When the Washington Nationals played the Houston Astros on Monday, September 20th 2010, not one player was hit by a pitch. But fans got pounded.
Photographers, armed with digital cameras, roamed the stadium and pitched hard for a share of the fan wallet. “$17.99 for a photo? Why not? Just add it to the $43.29 for a ticket (ninth highest average in Major League Baseball), $25.00 for parking, $7.00 for a beer, and $5.00 for a pretzel.” With easy credit, any family can take out a loan for a trip to the old ball park. The Lerner family, principal owner of the Nationals, has elevated separating fans from their money to an art form. If they were as talented at producing a winning team, the Nationals would be World Series champions–but I would settle for a record over .500.
To guests—as stadium-going fans are called—this quest for revenue comes across as near-maniacal. Within two minutes of entering Nationals Park, photographers approached my son and me asking to take our photo. I stopped counting after the fifth request. The stalking continued in the stands, prompting the father-son pair behind us to say “yeah, they asked us seven times. It’s ridiculous.” So here’s my question: at what point does selling become excessive? For me, it happens when selling becomes an unabashed “numbers game.” Somewhere in that equation, great customer experience gets poisoned.
22,600. Ask a Nationals revenue analyst about that number, and he or she will tell you that it’s the team’s average attendance this year. If just five percent of fans buy a photo, every home game generates over $20,000 in revenue to gorge the bottom line. Burp! Profit is spelled d-i-g-i-t-a-l p-h-o-t-o-s. There’s no inventory to carry, no space to commit. Camera shutters make an audible ka-ching at Nationals Park!
Driven by backroom calculus that the more you pitch the more you get, Nationals’ management cheer while fans seethe. Business yin and yang. Anyone who has walked past the Nationals Stadium front-entrance paparazzi understands what I mean. But the return from wild, indiscriminate pitching has a point of rapid decline. Just ask a guest. What Part of ‘No’ Don’t You Understand?
Following the Astros game, I couldn’t resist the temptation to talk with someone about the questionable wisdom of this high-pressure hawking. So I contacted Printroom, the company that operates this concession.
“I visited the Nationals game vs. Houston on Monday night, 9/20. I am writing an article about my experience at Nationals Park, and wanted to include FanFoto in my discussion. The questions I have would best be answered by your VP of sales, or Director/VP of Marketing . . .”
“Andrew, You’ll need to contact the photographer for an answer to your question. You can usually find the photographer’s contact information on their homepage. Sorry we couldn’t be of more assistance. Did I answer your question(s) completely or address your concerns thoroughly? If not, please let me know right away.”
I let the representative know right away, but no reply. Maybe she’s still working on it.
So, do I have this correct: Behind the veil of a popular baseball brand, an outsourced company deploys a sales force to engage the intrusive activity of photographing fans at a baseball game. Then, they post the digital photos online on a public website–all while being purposely opaque and unreachable. That’s creepy—and it’s not even Halloween!
Pursuit-of-the-almighty-dollar doesn’t have to diminish the great feeling that comes with a trip to the ballpark–except when it’s unchecked. According to a McKinsey Survey (December, 2009), 35% of respondents identified “too much contact” as the most destructive selling behavior. Could the disdain for too much contact really be a plea to refrain from the wrong contact. After all, if sales contact is valuable, respectful, and engaging, it’s hard to have too much of it. Printroom’s tactics violated all of these. Three strikes, you’re out!
Oh, before I forget—if you want to see the photo of my son and me at the ballgame, click here.