Earlier this summer, I got a thoughtful e-mail from a Houston Comets fan named Lindsey Densing. I don’t say “former” fan, because even though her team disbanded after last season, the feelings of a true fan don’t just go away. She still loves the Comets.
When I was doing a story recently for ESPN.com on how the current economic woes impact the WNBA, I asked Lindsey to expand on some of her thoughts about how she felt as a fan who was “left behind.”
She gave a great deal of thought to her answers, and I decided to post them in this blog rather than try to incorporate them into my ESPN.com story.
I think Lindsey’s experiences are of particular interest to me because she’s a full generation younger than I am, someone who grew up with the Internet, 900 TV channels, video games and all manners of electronic wizardry that people my age (44) didn’t.
Her generation came into adulthood as a different type of consumer, one with a lot more options in terms of finding specific things they are interested in and decide to purchase or endorse. I’m not saying I didn’t have many consumer options when I graduated from college in 1987 … just that Lindsey and her peers had a lot more when she graduated in 2004.
As such, the decision she made to become a Comets season ticket-holder means that amidst a million other things she could have spent her money on, she still chose professional women’s basketball.
And as a 20-something, she’s going to be a consumer for a long, long time. So she is the type of person the league and its sponsors definitely want to secure … plus have her bring in others her age.
That demographic is totally Internet-savvy and is always trying to find the easiest and most effective ways to communicate. Further, they expect to communicate a LOT.
Most people that age have had a cell phone for much, if not all, of their adult lives. They constantly communicate with friends, family, co-workers and even total strangers. So especially for something that they purchase as a luxury, such as season tickets for a sports team, they expect communication.
Of course, it’s not just 20-somethings and younger that likely want/expect that. My friend Helen Wheelock, one of the frequent posters on the Women’s Hoops Blog, has often wrote about the importance of the WNBA and individual franchises communicating more consistently and meaningfully with fans.
Since I am really never in “fan” mode with the WNBA, I don’t know firsthand all the frustrations or concerns or hopes fans may have about communicating and interacting with the league and its teams. I have to ask, listen and read what fans are thinking.
In Lindsey’s case, I wanted to know if she felt there was a strong effort by the Comets to reach out to their fans; what ways she thought the experience could have been improved; her feelings about what the league tried to do to save the Comets and how that was communicated to the team’s fans; and, lastly, how much she’s been able to remain a fan of the league despite losing her team.
Below are her answers. They are her opinions and her perceptions, and I wanted to let her have her voice here as she saw things. The league, I’m sure, would say it tried very hard to keep the Comets. But when a devoted fan’s perception is something different _ which you’ll see is the case with Lindsey _ then it may well speak to a need for greater communication between the league and those consumers who care most for the product.
I welcome other WNBA fans – including other Comets fans, of course _ to share their thoughts here about whether they had similar or different experiences. And maybe, despite the sadness everybody who has followed the league feels about the demise of the four-time champion franchise, there are still some positive things to learn from the Comets.
Lindsey Densing, Comets fan:
I was a season ticket-holder for about four years after I graduated college (2004). Before then, I had mini season tickets.
I don’t think the Comets as an organization did the best job of reaching out to their fan base. They would have a season ticket-holder event each year where “all” of the players were supposed to be present and the fans could interact w/ them.
Last year’s event was at Dave & Buster’s and was fun, but Tina Thompson wasn’t there. They also held two ”Chalk Talks” each season where the head coach would talk to season ticket-holders about how the season was going and answer questions.
Here’s a thought … these events were for season ticket-holders only, but what about reaching out to non-season ticket-holders and first-timers to generate more interest? In my mind, it’s all about recruiting new blood to survive and thrive. Get new fans, or turn occasional fans into season ticket-holders. They didn’t know how to get more new people in the door.
Now, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not a marketing expert. But they should have hired people who had good ideas or, heck, steal ideas from other teams! I understand that basketball is more than just a sport, it’s a business. Did they truly get that? I’m not so sure.
Also, the “incentive” strategies that they used to get season ticket-holders to renew had issues. For the 2008 season, they said that they would give each renewal an authentic Comets jersey of the player and size of their choice.
Well, it wasn’t “authentic,” and I ended up with a large instead of the promised small. Their execution when it came to fan relations wasn’t great. Oh, and their best incentive for renewing season tickets early for the would-be 2009 season was a T-shirt! What the heck? That’s it?
I also don’t remember seeing any quality community events that were put together, such as something at a park, reading and learning center, basketball camp, etc.
If the players were out in the community, it usually wasn’t an event that fans could really participate in. Some of the players (usually not the stars) would attend some type of random function, such as helping at a food bank, serving food at a McDonald’s, standing on a street corner and encouraging cars going by to vote. Those were nice things for them to do, but they weren’t things that would draw interest to the game or the team.
Ultimately, the Comets, as a franchise, were lacking in a lot of areas. At the very least, they should have kept their web site up-to-date with intriguing information, not just box scores. They needed to organize quality and effective events, plus try to market to non-season ticket-holders.
I think they could have emulated Phoenix’s approach with their fans. It seems Phoenix always keeps a great web site and holds numerous events and activities for the fans (which helps to draw people in.)
I would have liked to see more incentives for fans to buy tickets and greater player/fan interaction. Many of the other teams seem to have their stars heavily involved in the community and with the fans, not so much in Houston. I think by doing these things, they definitely would have been more successful as a business.
As for the question of the league’s communication with fans regarding the Comets’ state of being … well, there wasn’t much. But I guess they didn’t want to let people know the details of their struggles.
Here’s an issue I still have with what happened regarding the potential sale of the team. It was communicated by (president Donna Orender) that there were people interested, and they were in talks. However, the version that the president and the league put out was that “the right ownership couldn’t be found.”
Then we heard that there was a buyer toward the end of the deadline, but that they couldn’t close the deal in time. Does that sound different to you? If you’re talking about saving a team that is the foundation of the league and won the first four championships, do you let it go because you just ”ran out of time?” To me, it sounded like they were just like, “whatever.” Like it’s not a big deal. That’s really disturbing to me.
And as for the question about me still following the league … you bet it’s hard _ and I have a strong passion for the game and love it so much! It seems like there are fewer games on TV, even though the WNBA signed that deal with ABC/ESPN. Most of the games can be watched on-line, but the screen that comes up is so small, and it’s very hard to stay engaged.
So, if I’m having difficulty, what are other Comets fans doing? I’m afraid many are disengaged.