Too much of a good thing

The Olympic gold medal hockey game last week between Canada and the United States was among the most entertaining sporting events I’ve experienced in a very long time.  In fact, the entire tournament was highly enjoyable. What made it such an amazing experience were the very things that are missing from the major professional sports leagues, with the exception of the NFL and PGA.

As a customer experience, the Olympic tournament excelled because it put the absolute best product in front of the fan every game.  Every game meant something.  And there there was a highly emotional connection between the fan and the experience.

Pro sports leagues, on the other hand, have largely lost that emotional connection with their fans that is at the root of any superior customer experience.  Sure, there are meaningful games.  And, fans are generally loyal to their team.  But, business decisions over the past twenty years in baseball, basketball and hockey have focused less on connecting with fans and more on short-sighted profit motives.  Product lines have been overextended and the quality of the product has been degraded through geographic over expansion, lengthening of the season and playoff systems where it seems every team makes the post season.  New features like billion dollar stadiums, fancy food and luxury boxes simply distract from the fact that the core value proposition, the game, has been diluted. Now even the NCAA is contemplating devaluing its most valuable asset, its tournament, by expanding to 96 teams.

Compare this approach to that of Apple; a company that has an uncanny ability to connect at a visceral level with its customers, while offering an intentionally limited product portfolio.

It’s an experience economy.  People buy experiences.  So, when your product is the experience, too much of a good thing is never a model for sustainable success.

(Photo: Multiplicity c/o Columbia Pictures Corp)


  1. I read something the other day that was remarking about how a $50 billion company can fit all of its physical products on a conference room table. That company, of course, was Apple.

    When I went to buy a new laptop a couple weeks ago I visited a Sony Style store and an Apple store. The experiences couldn't have been more different…I'm now loving my new MacBook Pro. It still boggles me that some companies just don't 'get it.'

  2. Thanks for stopping by Tim. Can you share what the major differences in the experience were? I've never been to a Sony Style store. thanks

  3. Great post! A number of different angles to tackle on this one, and I’m going to have to think about it some more.

    Your question around why most professional sports leagues have lost the magic behind the experience is a great one, applicable for business FAR beyond sports & entertainment. You’re right on when you say that the revenue grab from every identifiable source is the major culprit, though it extends far beyond the very valid examples you list.

    In every case, business managers in the sports & entertainment industry have been guilty of “just a little bit more” syndrome.

    They raise ticket prices 5% because, although fewer families will go to the games, the corporate ticket sales are inelastic enough to cover the loss. Now the suites and the lower bowl are full of suits. (If you really want to see me rant, get me started on the logic of pushing 10-year-old prospective lifetime fanatical customers to the side in favor of 50-somethings fulfilling their corporate entertainment obligations!)

    They wedge in just a few more games every few years because, there is a revenue opportunity. The seats may not be full, but they'll spread that fixed cost out a little.

    They introduce just a few more franchises every few years because the owners can split impressive expansion fees. If you’ve ever been to midseason Tuesday night tilt between Calgary and Florida, you’ll know that even the players don’t seem that interested, and they’re making an ungodly sum to pretend that they are.

    They sell the naming rights to the stadiums so they can get just a little more revenue from businesses in non-related industries who want to increase top-of-mind awareness. How many Bostonians are proud that their Bruins play in the TD Banknorth Gardens? How many know or care what TD Banknorth does?

    The result is that scarcity and intimacy is concurrently stripped away. The experience becomes both commonplace and less crafted to the individual guest / customer. Familiarity breeds contempt in a service business setting, if the intimacy & the qualities that make an experience special are reduced or removed.

    Taken to an extreme, sports & entertainment become like your public utilities, so taken for granted that the only time we notice them is when they don’t work and we’re enraged by it. Given where they are, it may not be that extreme.

  4. As always Chris, you brought a value added perspective. Thinking about the Boston Garden example (I'm from New England and I refuse to call it TD Banknorth Center) and all the other ancillary things that franchises are trying to generate money from, I wonder if they are starting to resemble airlines. Will sports franchises start to charge people extra for parts of the experience they used to get as part of the basic ticket price. So, for a base ticket, you get in the door, but you have to pay a 'viewing fee' in order to actually get to see the game.

    A refreshing change is being demonstrated by the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL. They are creating customer-centric programs that should be the model for all others to follow. Check out some of their programs on their site

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