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It’s the fans, stupid

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“It’s the economy, stupid”  

A phrase that allegedly won Bill Clinton the presidential election of 1992, and catapulted James Carville into American history books.  It was intended to keep then Gov. Clinton on message “President Bush has lead the economy into a recession”.  As a tribute to Mr. Carville, I would like to tell Web site developers for professional sport teams “It’s the fans, stupid”. 

Every business must satisfy a need or a want of its consumer (thanks Professor Choi); therefore, let’s examine the needs fulfilled by professional sports: vicarious participation (Basking In Reflected Glory), communal bonding (otherwise how could municipalities explain spending millions of dollars on new stadiums, ask Cincinnati), and diversion from reality (the only explanation for baseball, and I like baseball).  Now consider your favorite team’s Web site.  What comes to mind; your team’s star player, season ticket links, highlights from the most recent game (unless your team is the Chargers)?  Does the Web site make you anymore likely to buy tickets to next week’s game, purchase a jersey, or call friends over to watch the game?  No, it doesn’t. 

Most teams Web sites are exercises of vanity.  They are built on the foundation of, “fans are our subjects, they will do as we say.”  I did not have this belief until I read two superbly written articles, “Development of the Motivational Scale for Sport Online Consumption” by Won Jae Seo and B. Christine Green (2008), and “The Role of Web Site Content on Motive and Attitude for Sport Events” by Kevin Filo, Daniel C. Funk and Glen Hornby (2009).

Seo and Green (2008) found ten dimensions for a fan’s consumption of a team’s Web site: technical knowledge of the game, interpersonal communication, information, fanship, entertainment, economic, pass time, escape, team support, and fan expression.  Seo and Green go to great lengths to describe the emergence of fan expression as a motive for consumption of sports online.  They describe the motive of fan expression as being, “… consistent with the concepts of community, belongingness, and subcultural expression, which are important sought-after benefits of sport participants and spectators, sports tourists, volunteers, and other communities of consumption.”  Seo and Green then go on to describe the unexpected result of their research.  Content (motive to read articles, look at photos and download media) is not a motivating factor for fans to visit their team’s websites, but rather a support mechanism for the motives of: information gathering, passing-time or the need to express oneself.  While I do agree with most of their work, I would argue that dismissing content as a motive for a fan’s consumption of a team’s website is negligent to a fans expectations in 2008. 

Fans did not expect teams to provide them with quality content in 2008.  However, I believe that some franchises have been able to change their fans expectations; thereby, changing motives for consumption of a team’s online material.  The trend of teams hiring former beat writers as columnists for their Web site, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Kings to name two, has increased their site’s credibility amongst fans.

Seo and Green’s oversight of this possibility does not negate from their outstanding work.  It should be noted that their uncovering of the motive of fan expression in 2008, preceded the explosion of social media.  They correctly identified the ever-increasing need for individuals to share themselves with their community.

Filo, Funk, and Hornby’s (2009) work focused on “…evaluating the impact of Web site marketing communication on consumers’ motivation and attitudes toward a sporting event.”  They found that a sport organization must include 15 things on its Web site to satisfy the consumers need: event ticket procurement, venue site, shopping locations, accommodations, event schedule, local attractions, entertainment opportunities, travel costs, public transport, food and concessions, location of event, parking, safety and security measures, weather forecasts and conditions, and traffic conditions.  Admittedly, a limitation of their research is its focus on an annual event, the Indy 300 in Southern Queensland, Australia, that attracts tourists from outside Southern Queensland; therefore, the material needed on the Indy 300 Web site would differ from a professional sports franchise’s.  However, the research demonstrated that,there was a significant increase in a fans motive to attend, or consume the event, if their needs were met by the organization’s website.”  Once again demonstrating the focus of a professional sports franchise’s Web site should be on the consumer.

The research supports the hypothesis that a professional sports franchise should take a customer centric approach to the development of its web site.  We have entered an age where people expect to be heard, seen, and respected.  Fans devote a great amount of energy to their team. Franchises should respect the fans’ commitment by catering to their needs.  It’s not an argument, it’s a reality.

Written by Peter Amador

March 4, 2010 at 11:15 AM

Lights Out on the Bolts, but for how long

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Acrimonious.  That is the best way to describe the relationship between the Chargers and their star outside linebacker.

It was only a few years ago that we thought Shawne Merriman was going to surpass Junior Seau’s as the franchise’s most dominant defensive player.  He had 39.5 sacks in his first three years in the league, and was becoming the most feared player in the NFL.  His play conjured up comparisons to Lawerence Taylor, Derrick Thomas and Ray Lewis.  The steroid allegations of 2006 seemed like a distant memory after he recorded 12.5 sacks in 2007, but then came the off-season.

He was brash and dismissive of the notion that he needed surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his knee; he perpetrated an image of a rock star, and was condescending to team personnel that told him he needed to devote his mind, body and soul to football.  He upset many people in the organization that off-season, not the least of whom was AJ Smith.

He came into training camp and struggled.  It was evident to on lookers that this was not the same Lights Out.  He was abrupt with the media – a tendency he had not demonstrated in the past – and continued to defend his decision not to have off-season surgery.  Alas, a poor performance in the season opener made him admit to his error, and he underwent season ending surgery.

AJ blamed Shawne’s off-field endeavors for his failure to be ready for the 2008 season, and for his failure to return to form in 2009.  Shawne continues to contend his off-field pursuits have no effect on his on-field performance.

Shawne argues, when healthy this year, he was as disruptive as he has ever been.  The injuries that plagued his 2009 season, he attributes to his determination to return to the field for the season opener.  He believes had he waited a month, his season would have been dramatically different.  That is speculation, but what is fact, Shawne will be a Charger next season.

Last night, the Chargers made Shawne a restricted free agent by offering him a one-year contract of $7.5 million.  AJ knows that no other team is likely to offer a contract to Shawne, as it would cost them a first and a third round pick in this year’s draft.  A smart move, considering that the Chargers would not want to lose LT and Lights Out in the same season (we do not have to remind them about the fans uproar when they pushed aside Seau and Rodney Harrison in 2003). 

Both sides have made it known that they are looking for a long-term commitment, but the sides have substantially different ideas as to Shawne’s worth.

I personally would love for Lights Out to stay in San Diego the rest of his career – he makes my job a lot easier – but it appears that both sides will have to swallow some pride to make that happen.  Who knows, crazier things have happened… Like head butting an opponent in your own red zone.               

***I am currently in an Athlete Representation course, and I am “representing” Shawne Merriman.  This is my attempt to demonstrate how an agent can feed a story to the press to sway the court of public opinion.  The goal being to increase their leverage in negotiations.  This is my interpetation as to how Nick Canepa would write the story for the San Diego Union Tribune.  Please feel free to leave a comment..

Written by Peter Amador

February 16, 2010 at 9:53 AM

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