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Becher's Bytes: In Sports and Entertainment, The Food Experience Matters

by Jonathan Becher @jbecher / sjsharks.com

It's hard to read a business article these days without seeing the phrase "customer experience" - so much so, that it may seem like it's become the buzzword du jour. Everything a company does - the way it markets, sells, answers the phone, runs its operations, and much more - all play a role in shaping the customer's experience. Any time a potential customer interacts with a brand, it influences the overall experience.

Understanding the customer experience may be the most important investment a company can make in today's competitive business climate. For many companies, delivering the experience is as important as creating the product. In fact, companies are beginning to recognize that delivering an exceptional experience may be the most important thing they can do to stand out from their competition. 

A similar change is happening in the sports and entertainment industry. In the "good ole days" if the home team won, the sports fans left happy. However, event organizers recognize that customers increasingly care as much about the end-to-end experience as they do about the game itself. Poor quality food, a traffic jam, or difficulty parking can ruin an outing - regardless of what happens during the game.

Specifically, food and beverage is becoming a key differentiator at venues. This is consistent with a trend in travel; in 2017, TripAdvisor found that food tours were the fastest-growing experience category. Some venues are lowering prices to appeal to budget-conscious families while others are investing in higher-end and/or specialty cuisine to compete with restaurants. The decision is based on which best serves their clientele and provides the expected experience.

Compared to most of the U.S., San José is a trend-forward, foodie-friendly destination with an ethnically-diverse population which craves local options. The food scene has more mom-and-pop and specialty restaurants than large chains and big "white table" establishments. Area residents are conscious about what they consume, both the ingredients and portion sizes.

We here at SAP Center have noticed these trends and responded accordingly. During the summer 2018, we revamped the menu to emphasize popular local restaurants and healthier, organic options. We added a wide selection of craft and hard-to-find beers. The results were better than expected: food and beverage went from one of the lowest-rated items in customer surveys to one of the highest-rated ones. More people are eating in the building and they are ordering more items.

Food and beverage might transform the experience in other ways. A dramatic increase in Silicon Valley traffic has contributed to an increase in the percentage of fans arriving at SAP Center after puck drop - as many as 20% of fans arrive during the first period. To provide an incentive for fans to arrive earlier, we are rolling out a Sharks Happy Hour during which many beverages are half-priced. We're testing this idea during December 2018 to see how fans react.

You should expect more experiments going forward. For example, during our cultural heritage nights, we plan to feature more food representative of that culture. Imagine Sharks Alumni Douglas Murray cooking Swedish food for Swedish heritage night!

All of this is part of our ongoing effort to better serve our customers. On a game night, the game itself is still the entrée and the primary focus of our efforts but we pay attention to the entire "meal" and how it's served. You are guests in our building and we want you to feel at home.

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