November 21

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Insight from Frank Supovitz and NFL Events’ Fans First

By David Millay

November 21, 2019


In our podcast episode with Frank Supovitz, CEO of Fast Traffic Events & Entertainment, we talked about his past role leading NFL Events for nearly 10 years. Specifically, we dove into what it took to plan and execute the Super Bowl, arguably the planet’s biggest sporting event.

Planning a Super Bowl, as you can imagine, starts well in advance. Over 4+ years of planning, with a full-time staff from NFL Events working on planning, the city’s local Host Committee, not to mention all of the contracted third-parties, suffice it to say there are ton of details. So many details, it would be impossible for one individual to know every answer to every question about the operation. If you can’t expect a full-time, senior exec to know all the answers, how is a frontline volunteer or part-time employee supposed to know all of the answers to a fan’s questions?

The reality is, it’s impossible to have your frontline, part-time employees know all the answers. And if that’s what you’re focused on in your own venue, you’re destined for failure. NFL Events and the Super Bowl know this, and that’s why they created the Fans First program, nearly a decade ago.

The Fans First program is designed to empower and prepare employees to deliver a great fan experience, even when they don’t know the answers to a fan’s question. As a part of the program, NFL Events and key partners like Moonshot train the 15,000+ full-time and part-time employees, partners and volunteers impacting the fan experience of Super Bowl week. This could involve a local hotelier, police directing traffic, a volunteer from a non-profit group working at the NFL Fan Fest, or a senior executive working in marketing for the event. To best describe the program’s goal in practice, Frank gave us an example scenario on the show.

“I’ll give you an example. A banner is being being blown off of the building, right?

There’s a wind gust and it blows; the banner’s hanging by a thread. I’m a concessions person, I’m the first person to see it, but I have nothing to do with banners. Do I call that in? Or do I not call that in? Do I worry? ‘We’ll let the banner people worry about that.’”

It’s a classic example that happens to all of us operating a sports & entertainment venue. It’s a problem that we help clients solve every day, and we know the struggle is real.

How do you get a part-time employee to take ownership of that situation? Your full-time staff might not even know what to do when they see a banner hanging by a thread. A situation like that is not as simple as picking up a piece of trash.

To solve the problem, Frank said, “so on the back of every credential we had a text line that’s basically ‘if you see something, say something’ and it doesn’t matter what it is. And then we have somebody looking at that all the time that dispatches the right people to take care of the problem. So now at the stadium, you know a thousand people are going to learn that. But what if you’re walking down the street in front of a hotel and one of the Superbowl banners is hanging off the hotel?”

It was from Frank and his team that I adapted my learnings from Disney into the operations of a sports team. You see, for an event like the Super Bowl, Frank and his team were not just focused on the stadium. They knew that fans were flying in from all over the country, all over the world for the Super Bowl. Any experience associated with the trip would reflect on the NFL. Frank and his team understood that a bad customer experience at the hotel would impact a fan’s decision to return to another year’s event or recommend the Super Bowl experience to future potential customers. As a result, NFL Events intentionally extended their sphere of influence even past the host city downtown and to the airports of the host cities.

So what does a volunteer or employee of the hotel do when they notice the banner on that downtown hotel hanging by a thread? “Same thing. Anybody, any volunteer, anybody holding that credential? I don’t have to tell them where to call. It’s on the back of the credential or they can phone it in.”

It’s a real-life example of “it may not be my task, but is my purpose.” Back when I worked for Disney Institute, we helped NFL Events design the “common purpose” for the Fans First initiative that applied to anyone working one of their events.

We put Fans First to create excitement and lifetime memories.”

The statement explicitly states that it doesn’t matter what your role is, ultimately, you must place how fans at the forefront of all your decision making; you are responsible for creating excitement with them and helping them build lifetime memories.

But taking the common purpose a step further, and outlining HOW to put fans first is a MUST , “especially if it’s something that affects or potentially affects public safety. So this banner flapping around could fall on somebody, and safety is the nonnegotiable, right? It’s the one thing you have to deal with and it doesn’t matter how much it costs or what is involved.”

When we help other sports & entertainment organizations create their own shared purpose, safety can be overlooked. If the customer experience initiative is only owned by marketing, it might be tempting to prioritize “show” elements over all else, when you get into how the experience is actually delivered.

But as we craft the standards by which “putting fans first” happens, it doesn’t matter how gorgeous that sign is if it falls on someone’s head. If an employee falls while hanging the sign because they didn’t have a spotter holding the ladder, that’s one less person who can serve the fans. That’s a simplified reason why safety and employee well-being is important, but it’s one way to think about it.

As Frank and his team knew, explicitly stating a common purpose and outlining the priorities to deliver on that purpose are just part of the equation. At the end of the day, you must provide the tools to your team to actually deliver on the expectations you’ve set for them and the training you’ve put them through.

Frank told us, “everybody has to know the how, not just the what. The what is, I expect you to be able to tell us these things. Well how (do you deliver)? They don’t have to look in a guidebook. It’s all on the credential. They’re wearing the credential and all they have to do is flip it over. Have a look.”

This is the reason when we get calls asking us to “just come in and train my staff on customer service,” we say no. Support tools and systems must be developed to create consistent service deliver.

Training is one piece of the customer-service-puzzle, and an even smaller piece of the larger customer-experience-puzzle. It’s a foundational piece that you must have, but done in a vacuum without the necessary support systems and tools, and you’re wasting your time. It’s why when we work with clients like Penn State, training is an important piece of a larger process, one that involves employee recognition systems, customer journey mapping and much more.


For information on how EngageMint might be able to help guide your next customer experience initiative, visit us at www.engagemintpartners.com

David Millay

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