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Campus Beat

Winning Isn't Everything

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When it comes to attending sporting events, today's big-league fans are as rabid about clean bathrooms, good food and comfy seats as they are about the performance of their favorite team. According to David Martin, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, for some fans, loyalty lies less in a game's outcome than in the game-day experience itself. Understanding how to cater services toward the more discriminating fan, says Martin, will help stadium managers beat the odds of poor attendance.


"Sure, you have diehard fans who are there exclusively for the game, but a large percentage of fans attend for the social experience," explains Martin, who is one of the first researchers to assess a spectator's emotional response to the game-day experience. "We discovered that the quality of the stadium -- its accessibility, proximity and quality of food and drink vendors to seating, employee attitudes, even the cleanliness of the restrooms -- can significantly influence whether fans will attend future games."


Sparse research exists on consumer satisfaction in the sports industry, says Martin, even though it generates billions of dollars each year. According to statistics published in 2008 by Sports Business Journal, consumers spent more than $26 billion on event tickets, concession items, parking and on-site merchandising alone. But with a down economy and escalating ticket prices, fan loyalty has become increasingly mercurial.


"It's harder to get people to come out to the ballpark these days," says Martin, who surveyed nearly 500 college football attendees consecutively over a one-year period, using a survey model he designed and tested with colleagues from his alma mater, Auburn University. "People are more conscious of how they spend money now. Why spend a lot of money to go to an old ballpark, with terrible food, dirty bathrooms and nightmare parking, when you can tailgate comfortably with friends in your living room and spend next to nothing?"


So how to keep those stadium seats filled despite a home team's losing streak? Figuratively speaking, says Martin, "If you want fans to come and spend money on beer and hotdogs, it better be a really good hotdog."


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