We work in an industry in which it’s easy to forget why we’re there, for the fans. Not the players, not the officials, not the coaches, but for the fans. The players are getting to play the game, the coaches are coaching the players, and the officials are participating by making sure the game goes
We work in an industry in which it’s easy to forget why we’re there, for the fans. Not the players, not the officials, not the coaches, but for the fans.
The players are getting to play the game, the coaches are coaching the players, and the officials are participating by making sure the game goes on without a problem. So when we, as announcers and game operations personnel, do our jobs, it’s for the people who are paying to be there.
In all the time I’ve been working around professional sports, I’ve seen it happen quite often that the people working forget the very core of why they’re there. Game operations personnel wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for the fans. Well, maybe once in a blue moon like when the Orioles played a game without fans in the stands, but all they needed was the P. A. announcer, music person, and video board operator. No real reason for all the other cameramen, stage directors, etc. Simply, put, there weren’t fans, they weren’t needed.
It’s easy to forget why you’re there after a while. You’ll have people complaining to you about little things, you’ll have bad working conditions because it’s raining, or cold, and you’re outside. Or you’re running around through the bowels of a stadium just trying to make it to the next place. There’s a lot that isn’t glamorous about game operations, and that can make forgetting about the fans a little easier. But at the end of the day, you need to remember the fans.
Here are some little things I’ve learned that can go a long way with fans:
- Say “hi” to them. The simplest interaction with a fan can make a bad day good. After a while, those simple “hi’s” turn into conversations that could turn into business or personal relationships. I’ve sold advertising, group tickets, season tickets, and met some lifelong friends by simply saying, “hi” and recognizing that they were there.
- Relate to the fans. My greatest sale in all of sports wasn’t a $6,000 sale, or the few times I called someone who said yes right away. My greatest sale in all of sports was a $2 sale of a program to Mike Veeck. Yes, that Mike Veeck. I was working as an intern for the St. Petersburg Devil Rays and selling programs during Spring Training in 1999. Mike was walking through the entrance and up a ramp to the concourse and I saw him. I started my sell. “Programs, featuring the greatest promotional schedule in the history of Major League Baseball. Created by the greatest marketing mind in baseball. Just $2. Don’t miss out on this piece of history.” Or something to that effect. Mike smiled and said, “How can I refuse that?” I sold to a marketing genius. Yes it was only $2, but the highlight of my sales career, just because I related to the man himself.
Another case of relating to the fans comes from working with the Washington Capitals. My role with the team in the early years was supervising program sellers, making sure they had money, and making sure they had plenty of programs. I had the ability to see a lot of familiar faces and interact with them and their friends. It didn’t matter if it was someone who went to a couple of games a season, a season ticket holder, former Caps players, a major sponsor, or the General Manager of the Washington Nationals. To this day, I can walk up to Peter Bondra, Mark Tinordi, or Rod Langway and instantly start a conversation with these players who’ve remained in prominence to Caps fans after their careers ended. This helps with recognition, and when they meet other people, it broadens my network.
- Don’t lose sight of what it’s like to be a fan, put yourself in their shoes. It’s rare that you work a sporting event without having once been a fan at a similar event. You know what the fans are thinking, don’t lose sight of that. It’s true that you can forget what it’s like to be a fan, and when you’ve been working game operations you go to other games and see it through different colored glasses. You pick them apart, but don’t forget about watching the crowd, see how they react and listen to what they’re saying. You can learn a lot just by listening to the fans around you.
- Don’t be afraid to lend a helping hand. Some of my longest relationships have been because I heard of a Little League that needed an announcer for a game, or we were appearing for a special event and they needed someone to get on a mic. Just because your first priority is to bring the mascot to a Little League opening day doesn’t mean that you limit yourself to that. Offer to speak to the crowd, be happy when on the microphone and make it fun.
One of the best ushers I saw at games would walk through his sections talking to fans. There were times that he would even take their trash and throw it away for them. He went above and beyond the call of duty, and it was noticed. He enhanced the atmosphere simply by helping a few fans keep the area around their feet clear.
- Under promise and over deliver. What this means, and what I’ve seen done are two completely different things. I’ve worked for teams where this meant we’d charge someone half price for their tickets instead of full price because something negative happened. When I was with Modesto, our mascot ran over a kid who was waiting to meet him. PeaNUT didn’t see the child, who was in the mascot’s blind spot. It happens. The child fell down and started crying. From my spot in the pressbox, I saw it happen. There wasn’t any malicious intent involved. After the inning break was over, I tried to get someone to find the family to apologize, however the family left. Thankfully, they called to complain to the team. They had a very valid complaint and when the GM called me into his office to talk about it, we came up with a solution. We would have the mascot drive to the family’s house, bring him an autographed baseball, a PeaNUT doll and tickets to another game, in addition to membership into the kids club. We assured the parents that we were happy to apologize, but they did not expect the mascot to come to their house. They also got tickets to another game.
The reason why teams are so afraid to do something like this, is “if we do it for them, we have to do it for everybody”. Which is the ABSOLUTE wrong answer. Each situation is different, however there is a mentality to just group everything together and push it to the side. Not every team is like this, but there is a prevalent nature that perpetuates this way of thinking.
Another such case that arose during the same season was when a child was hit with a foul ball. The traveling mascot group ZOOperstars were in town and getting ready for a promotion down the left field line. We had picnic tables in an area between the stands and bullpen with signs indicating foul ball territory and signs on the tables that said to not stand on the table. Later in the game, a ball is hit down the left-field line that bounced off the table and hit a child who was standing on the table in the face. We had a great angle on it from the pressbox. The person with the child had his back to the field and never saw it, however that didn’t stop him from calling to complain about what happened. We had several others who saw it and all had the same story. Not sure whatever came of that incident, as it happened late in the year.
- Listen. Yes, listen to the fans. My home run song, “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry came because a fan suggested it. I liked it, it works, great suggestion. But don’t think that just because a fan came up with it, they’re complaining. Great ideas come from all over, and don’t be afraid to show your appreciation.
- Inspiration Strikes at Random Times. I had the idea for Sea Creature Weekend one night when the St. Petersburg Devil Rays were playing the Brevard County Manatees. Both were sea creatures, but it was too late to promote that series. Later in the year we played the Jupiter Hammerheads, and the promotion worked. We had all kinds of nautical themes going all weekend. Gave away prizes to the aquarium, beach resorts, seafood restaurants, anything we could get our hands on that had to do with the sea. The following two seasons, we didn’t play either team on a weekend, or if we did it coincided with something major that was already planned and sponsored.
A lot of music ideas have come to me while in the car, watching something on TV. Heck, I got the idea for a song while at Hersheypark once. Yes, it strikes, just make sure you have a notepad to write down these ideas for when inspiration strikes.
- For as much as you know, there is someone who knows more. Don’t forget this. You may have worked for 10 years for a team and learned a lot, but there is someone who knows more. Just because you’ve been thrust into having to run the video boards, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else out there who knows more about it than you. Or knows about something you’ve yet to hear about. You can miss a lot of good relationships, and a lot of good for your overall show by discounting people. I’ve been announcing sports for 24-plus years, but there’s still things out there I can learn. Good and bad things.
- Each crowd is different. Watch the crowd, keep an eye on them and see what they’re reacting to. This goes for music, videos, etc. Your playlist on a Saturday night is going to be different than what you play on a Tuesday. Do you have a college crowd? You might want to get a little more recent with your music. Have a crowd that’s mainly retired folks and businessmen, scale your music older.
- Keep it fresh. We’ve talked about it before in writing different scripts. Remember, every night you will have season ticket holders, people who come a few times each year, people who come once a year, and people who are there for the first time. You need to create something that works for everyone, and watching the crowd is a great way of doing just that. Watch the crowd, and keep it fresh for those who are there a lot, they’ll have a great time allow you to build your brand, rather than boring them with the same show each night.
- Finally, NEVER STOP LEARNING. I can’t stress this enough. It’s not about going to all kinds of seminars, but always keep an open mind. Something you see or hear in one place may work great for you, or be a massive failure. Keep trying different things and learning. You can’t be afraid to learn something new, because while you’re doing the same thing, there is someone out there who watched what you did, figured out a way to make it better and is executing it.