If in the early days, minor league sports games were often the only games in town, the amount of distractions and competition for people’s attention and time have only compounded over the years. Not only are fans able to watch the games on cable TV, the Internet, social media and more, but also sources of entertainment have increased.

Yes, entertainment — that’s the category more and more minor league and semi-professional teams put themselves in. Granted, sportsmanship and competition are still a major component of a game day experience, but the vast majority of fans attend these events to escape the outside world, and simply to have a good time.

According to a study by California State University, only 5% of the fans attend more than half of the home games and this number includes the season ticket holders. Fifty-nine percent of the fans attend less than 5 games a season or 7% of the home games. Seventy-nine percent of the fans attend less than 13% of the home games. Even if the teams can get the fans through the door once, they aren’t entertaining them enough to keep them coming back. 

How the pandemic would affect those numbers remains to be seen. On the one hand, people will likely have a bigger appetite for live events. For nearly a year, the ability to enjoy live moments and visit places has been taken away from us. Game days will likely be some of the first live experiences that people would eagerly rush to. On the other hand, caution around attending in-person events runs high. It’s also possible that people might sacrifice the excitement of physically being at a live event for the safety and comfort of staying at home watching live-streaming.

What will the fan experience be like then? What will remain the same and what will be different?

First of all, the fan experience must be even more engaging and entertaining. During a focus group discussion held by California State University to study what fans are after when attending a minor league sports game, one fan even stated “I would rather see a player in a situation that is funny and fun to watch than a serious boring game. I want to have fun!”

When it comes to providing a fun and engaging experience, perhaps nobody does it better than the Savanah Bananas. In one of the episodes on FanFood’s podcast, The Playbook, the owner Jesse Cole described how they made the fan experience fun even before fans enter the stadium.

“We have the Parking Penguins that people dressed up in penguin costumes, parking your cars and giving you freezy pops. And they walk by and say ‘stay cool today.’ Then we have our players greeting fans. Then we have our ticket takers in banana costumes ripping your banana-shaped tickets…We said we need a high fiver. I remember people said, what do you mean a high fiver? Someone’s sole job is to give high fives to fans. And they go really? I go, yeah, we’re going to pay for it. You’re like what? So, we literally put out a post saying we’re for a professional high fiver.”

Notice how none of what Jesse described had anything to do with the sports itself – which is actually not within anyone’s control. The team managers can‟t guarantee a win or a loss, but they do have power to provide the fans an entertaining experience while visiting their stadium during a game. In fact, the typical fans attending minor league sports games aren’t even sports fans to begin with. Studies have shown that 67% of the fans who have attended minor league sports within a year don’t watch professional sports. Seventy six percent of the fans at the event said they attended the game to be entertained, with the majority of them not familiar with the rules of the game at all. 

That’s what people are after: an exciting, fun and entertaining break away from their daily routines — exactly what we’re lacking during the pandemic. If anything, the appetite for such type of experience will only grow stronger, which means teams and venue operators must rise up to meet that anticipation.

Secondly, team managers and venue operators need to have a more customer service centric mind. Rather than thinking about the game as a product that’s being sold in the form of a ticket, it’s more like an experience and a service that teams offer. Because at the end of the day, the services that you provide: whether it was easy to purchase a ticket; whether the wait time at concession stands is too long; whether the staff greets fans with a warm welcome; whether the venue is kept clean and hygienic…dictates whether the fans will come back a second time, or whether they feel compelled to make a purchase of food and drinks, or merchandise.

Jesse Cole put it this way in our podcast episode: “The fact that the debate is over money right now is so wrong, is so wrong, and so wrong. Someone needs to stand up and compromise and say, you know what? We’re going to focus on the fans and they’ll take care of the money in the long run. They’ve been, the fans have been rewarding owners and players for decades. It’s time to change it. And it’s time to break down the barrier. 

Many teams and managers are still struggling to understand this mindset, some might still think their job is simply to get people in the seats so they will buy things. The matter of the fact is, the different mindset will result in vastly different fan experience. Take hot dogs as an example. If you’re simply treating hot dogs as products sold at the concession stand, you’d want to use condiment dispensary bottles for self-service on the concourse. After all, it’s the cheapest and easiest way to maximize your profit margins of your hot dogs. However, if you adopt a customer service mindset, you’ll realized that shared utensils could be risky to fans in a post pandemic environment. The condiment stations could get messy and dirty, and people might need to wait around for their turn holding the hot dog in their hands. You might have to consider other options: providing packets of condiments; delivering orders to the seats; allowing fans to communicate their preferences and customize the service for them. 

All of the above sounds expensive — yes. And especially for a smaller team, it sounds too good to be realistic. This brings us to the next point.

Expect technology upgrades that can lower your cost, streamline your operations and enhance the fan experience. The good news is, technology helps us achieve what used to be unachievable, and at a fraction of the cost traditionally incurred. In addition, embracing technology is now an inevitable trend: from e-ticketing, to mobile ordering, to team apps for digital engagement…what used to be an innovative or even “gimmicky” offering is now the expectation and standard. And in fact, adopting new technology is not as difficult or cost prohibitive as one might think — since it has matured over the years and optimized for mass adoption. 

Let’s go back to the hot dog example. How can a team realistically have enough staff to deliver orders to seats? How do you arrange for the logistics of that? How do you prevent delivering the wrong order to the wrong person? How do you communicate with the fans in case they have special requests?

It’s now doable with digital ordering platforms that teams can use at basically no cost. For example, FanFood online and mobile ordering is free for teams to use since the only fee on the platform is a small convenience fee paid by app users. Fans place orders in their phone browser or by downloading an app, concessions staff can manage and fulfill all digital orders in the Manager Portal, and delivery staff can download the Delivery App to locate customers, view order details and directly receive tips in-app.

fanfood ordering app

The FanFood app, accessible by scanning a QR code to open in the browser, or downloading an app.

fanfood manager portalFanFood Manager Portal for managing all digital orders.

Among all the technological upgrades venues can expect to go through, concession mobile ordering is probably the cheapest, easiest and more effective upgrade a smaller venue can implement. It takes only a few days to set up the online store and the FanFood teams handle all the onboarding procedures at no cost. To learn more about what are some factors to consider before you roll out mobile ordering, request a copy of our on-demand livestream today.