Yes, we really are talking about parking in this article. While it might not sound exciting, it is of noted importance to premium seat customers, helps set the tone for the overall event experience, and is a profitable revenue stream for new and older facilities.
By Peter Titlebaum, Ed.D, University of Dayton and Debbie Titlebaum, MBA
Editor’s Note: There have been no buzzwords used as frequently as “Fan Experience” over the past couple years in the sports industry. But what exactly is the fan experience for premium customers? And what should it be? Over the course of this series of articles researched by Dr. Peter Titlebaum and Debbie Titlebaum, ALSD.com will investigate all the nooks and crannies of the event experience from soup to nuts, from street to suite. There are many critical components, but it starts, as does our series, with parking. Check back in the spring as the series continues.
Luxury is the expectation set at the time of a premium seat purchase. But even before the event begins, it can be muddied by parking difficulties, customer service shortfalls, and other value-losing logistical mistakes. Think of parking as a necessary evil. It is like a referee: we all know that they are important to the game, but no one wants them deciding the outcome.
The same can be said for parking. Many older facilities are hampered by the fact that parking was not part of their upkeep program; therefore, little attention was given to the quality or flow of parking services. While many people come early to the game, generally, everyone leaves as soon as the game concludes. Facility administration has tried in vain to convince people to stay longer; however, when the event is over, many guests prefer to leave the arena or stadium immediately. This often creates a bottleneck when as many as 100,000 fans try to leave at once.
Different factors affect parking depending on the sport. In the NFL, with only ten games a season, fans seem to be more reconciled to stay through the end of the game. But in a sport like baseball with more than eight times the game/event frequency, some are inclined to leave after the 7th inning stretch. If the facility staff shifts from service mode to clean-up detail, it encourages the public to follow suit.
The First Event Touch Point
In a recent project, our research group uncovered the purchase expectations of premium seat holders and contrasted them with the actual experiences from the perspective of those who sell luxury seats. A total of 49 professional sports organizations responded to the survey out of a possible 122. All of the “Big Four” leagues were represented: NFL (14), MLB (13), NBA (11), and NHL (11).
Little variation was found in the responses between the “Big Four” professional sports leagues, demonstrating they have more in common than is generally considered. Parking was noted to be an important factor for premium seating ticket holders. It is the first personalized touch point between the suite holder and the venue and sets the stage for the event experience.
A friendly greeting at the garage entrance sets the mood properly and can provide helpful information to help the fan avoid frustration. This encounter can be further enhanced by a good plan using traffic lights or police to keep traffic moving. While most tolerate without reprisal some congestion, they want to avoid the inconvenience of a significant traffic back-up.
Customer service is kept in the forefront of parking by putting the same people at the same places to build relationships with the fan base. Because these people are the front line, they get all kinds of questions. Develop a cheat sheet that has all information on it. We know most are dealing with temporary workers, but teams can still engage them and make them feel good about answering customers’ questions. It seems small, but it is the little things that make a big difference. And it gets everything off to a good start. The last thing a team wants is for its best customers to come and tell them about their bad experience in the parking lot.
Parking as a Key and Profitable Feature
Additional research has shown that new facilities more recently built have a far greater number of premium parking spaces than in past decades. Significant and proven profit potential is likely the cause. Further, if much of the investment in building is geared towards the customers, the rest of their experience should also be considered. When building a new facility or anytime a venue is looking to obtain and retain premium customers, it is important to first determine the factors that drive value and will therefore heighten the user experience. Service is one critical area, and it starts with parking.
Several facilities have embraced the concept of parking as a key feature of the premium seating offering. The Amway Center in Orlando built their parking garage adjacent to the arena with an over-street walkway, leading right up to the premium level. The Dallas Cowboys located their ample parking facility inside the building itself, shielding fans from the elements and lengthy walks to their seats. The Miami Heat provide parking beneath the building while providing direct access for the best customers. For each of these teams, as soon as their premium customers enter the garage, they are in the team’s care.
Older facilities also have options available to upgrade their parking services without substantial renovations. One example is a Park and Ride and VIP-quality shuttle, as is done in Nashville at LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans, through an agreement with the local public works department. A bridge with easy access from downtown is closed to all but buses going to and from the stadium, allowing clear traffic routes to the stadium and alleviating some traffic pressure from local streets. There is nothing impeding a good experience. The surface lot for premium ticket holders is separate from general traffic, facilitating easy departures when exiting the stadium.
Some teams have started implementing valet parking for premium seat holders. For example, the Texas Rangers developed Lexus Valet Parking, available on each side of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, at a cost of $40 per vehicle. Parking spots can be purchased in advance. Through a sponsorship with Lexus, they maintain the cachet of a high-end product by linking parking to a brand known for luxury. This team figured out how to manage valet services and simultaneously create profit opportunities.
The Miami Dolphins also offer valet parking as a pre-paid service available only with certain Club Level Memberships. A valet parking option provided by the Tennessee Titans ensures that cars will be parked in a fully-secured lot with a short walk to LP Field.
From Street to Suite and Back Again
Finally, when premium seat holders are ready to leave the game or the event, let them leave on their own accord. Service should continue until all have departed, and the event experience has reached a natural conclusion. Their exit should be as hassle-free as their arrival, leaving the venue with a positive review, regardless of the on-field performance. The journey from the street to the suite and back again should not overshadow the activities on the field. Parking is an issue that doesn’t always garner a great deal of attention, but a bad experience is long remembered.
Are you a team, venue, or company interested in participating in future
research in the areas of premium product ownership, sales, and marketing?
Write to Dr. Peter Titlebaum at email@example.com.
This article could not be written without the support of Russ Simons with the Venue Solutions Group and Eddie Stewart from Stewart Transportation Solutions.
This article also appears in the 2013 Winter Issue of SEAT Magazine