CMO Insights: How to Market a Baseball Experience

an interview with
Dan Farrell Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, St. Louis Cardinals

Photo by Sarah Conrad
Photo by Sarah Conrad

Marketing a sports team is a rather tricky affair.  Any given day the on-field performance can vary wildly.  This is especially true in baseball.  Even the best of the best win 60% of their games which in the course of 162 game season means 60 or so losses, 30 of which happened with home field advantage.  A favorite player can have a bad night which is often the case for hitters in a sport where going 1 for 3 all season is considered greatness! Compare this to the consistent experience consumers have with a typical packaged goods product and you’ll begin to have some sympathy for the sports marketer.

All that said, you won’t hear Dan Farrell, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals complaining.  First, he knows he’s riding, as they say, a great horse.  The Cardinals are arguably the winningest team in baseball this century with 11 playoff appearances, 4 National League pennants and 2 World Series rings. And second, he’s built his marketing around the entire customer experience at Busch Stadium rather than just the players on the field. In doing so, Dan has helped the Cardinals become the 2nd most attended home team in baseball in the last three years (behind the LA Dodgers) attracting over 3.5 millions fans the last two seasons. For these efforts, Dan also won the Customer Experience Award from The CMO Club and a chance to be interviewed by yours truly! Batter up…

Drew: Congrats on winning the Customer Experience Award.  Can you share the kinds of things you did to impact the overall customer experience in 2015?  

The Cardinals operate Busch Stadium based on the premise that attending a baseball game in our ballpark ranks as one of the premier attractions and serves as a genuine destination for millions of fans throughout the Midwest.  Our franchise draws from a very broad region, and while we recognize the value and importance of our local fans who average somewhere in the range of attending 8-10 games per year, we also draw nearly 1 million fans from outside the St Louis metro area.  Accordingly, we approach each game with the understanding that we will have fans who will be attending their first game at Busch Stadium, so we strive to consistently provide the highest quality guest experience possible.

The basics in our guest experience model are probably no different than most other entertainment venues: cleanliness, food and beverage quality and service, safe and secure atmosphere, helpful and out-going usher staff, entertaining scoreboard and fan engagement initiatives for pre-game and between innings, efficient ease of access, etc.  If we have a specialty, I believe it comes from a dedicated and very tenured staff that strive for superior customer service with a keen attention to detail.

Drew: How do you measure your customer experience?  How do you know if Cardinal fans are having a great experience? 

We conduct regular in-park surveys seeking fan feedback on a variety of topics, including guest satisfaction and ranking of our various service sectors. We monitor and track the data on a year to year basis to check for consistency. We also hold regular pre-game forums with our season ticket holders and our group leaders and we invite feedback and share information with these core groups of fans who are very important stakeholders of our product.

Drew:  A lot of studies suggest that only 1 in 10 unhappy customers will share their complaints with a brand. How do you process customer complaints and make sure that a systemic issue is not overlooked?  

We have a very active guest services department who monitor online complaints and also we encourage our game day usher and support staff to submit complaints or offer suggestions for service improvements.

Drew: Obviously on-field performance of the team has a big impact on customer satisfaction and you’ve been blessed with a great team for several years now. What have been your top marketing priorities in the last few years and how have they evolved?  

The Cardinals have made significant changes to our promotion programs over the past few seasons.  We have increased the number of in-park promotional dates, increased the amount of money we invest in the promotional giveaway items, increased the quantity and quality of items we give away, and focused our advertising to highlight the promotions, more of a “retail” strategy vs a brand-oriented campaign.

Drew: What other company do you think is doing an amazing job with CX and why?  

Kindle by Amazon; AT&T U-verse (surprising but I am impressed how they can trouble shoot a technical  issue in your system from a remote customer service location), Bank of America.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?  

Continue to learn how to monetize the digital and social media content that is so significant for a professional sports franchise.

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