Loyalty programs are successful when brands truly listen to their customers, identify their pain points, and implement favorable changes based on those findings.
This isn’t only true of retail. It applies to all industries that serve customers, even professional sports teams that seek to forge deeper relationships with their fans.
That’s why in late July, the Oakland Athletics announced they will no longer offer traditional season tickets for 2019. The program will be replaced by a new membership program called A’s Access.
We recently talked to the Oakland A’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Giles about this unique approach to season tickets.
Jim Tierney (Clarus): Can you talk about the thought process behind launching the A’s Access membership program in lieu of traditional season tickets starting in 2019?
Chris Giles: It comes from a couple of different insights. We’re seeing baseball at a bit of a crossroads as far as what fans are looking for in their experience. Traditional fans look for consistency and ownership and the neighborhood of people that sits around them for the same games as close to home plate as possible.
We’re now seeing a rapidly growing group of fans that want something completely different. Selling them an old package is unappealing. They want something more flexible and something more social. They liken it to a food tour or bar hopping.
The first insight was that traditional season tickets cater mostly to the first group.
The second insight was that most franchises force consumers to buy full season packages to get access to best seats. That is feasible in the NFL, but there isn’t a large group of consumers that can go to 81 baseball games a year.
The first option is to go and find friends they can share the plan with. Or they can turn into a mini broker and sell them in a secondary market.
As an industry, we need to do a much better job of providing exclusive member benefits. We’re undermining the core value proposition as an industry to become a member of the club. We’ve created some things that are proxies for member benefits, such as half off concessions and 25 percent off merchandise.
At a very high level, this is an initial pilot to a program we will build out over time.
Jim: What are your goals for the new program from a fan engagement/fan experience perspective?
Chris: At a very basic level, it’s to dramatically grow the size of our membership base with a value-rich program. This year with A’s Access we have sold more new memberships in 2 ½ weeks than in all of 2018.
They really appreciate the benefits. As a member, you can come to any game that you’d like. While your membership may include 10 games where you have a reserved seat, it also includes 71 games that have general admission to the ball park.
Jim: What type of feedback have you received from fans that led to the creation of this new membership program?
Chris: It’s more similar to a gym membership model. Just like you might have 10 personal training sessions, you could have 10 games with reserved seats. Were we surprised? I’d be lying to you if I said we believed the program would have taken off like it has, but it’s been selling at a much faster pace than I anticipated.
Jim: How are your fans different now and how have their needs evolved?
Chris: We got two types of feedback: Traditional fans that want the same seating plan within a core group that wants the same old same old. We wanted to make sure we didn’t alienate that group. The second group is built around fans that feel someone finally built a program that fits their needs. It’s important not to broad brush fans in two kinds of fundamental groups of fans.
See how adding a paid loyalty tier to an existing free loyalty program covers your entire customer base.
Jim: Can you talk about your goals around emotional fan loyalty?
Chris: Our vision is to take them from feeling like fans of the team to feeling like a member of our organization. From passive to active. The program wants to maximize the value proposition, which many retailers focus on today as well.
See how premium loyalty programs build emotional connections with customers.
Jim: What are the team’s goals for the membership program from a loyalty perspective?
Chris: We have our own very high-level fans. We have to grow out average attendance by 10,000 per game and this is one way that we think can help achieve that goal. The reaction has been very positive. We’ve actually seen an increase in average spend per existing customer, which was very surprising to us. That was our chief concern.
Your Fans Demand More
Whether you’re a retailer or a major league baseball team, your customers aren’t the same as they were yesterday. That’s why officials for the A’s have rethought loyalty in a major way.
It’s a big move and one that hasn’t been attempted in Major League baseball. The flexible model program is focused on maximizing the value proposition for all members.
The reasoning behind A’s Access is very similar to how retailers are rethinking loyalty today: By launching a program that creates a feeling of community and membership. A’s Access members are attracted to the enticing benefits they desire and the program, as Giles says, is very much based on the feedback they got from actual fans.
What the A’s have done with this new program is a great example of building for a new type of customer loyalty that truly resonates with each member.