Published on: September 9, 2010Now available on iTunes…
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During my vacation last week, I decided at the last minute to take my 16-year-old daughter to the USA Tennis Open in Queens, New York. She’s not just a tennis fan but also a very good player ... certainly able to beat me at the drop of a hat, though that’s not setting the bar very high ... and I thought she’d enjoy seeing the pros up close.
While the tennis we saw was good - despite the fact that the temperatures hovered near 100 degrees, making it almost unbearable to watch any match for very long - I have to say that the US Tennis Association (USTA) is sending mixed messages about its target audience. On the one hand, there are signs all over the Billie Jean King Tennis Center about how much time and money is being spent bringing tennis to kids who otherwise might have no experience with the game. And that’s a good thing.
But that sort of conflicted with the first message you get at the Tennis Center when you park your car - $19 for the day. Which seems like a lot ... even more than they charge at adjacent Citi Field for a Mets game. (Though at this point, the Mets may have to start paying people just to go to their games.) Except that at the Tennis Center, there was an exception - because Mercedes Benz is a sponsor, anybody driving a Mercedes got to park for free.
Now, I think it is nice that Mercedes owners get that kind of benefit, and that Mercedes Benz extends that kind of brand equity to its customers. But I cannot help but think that it sends the wrong message about the sport. At a time when there is increasing competition for kids time - from other sports ranging from basketball to soccer, and from such diversions as video games and mobile phones - this creates the perception that tennis is really just a sport for rich people. Tickets are expensive, the food and beverage options inside the Tennis Center are generally very high priced if not prohibitive, and you only get a break on parking if you are someone who, quite frankly, probably doesn’t need a break on parking.
Now, I realize that I am painting with a somewhat broad brush here. It can be argued, with a certain degree of legitimacy, that the high prices actually allow the USTA to donate money to tennis camps and lessons for poor kids. That’s fair enough, but I’m not sure it addresses the central issue, which is making tennis a sustainable sport and business model over the long term. I have the same concerns about baseball - that the financial model is such that only rich people and corporations can afford to go to games, and eventually the sport could die because it will become too remote from the everyday fan.
(By the way, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” used to prognosticate that baseball died as a popular spectator sport in the year 2042, because of a precipitous decline in interest. I don’t know if that means anything, but it is the kind of useless trivia that rattles around in my noggin, and that I like to share whenever I get the opportunity.)
Football is a different story, but in the New York metropolitan area we’re beginning to see some evidence that high prices can alienate even the most devoted fans. The New York Giants and Jets have built a new stadium, but are charging even longtime season ticket holders “personal seat licenses” - essentially entry fees that allow people the privilege of buying season tickets. I don’t know what the long-term impact will be, but the short-term impact is that one can hear frequent commercials on the radio for Jets season tickets at reduced prices...which would have been unheard of in the past. To me, that’s a warning sign.
So what does this have to do with more traditional businesses?
Simply this. I think it is entirely reasonable to look around at stores and offices, and marketing and merchandising efforts, at consumer-oriented programs and employee-related programs, and ask oneself: Are we being consistent? Are we presenting an offering that is in synch with our image, and vice-versa? Are all our efforts focused on establishing and maintaining sustainable brand equity?
And finally, are our short-term decisions consistent with our long-term goals?
In fact, it is not just reasonable to ask such questions, but absolutely necessary.
Otherwise, the advantage could go to the competition, and we may find ourselves, from the customers’ point of view, out of bounds.
For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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