct virtual meetings and speeches. Many don’t know how to set up a filming space with proper lighting or know how and when to speak into a camera. Lean on your announcer or other media figure to do a tutorial.
Planning for the Future
Rest assured, our gates will reopen. But be mindful now of the shift taking place. Use this time to prepare for third-party contract renegotiations, requests for refunds, conversations with businesses unable to recover and return as ticket holders, and a renewed demand for patron safety.
Still, be optimistic and nimble as some amazing opportunities lie ahead. The training wheels are coming off innovations that were just starting to gain steam. Take note of a few:
- Mobile ticketing will be in demand, to keep fans and workers from touching hard tickets.
- Cashless F&B and merchandise ordering will no longer be a nice-to-have, but a need-to-have.
- The need for personal sanitation will be at an all-time high. Lean on partners who have pivoted to sanitation product manufacturing like hand sanitizers and latex gloves for F&B and custodial staffs.
- Bathrooms will require automation upgrades. Period.
- Venue and F&B sanitation workers will be working overtime. Protect and compensate them accordingly.
- Local restaurants will need a resurgence. Which new partners can your F&B partner take on as new F&B options?
- Sealed condiments may be the preferred or required distribution moving forward.
- Sales enablement tools will be required by your sales teams to study markets and industries. Be ready to invest in them.
- Use your training centers to host games with no fans.
- Allow suite and premium seat reselling in contracts. At a time when all industries are suffering, take down any barriers to buying.
- Turn unused inventory into sensory suites or pop-up clubs. When larger construction projects may not be possible, invest in inexpensive projects.
- Ensure your venue is fully, if not over-ADA compliant. Besides safety, it’s as important as ever to remove barriers to entry for fans of all types.
Lastly, can you can answer the questions below? If not, it’s time to act.
- Be mindful of a sports return windfall. How will your team compete for fans’ attention?
- Have you considered what an elimination of non-conference games would mean to your contracts?
- Have you studied industries impacted most by COVID-19 to prepare for conversations with clients at those businesses?
Does your team have additional ideas and success stories to add to our Connecting Despite Social Distancing Notebook?
Write to Amanda at email@example.com.