This week, the Green Bay Packers emailed their fans to ask why the team struggled to sell out a playoff game for the first time in recent memory. Certainly, the team wants to sell games out and desires that result for a variety of reasons: to make the maximum possible amount of money for each game, to avoid a television blackout that would result in a public relations nightmare, and to maintain the image of the team and its fans as among the best in football.
John Rehor of PackersTalk.com broke down the financial aspect, so I won't dig much into that. I'll just say that first and foremost, the NFL is a business, and I agree that the team's primary motivation is learning why they were nearly unable to get every last possible dollar for the Wild-Card game against the 49ers.
What caught my eye, however, was the list of available responses to a particular question.
Naturally, the team wants to know different things whether the person filling out the survey bought tickets or not. If you said that you did not, which was the answer in my case, they asked you to select any and all reasons that contributed to your decision to decline to purchase tickets. Here are the possible responses for that question, and the user could select any or all of these:
- Didn't know tickets were available
- Price was too high
- Direction of the team
- Playoff fatigue (been to multiple playoff games)
- Weather forecast
- Couldn't find anyone to go with me
- Was out of town/holiday weekend
- Had other plans
- Too short of notice
- Would rather watch on TV
- Afternoon Sunday game (too hard with travel to make work on Monday)
- Live too far away to plan a trip that quickly
- Live too far away and it is too expensive for me to attend
Just about all of these are legitimate reasons for not attending the game. There's a legitimate argument to be made for each of these except for "didn't know tickets were available". Cost is certainly a factor, the short notice of clinching a playoff berth seven days earlier can affect people's decisions, and holiday plans play into it as well.
However, one issue they did not appear to address with season-ticket holders is the policy about pre-paying for tickets (with refunds coming in the form of credits onto the next year's ticket invoices), which has been widely discussed as a concern for many fans. Is it possible that more Packers fans would have been willing to commit to buying tickets if (A) they were not charged until the Packers clinched a home game or (B) they were refunded immediately when the Packers were eliminated from contention rather than the cost being advanced onto their 2014 bill. Not having this question adequately addressed in the survey seems like a mistake on the part of the team if they wanted to truly understand all the factors in play.
That said, one of the listed options sticks out in my mind as a confusing one: "direction of the team". I think this option would actually have been far more valuable if asked as two separate responses: the first being to ask if fans were concerned that the team would not win that specific game against the 49ers, while the second being whether fans were lacking faith in the team's long-term direction.
In a way, this survey reminded me of another I received as a season-ticket holder of another pro sports franchise. I will not say which team, but it is not in the state of Wisconsin, has been a perennial doormat for years, has made the playoffs just once in the past decade, and has just recently started to show signs that it is making substantial improvements towards being a regular playoff contender. Each of the past few years I have received a survey asking about my greatest concerns with the team, and each year they ask specifically about two things (among others): the team's Win/Loss record and the feeling of the overall long-term direction of the team. That team is acutely aware that success on the playing surface puts butts in the seats, but they also need to gauge just how big a factor it is for their fan base.
Unlike the team with which I am familiar, the Packers are a recent Super Bowl winner and a playoff team for the past five years (including this year when the team was again ravaged by injuries, including losing Aaron Rodgers for half the season), and the long-term direction of the team ultimately has been and remains positive. Furthermore, they had no serious attendance issues throughout the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s. I believe that if the team were legitimately concerned about fans' perception of the team's direction, it would have been better-served to split that question into short-term confidence and long-term confidence, and the fact that they did not do so reflects that they are not concerned with that issue being a factor at this time.
Again, as for the actual reasons why the tickets didn't sell quickly, I think most of the listed options are valid reasons for people to not buy tickets. I personally checked off just about every one in the second half of the list. Ultimately, though, it seems that only some of the underlying reasons for the team's struggle to sell tickets were addressed and that the survey itself fell short of its goal of explaining that struggle.
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