The Art of Elite Service: Keeping Fans in Stands in Changing Times

Attendance is down. Anxiety is up. And yet another challenge to fan engagement has arrived. This article acknowledges the problem, offers honest perspective, and provides a proven solution to help keep your fans in your stands.

If you are reading this article, you are undoubtedly someone with a role and responsibility to attract and retain fans. You are also someone who knows all too well the obstacles and opportunities that accompany such a vital role. Even before the current health issue, and according to multiple studies, average attendance during regular-season games has declined.

The Challenge is Real

Let’s start by identifying the major problems that have significant impacts on fan attendance across the entire sports landscape. While not an exhaustive list, it addresses the most prevalent issues that are mostly uncontrollable.

  1. Team Performance
  2. Rising Prices (e.g., tickets, parking, concessions)
  3. Health Crisis (e.g., COVID-19)
  4. Man Caves and Media Rooms
  5. Sports Bars
  6. Changes in Season Ticket Account Perks and Privileges
  7. Livestreaming and Video Games
  8. Loss of a Marquee Player
  9. Player, Owner, or League Scandal
  10. Media Coverage

The Stakes are High

There is no denying in changing and unpredictable times that fan engagement is a high-stakes game. The ability to deliver an extremely high level of service is critical to combat the challenges we are facing. How can you prepare to win?

In my time as Training Director for the largest and top-rated Ritz-Carlton Hotel in North America, it was my responsibility to cultivate and maintain guest loyalty despite the external challenges we often faced. For something considered a luxury and not a necessity, it was our objective to give people a reason to stay. In recent years, the hotel industry has weathered many storms of low occupancy due to economic uncertainty, the 9/11 attacks, and natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. Sound familiar?

In the luxury hotel world, top metrics include Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond status, and J.D. Power rankings. The passion to achieve the coveted designation as a Five Star and Five Diamond hotel is intense and carries significant revenue implications. Think Ocean’s Thirteen and Willy Bank, but without the bad dumplings and melodrama.

In the world of sports, the stakes include how brand ambassadors of the team build relationships, promote retention, drive renewals, and generate revenue, especially with season ticket holders. We just explored at least ten potential obstacles clubs face and successfully overcome when the organization and staff that represent it are properly prepared.

The Skill Sets of Staff are Vital

If only we could push the red “Easy Button” made famous by the Staples office supply company. Wouldn’t that be great? Truth is, there is no quick and easy fix for the complex and ever-changing array of challenges we continually face to keep ’em coming back.

A huge part of the solution is, and always will be, the readiness, aptitude, and attitude of staff members, especially those in customer-facing roles.

A huge part of the solution will always be the readiness, aptitude, and attitude of staff members in customer-facing roles.

Is the development of staff members really that important? Investment in employees is always a notable hallmark of companies consistently ranked among the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work. Top brands know how to give and get the best out of their employees.

In my role as Training Director of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, I had the responsibility to equip, inspire, and empower some amazingly service-centric professionals. The stories of the effort these passionate professionals would make to please a guest would seem far-fetched to some and inspiring to others.

So what exactly is the secret sauce that distinguishes an elite-level service professional from all the rest? What do they know and do differently to help keep fans in stands?

The same questions are often asked of world-class athletes. Perennial champions share a balance of physical and mental dominance. They have a winning mindset and skill set. Success requires both, and that’s certainly true for business professionals in sports, especially during times like the present.

After ten years of equipping over 50,000 sports professionals as a “Service Coach” and as a consumer myself, I’ve codified a common thread of competencies in top performers. Successful outcomes are highly predictable when these five traits are present.

Let’s explore the five areas in the words of an elite-level service professional:

1. “I am Enthusiastic. The fire in me to make a difference burns bright. I am self-inspired and passionate about creating memorable moments that drive brand loyalty in any situation.”

2. “I am Equipped. I’m on a mission to perfect my craft. I seek every opportunity to fine-tune my skills, enhance my credibility, and foster confidence in my clients and guests.”

3. “I am Empathetic. The new X factor in guest or member services is empathy, especially during times of uncertainty. I realize there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy feels sorry for others, while empathy feels with them. I choose empathy.”

4. “I am Exemplary. I take my role as a brand ambassador very seriously. In every interaction, I am the face and voice of our brand. My ability to effectively embody our organizational values and guiding principles is critical to me.”

5. “I am Empowered. My organization has empowered me to create win-win outcomes for my guests, clients, and colleagues. I am entrusted to take action and make important decisions in real-time, and I don’t take that lightly.”


In the weeks, months, and years ahead, the advantage will increasingly go to the individuals, teams, and organizations who best understand and embody an elite service mindset and skill set. The challenges that threaten attendance levels and show rates are not going away and may only evolve. Make sure you and your team are fully prepared. Commit to master that which you can control, and may your stands stay filled with fans.


Chris Bryant, “The Service Coach”, is a former Training Director with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the Chief Experience Officer of BGX, an award-winning firm that trains sales and service professionals to catapult relationships, retention, renewals, and revenue. Connect with Chris at and visit BGX’s website at