CFOs are ordinary Americans. That is, they love football.

Brian Freedman

Brian Freedman

At the recent CFO Rising East conference in Miami, attendees were standing in the aisles at a breakout session featuring a presentation by Brian Friedman, finance chief for the New York Jets. There was some fun football talk, but the heart of the address was about the Jets’ innovative efforts to drive revenue through customer service.

As popular as professional football is, teams can’t afford to let up on strategies to get fans into seats. Historically, Friedman noted, when TVs were smaller they didn’t afford a good feel of the game, so going to the game was an enhanced experience. Now, though, “people are closer to the sidelines on their couches than when they’re in the stands,” he said. “And there are shorter lines at home, and the beer is colder and much cheaper. So we have to continue to give them something they can’t get at home.”

If fans don’t get a great game experience, some of them won’t come back, which is especially damaging in the case of season ticket holders. But it’s a tricky thing to provide customer service to 80,000 people — all at the same time. Naturally, the Jets turned to technology for the answer.

Part of what the team came up with, replacing paper tickets with plastic cards, had to be force-fed to its fans. “Fans tend to be creatures of habit,” Friedman said. “We did plenty of focus groups to find out how they felt about transitioning away from paper tickets, and they all said they couldn’t do it. ‘We love our paper tickets,’ they said. ‘They’re a memento. And what if the card doesn’t work?’ So we decided to rip off the Band-Aid. We stopped sending out paper tickets last year.”

Checking in with a Jets Rewards card.

Checking in with a Jets Rewards card.

The cards were part of a new program called Jets Rewards for season-ticket holders. One enhancement they offer is quicker access to the stadium, requiring just a tap on a card reader at stadium entrances. All preseason and regular-season games are pre-loaded onto the card, another convenience. Using the cards to pay for games, concessions, and other Jets-related activities earns loyalty points redeemable for merchandise, autographed photos and equipment, opportunities to go onto the football field, and the right to bid on exclusive experiences like watching a game from the owner’s suite or traveling with the team to an away game.

The Jets are counting on the cards to deliver increased concession sales. “Concessions typically have seen a 15% uptick from allowing [fans] to buy through stored-value options that are attached to credit card,” Friedman said. The team is in the process of adding stored-value features to the Jets Rewards card.

Jets-Rewards-Logo-01The loyalty program was in its infancy during the 2014 season, but experimentation was in order. For example, season ticket holders were offered bonus loyalty points for entering the stadium early — for example, by 12:15 for a 1:00 game. The Jets want fans to end their parking-lot tailgate parties early so that parking spaces the parties inevitably spill into are freed up for more fee-paying vehicles, and so the fans get on concession lines earlier. Typically for a 1:00 game, the biggest surge of fan entrances comes between 12:30 and 12:45, Friedman said.

The loyalty program even allows fans to actually participate in the games. For example, when a sack or a false start in the Jets’ favor is facilitated by fan noise, bonus points are awarded to fans in the section of the stadium that was noisiest.

According to Friedman, a handful of other NFL teams have a card-based loyalty program, and a handful have ticketless stadium access, but the Jets are the only one with both.

In another technology play, the Jets plan to install identification technology around the stadium, so that when fans are connected to the Jets Rewards app on their mobile devices and have their Bluetooth settings on, they can be tracked as they move around the building. “If we know which way you’re walking, we can provide you with offers at concession stands,” the CFO said. “We’re going to be able to tell you where the shortest lines are, either at concessions or bathrooms. We can help you get to your seat easier. As you’re leaving the stadium, we can tell you that there’s a traffic jam on Route 3. All of this gives the fan a more personalized experience.”

The personalized experiences aren’t just nice for the fans. “They are going to drive concession revenue, opportunities to strategically partner with sponsors, long-term ticket sales, improved renewal rates, and overall greater profitability,” said Friedman.

Plans are also afoot to invest in improving connectivity in the stadium, which is a challenge, with a large percentage of the 80,000 spectators hitting the Jets’ network simultaneously. But there is no choice. “What do they want to do once they’re safely in their seats?” Friedman said. “They want to be connected — to take and send pictures, upload pictures, go to Facebook and tweet. One thing we know is that if they can’t get on social media, we’re going to hear about it on social media.”

All of this provides a twist for Friedman. “In this job, you’re focused on non-traditional investments that drive revenue, evaluating things in a non-traditional manner, and looking at things that don’t necessarily have a direct return on investment,” he said.

Images: New York Jets

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