The Experience Economy: A New Frontier in Fan Engagement

Sports are back! Well, almost. It is certainly looking good, hopes are high, and there is a growing light at the end of the tunnel. As we welcome a return to relative normalcy, it begs the question: Are you focused on the next chapter in fan engagement?

Every organization must examine and pivot its business to find new ways to offer meaningful experiences that attract and keep fans in stands. The structure of almost everything we do has changed. A fan experience renaissance is afoot, one that is galvanizing organizations to push beyond the status quo and mobilize the entire venue (and vendors) around the delivery of exceptional and memorable experiences.

The journey includes ticket sales, membership services, and consists of every touchpoint during games and events. The consumer behavior shifts we’re seeing are likely to stay with us for a long time, some possibly forever. Some changes have been in motion for years, and the pandemic has accelerated many of them.

What is the Experience Economy?

We have been in the Experience Economy for many years, and few have even heard the term. The Experience Economy was coined in 1998 by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. Most are familiar with Customer Experience (CX) or Guest Experience (GX). Still, the guiding principles that drive the Experience Economy are relatively unknown:

The Experience Economy occurs when an organization intentionally uses its location and services as the stage and goods as props to engage customers in a way that creates a memorable experience.

Since the outset of the Industrial Revolution, the business landscape and customer expectations have constantly been evolving. We have gone through the agrarian, industrial, and service economies to the current Experience Economy. Consumers no longer seek gratification from merely buying commodities, products, or services, but instead desire meaningful experiences, especially for luxury items with rising prices in a post-pandemic world. Commodities are fungible, goods are tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.

Unforgettable moments maximize customer delight and increase the probability of economic exchange. Experiences that engage customers in a personal and memorable way are the predominant economic offering. It is not so much the product you are selling, but the experience itself. For some, this will require a significant but vital shift in traditional thinking.

Consider the evolution of the coffee business as an example. We’re clearly in a new day where having your daily cup of coffee has taken on a new meaning. A home coffee percolator or local diner will not get it done. Starbucks has revolutionized the coffee experience. They are now taking it even higher with the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room locations. Think wine tasting and high-end dining, but for coffee.

Exceptional experiences do not consistently happen by chance. They are the deliberate culmination of great people, equipped with great products, in a great place, and committed to doing great things as part of a great culture. The key is being purposeful at every touchpoint of the customer journey to create value that stays with the customer long after the experience is over. The passion and obsession for creating amazing experiences must permeate from the highest levels of the organization to the newest part-time team member.

“At theme restaurants such as the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, or the House of Blues, the food is just a prop for what’s known as ‘eatertainment,’” explain Pine and Gilmore. “And stores such as Niketown, Cabella’s, and Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) draw consumers in by offering fun activities, fascinating displays, and promotional events (sometimes labeled ‘shoppertainment’ or ‘entertailing’).”

Consider the Numbers

According to McKinsey, spending on experience-related services has grown at 1.5 times the rate of personal consumption purchases and almost four times faster than spending on goods. In recent years, the average annual personal consumption expenditure growth across the board was 3.7%. However, the growth in experience-related services was up 6.3%, as opposed to 1.6% in total goods.

Why the trend toward experiential over transactional? Simple. Research has demonstrated a more profound psychological link between happiness and sharing meaningful experiences with those people love. Experiences evoke emotions, create lasting memories, and become part of an individual’s identity. According to American Express, over 85% of U.S. consumers said they would be willing to spend more for an exceptional customer experience.

With the above data in mind, 77% of CEOs in a study by Accenture said their company would fundamentally change how it engages and interacts with its customers. In the same survey of 1,550 executives in 21 countries across 22 industries, the organizations that embraced and reoriented with an experience focus grew their profitability year-over-year by six times more than their industry peers.

Transactions vs. Staged Experiences

To appreciate the difference between transactions and staged experiences, I consider the countless number of Uber rides I take as a frequent traveler. It is so interesting to see the difference in effort from one driver to the next. For many, it is simply a ride for money, while others genuinely seek to create a memorable moment.

I am reminded of an episode of the old television show Taxi. In this episode, Iggy (who was not usually the most customer-centric cabbie) decided to become the best taxi driver in the world. He served sandwiches and drinks, conducted tours of the city, and even performed songs by Frank Sinatra.

Iggy engaged passengers in a way that turned an ordinary cab ride into a memorable event. He also created a unique economic offering where the experience of riding in his cab was more valuable than the service of being transported from point A to point B. The car and the service of transportation were the “stage.” The food, drinks, etc. were the “props” for the experience he was really selling.

Tips to Thrive in the Experience Economy

Success in the Experience Economy will require a recalibration in thinking and approach. Sales representatives are selling more than the team, concert, or event. They sell the experience. The service team is therefore servicing the relationship built on value-added experiences. This mindset will significantly impact how team members approach conversations during the sales process, renewal campaigns, special events, in-game interactions, email exchanges, and beyond.

1. Set the Stage
The first step is to recognize your stage. The building, event, or game are all part of the overall stage. Additionally, every staff member must see his or her specific area and role as part of a smaller stage vital to the collective experience. For example, an elevator operator should view the elevator and the transport of guests from one level to the next as their stage.

2. Perfect the Props
When applicable, team members should ensure key props are presented with incredible attention to detail. For example, food and beverage team members must see their concession stand as the stage and the food itself as a prop. The quality, presentation, and taste should add and not subtract from the ultimate goal of an exceptional experience.

3. Make the Memory
Lights, camera, action! The stage is set, the props are positioned, and now it’s showtime! Be creative to find hidden treasure opportunities on every stage. Connect on an emotional level to build lasting bonds. Seek to exceed expectations in small and big ways. Always strive to go beyond forgettable transactions to unforgettable experiences. For example, the premium club attendant purposely engages guests in conversation to learn of life milestones so he or she can do something extraordinary before they leave.

The Experience Economy is sure to bring huge rewards to those who are brave enough to embrace next-level creativity while being guided by purposeful strategy. Welcome the exciting opportunities that will come as you and your team create exceptional experiences at every stage of your fan experience.

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 the website at