The Atlanta Falcons franchise has always prided itself on being in touch with its fans so that the organization can bring about the type of change that is most important to you. A recent focus group of season ticket holders allowed fans to have their voices heard, and that's just the beginning of how the Falcons plan to interact with fans moving forward
The Atlanta Falcons franchise knows its fans.
It knows there's a group of guys in Section 208 that have been coming together to games since the 1998 Super Bowl season.
The Falcons know there's a family of four that sits in section 136 that has had tickets for 18 years, long before the size of their family doubled.
They also know about the mother-daughter combo that sits in section 122, their passion for the Falcons unrivaled by anyone of the opposite sex.
All of these fans have two things in common: They love the Atlanta Falcons and they have a voice, a voice the franchise listens to.
When Arthur Blank purchased the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, he vowed to bring the same level of customer care to the fans of his franchise as he did for 23 years as a leader of Home Depot, a commitment he reinforced on his first day of ownership when he vowed to improve the experience inside the Georgia Dome on game days.
For Blank and the Falcons, delivering a world-class experience means first listening to what the fans want, but more importantly, responding to the needs and wants of those that have invested financially and emotionally in the franchise.
At the forefront of listening and responding is a partnership between a fan base and a sports franchise that encourages loyal customers to help shape the image and direction of the organization.
As they have done for years under Blank's ownership, this season the Falcons are conducting season ticket holder focus groups, putting the fans in front of team executives and ticket service managers to find out what's working and what's not in the eyes of those who pay for seats to each of the 10 Atlanta home games.
The information collected ranges from music preference during timeouts to more polarizing issues like annual ticket renewal procedures. The aim is to continue to create a more personalized experience that ensures season ticket holders understand they're being heard and that all suggestions are afforded careful consideration.
After the first 2010 session prior to the Week Four San Francisco home game, one focus group participant wondered aloud why concessionaires served several varieties of Coca-Cola products at Falcons home games, but not the popular calorie-free Coke Zero.
Previous focus groups clearly indicated fans were seeking more value for their discretionary dollar, and those sessions already yielded the game-long bottomless popcorn and soda specials that debuted at the Dome in 2010. The Coke Zero inquiry prompted a discussion among Falcons staffers, Coke executives and Georgia Dome concessioners, and within a few days a plan was in place to incorporate a Coke Zero option in each of the dozens of fountains throughout the Dome in time for the Falcons' week seven home game three weeks later against the Bengals.
"We've put the fans first and let them guide our business decisions, not the other way around," Falcons VP of Sales Dave Cohen said of the club's proactive incorporation of customer feedback.
The Falcons' plan to involve the fans in many of the franchise's decisions goes well beyond popcorn and parking. Eight years ago when the franchise decided to modify their logo, they brought in season ticket holders to discover what the fans wanted the new logo to look like and represent. The result was a more athletic and exciting Falcons logo that fans overwhelmingly viewed as an improvement over the previous primary mark.
Fan focus groups, consisting of active participants within the 45,000-member Falcons Life community, have also been summoned any time the team redesigns and re-launches its team website.
The NFL has taken notice of the Falcons fan-first attitude.
Innovations like fan focus groups and dedicated fan service account managers have sparked broader programs throughout the 32-team league.
"The Falcons are extremely fan-focused and are among the top clubs in the National Football League in terms of their fan commitment and, in turn, how their fans feel about the Falcons' organization," Neil Glat, the NFL's Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, said. "The Falcons are extremely forward-looking and do an excellent job of looking for ways to provide value to existing and new fans."
And the Falcons recognize that consumer value isn't exclusive to just the three hours season ticket holders spend inside the Georgia Dome on Sundays. While the diverse group of fans that comprise the Falcons faithful arrive at home games in many different ways and at varying times, they all leave at about the same time. This fact has been a source of frustration as thousands of vehicles squeeze onto the surface streets around the Dome after a game.
Team officials knew they had an opportunity to improve the postgame parking lot egress experience. When fans told their football team they wanted a better exit plan after games, the franchise looked Atlanta traffic squarely in the face.
To improve the Yellow and Blue Lot postgame gridlock reported by many, Falcons management worked with the Georgia Dome and the City of Atlanta to change postgame traffic patterns and set up four lanes manned by police up Northside Drive to Interstates 75 and 85. Interactive ingress and egress traffic maps specific to each of the season ticket holder parking lots were added to the club's website. And thus far in 2010, many fans are reporting that parking lot departure times have been cut nearly in half.
This candid feedback has been critical in transforming an organization. Falcons President Rich McKay said, on the surface, what the team is doing isn't unique or revolutionary. Like most small businesses, the team communicates with their fans through a variety of mediums, including email, their team website and via its major presence on Facebook and Twitter.
But McKay believes that by taking the next step and talking face-to-face — whether via focus groups or interaction with a dedicated account representative — the Falcons have been able to tap into pain points and provide more value. The team understands that while research and data are important, there's no substitute for a direct, personal dialogue with your organization's most passionate stakeholders.
"Most organizations listen to the customer, but it's human nature to impart your own thoughts into what the customer tells you," McKay said. "What you really have to focus on is listening to customers and trying not to give your own spin, but rather to realize the customer has a perspective that you don't have. That's really important for us."