The Game-Day Experience: What Will Change and What Will Stay (Almost) The Same
Lou DePaoli is a seasoned sports leader with executive experience across multiple organizations, including vice president of the Florida Marlins, vice president for the NBA, CMO of the Atlanta Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena, CMO of the Pittsburgh Pirates and most recently CRO of the Mets from July 2013 until last December.
All Access Interview series host Jim Andrews sat down with Lou just prior to his leaving the Mets to talk about frictionless interactions, game-day promotions and corporate partner expectations. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: The Mets implemented and tested some frictionless technology at Citi Field in 2019. What was interesting that season became essential in 2020 thanks to COVID. What does that mean in terms of getting ready to welcome back fans for a full season in 2021? What are you anticipating the fan experience will be like and how much work will it take teams and venue managers to get there?
Lou: We want to give fans peace of mind when coming to a game. In terms of frictionless technology, we partnered with our concessionaire Aramark, along with Mashgin and Clear in 2019 to trial a completely frictionless experience, for example, to buy a beer. Fans could go to the Walk Thru Bru kiosk and take a beer out of a cooler, put it on Mashgin’s AI-enabled cash register, and use their Clear account to put their fingerprint down to both verify they are of legal drinking age and charge their credit card, all in a matter of seconds. We’re looking to replicate that type of experience throughout the ballpark.
For 100 years, fans were accustomed to raising their hand from their seat and having a vendor pass a hot dog down the row, touched by eight people, and then sending money back, touched by all those people, and having change come back, touched by all those people. Now that will be completely unheard of; people would think that is crazy.
Jim: Prior to 2020 you were having tremendous success with entertainment partnerships with pop culture brands such as Marvel, DC Comics, WWE, etc., in terms of using those as a catalyst to draw in casual fans through bobblehead and other promotions. Will those and other marketing efforts continue to be pillars of your sales strategy in 2021, or will other things come into play?
Lou: Our goal is to continue those partnerships and grow them. Whether it’s the ones you mentioned, or Netflix, or Jerry Seinfeld, they give us a chance to connect to a different audience and stay relevant through pop culture. It’s a great balance with the promotions that are tied to the Mets’ history, like celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 World Series win. Those appeal to a completely different segment of our fan base.
If you want to draw three million-plus fans a season, you can’t just target one type of fan.
Jim: You mentioned that the Mets were on pace to bring in your highest partnership revenue ever in 2020. In March, you had to switch gears from being on offense and bringing those deals in, to defense and looking for ways to deliver value when no games were being played. How did your team manage those conversations and what type of response did you get from corporate partners?
Lou: A sales organization always wants to be on offense: generating new business and retaining partners. The pandemic forced us to switch to defense: finding replacement assets, creatively activating with no fans in the building, and doing what we can to ensure we get their payment.
Our partners were great, they appreciated that we reached out proactively about how we could identify new assets and continue to deliver value to them. Of course, they negotiated to get the most they could. We were very fortunate that MLB allowed us to sell some valuable assets that were not available before, like back-of-the-mound branding, virtual home plate signage above the seats, the virtual batter’s eye, tarps in the outfield, etc.