Sports Business Journal
Chris Minch, a Real Salt Lake season-ticket holder, issued a complaint at the team’s recent town hall meeting for fans. Minch pointed out that customers could buy all kinds of diet soda at RSL games at Rio Tinto Stadium but not Diet Sierra Mist.
Ross Quigley, an account representative for the team, promised Minch he would look into a solution for her. Minch figured her request would be forgotten. But prior to RSL’s 2-1 win over New England on May 5, Quigley purchased a six-pack of 20-ounce Diet Sierra Mist, personally delivered it to Minch and informed her that for future games the brand would be available at the concession stand closest to her seats.
The story is typical of the customer service throughout the soccer club. The efforts of the MLS franchise to satisfy fans are so notable, in fact, that they are spotlighted in the recently published book, “All In” by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton (Free Press). The book has the subheading, “How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results.”
By optimizing customer service at every level of the organization under the direction of club owner Dave Checketts and President Bill Manning, RSL has seen big results. Since Manning, formerly vice president of sales and service for the Philadelphia Eagles, was named team president in March 2008, the team’s season-ticket base has doubled to more than 8,500 and merchandise sales have exceeded $1 million. Rio Tinto Stadium opened six months after Manning’s arrival.
“It’s an exceptional turn-around story,” co-author Gostick said. “Those results are phenomenal, not only for sports, but for any business.”
With competition for the sports dollar from the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and the Utah Jazz, RSL has to be on top of its game. Last Sept. 17, RSL sold out a home match that was played at the same time as “The Holy War” football game between Utah and BYU.
“We are fortunate to have a very passionate and loyal fan base that has developed over time,” Checketts said. “However, there are many sports and entertainment options for them to choose from in the region. We still have to be at our best at all times in order to distinguish ourselves.”
Manning hoped his accessibility to the public would trickle down to the rest of the staff. “I return every email I get from our fans,” Manning said. “What you find is, just by responding and letting them know their concerns are important, you always get a positive reaction.”
When Manning started with Real Salt Lake, he was everywhere on game day, making sure team and stadium employees (like those with concessionaire Levy Restaurants) were treating every ticket holder well.
“You want all the workers to understand that, whether they are soccer team employees or whether they work for the stadium or an outside vendor, they represent us,” Manning said. “The guy serving the hot dog may be a Levy employee, but every fan views him as a member of Real Salt Lake.”
The team recognizes superior performance with customer-service and employee-recognition awards, often in the form of a $250 gift card to Nordstrom. And now that the group has been together awhile, Manning no longer feels he has to monitor every level of the operation as the fans come through the gates of Rio Tinto Stadium. “There’s a strong level of trust,” he said.
The team effort also has resulted in huge benefits in corporate sales, where advertising revenue has quadrupled to more than $6 million over the last four years. Here, Manning places as much emphasis on service as sales. Rob Brough, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Zions Bank, a Real Salt Lake founding partner, said that one-third of the team’s fans have become their customers over the last four years — a 47 percent increase.
“It’s been a true partnership,” Brough said. “As Real Salt Lake’s influence has grown in the community, so has ours.”
Real Salt Lake’s work has also caught the attention of the league office.
“By focusing on the fan, RSL has achieved great success,” said MLS President Mark Abbott. “Rio Tinto Stadium is a world-class venue, and RSL provides fans a tremendous in-stadium experience by paying attention to every detail of that experience.”