Marionettes

“An enterprise’s purpose begins on the outside with the customer…it is the customer who determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper.”  Peter Drucker

In today’s world, where customers are standing up and taking control, understanding your customers and the value you provide to them is more critical than ever.  No one understood this concept more so than Peter Drucker.  Considered by many as the man who invented modern management, Drucker believed that a company’s primary responsibility is to serve its customers. Profit is not the primary goal, but rather an essential condition for the company’s continued existence.  As a young journalist in the 1930’s, Drucker credited Time-Life’s success to founder Henry Luce’s understanding of the customer rather than his journalistic ingenious. In Drucker’s first management book, Concept Of The Corporation, he attributed General Motors’ success to Chief Executive Alfred Sloan’s unrivaled understanding of the customer.  In his last Wall Street Journal editorial piece in 2004, “The Role of the CEO,” Drucker again said that everything begins with understanding the customer.  It is an obvious, fundamental business principle: the customer is in the driver’s seat.  Then why do so many professional sports organizations not recognize this?

In a capitalist economy, consumers hold all of the power.  Corporate success is completely dependant on consumers purchasing their products/services.  If we like what they are selling and the way they are selling it, we buy.  If we don’t like what they are selling or the way they are selling it, we don’t have to.  This seems to hold true for every industry’s customer base except sports.  In sports, particularly the professional sports industry, the fans are the marionettes and the team owners are the puppeteers.  From high above in their corporate luxury suites, they pull on the strings and control us. A Jumbotron screen flashes a noise meter so we cheer.  Cotton Eye Joe blares over the PA speakers during the 7th inning stretch so we dance.  A Personal Seat license is required for us to keep the season tickets that have been in our family for decades so we pay.  And then pay again. From the aforementioned PSL’s, to stadium naming rights, to $12 beers, professional sports are pricing out the blue collar fan, and we are allowing it to happen.

Professional sports franchises do not make their millions from the Ward Clever fans.  Sure, good old Ward will spend big bucks so that Wally and the Beav have front row seats down the third base line, but odds are he’ll jump ship as soon as the team hits a losing streak.  Teams make their money from the Ralph Cramden fans.  No, Ralph won’t spend his hard earned money on courtside tickets, but he can give the team something more that can’t be quantified like a ticket price.  Ralph Cramden will be loyal beyond reproach.  The reason he is so loyal is because the team is part of his identity.  He grew up with the team, and because of this it makes him feel good and forms part of his identity.  He might not buy high priced tickets, but once he is inside the stadium with his bleacher ticket, he will spend his discretionary income on other things like team merchandise.  And for every one Ward Clever there are hundreds, if not thousands of Ralph Cramdens because when he goes to the game he doesn’t go alone.  He brings legions of Ed Norton’s with him.

Like Peter Finch’s character, Howard Beale, in the movie Network, the time as come for sports fans to take a stand.  Get up out of our overpriced stadium seats.  Go over to the box office window, and the concession stand, and the merchandise store, and yell: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Professor Keith Detjen
Pierce Arrow Blogger

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