NFL, UAL and the Psychology of Punishing Your Customers

jmsb@johnsanfilippo.com www.johnsanfilippo.com

It didn't take Roger Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice fiasco to convince me that NFL folk aren't the sharpest tools in the shed. That's because I'm a Charger fan -- have been for decades -- even when Norv Turner was the head coach. And that means I've supported some pretty crappy Charger teams. That also means I've missed plenty of home games that were blacked out on local television. Yes, the NFL punished me a number of times for supporting my then-lousy Chargers.

Thankfully, the FCC recently woke and abolished government-sanctioned NFL blackouts forever. And the NFL objected. Of course the NFL objected. Why wouldn't they? They're idiots. If they weren't idiots, they wouldn't need the FCC to tell them that blackouts are a dumb idea.

Let's look more closely at NFL blackouts and you'll see what I mean.

Why do NFL games get blacked out? Because not enough people buy tickets to the game. Why in the world would that happen? Because the team in question isn't doing very well. Or put another way, people don't buy whatever you're selling (tickets) if you're putting out an inferior product (a bad team). How many times was I penalized by the NFL because the Spanos boys thought it was a smart idea to hire a losing head coach?

When games are blacked out, at least in San Diego, it seems like it's always by a margin of about 5,000 or so tickets. There are millions of people in the greater San Diego area, and while I'd never claim that they're all Charger fans, I know a lot more than 5,000 are. I'm likewise pretty sure that many of them will never go to a Charger game.

Are these bad fans? Far from it. Mostly they're just fans who can't afford to spend a good $300 for an afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium. I'm sure the NFL still makes good money off of these fans. They deserve to see their team play.

Then there's the totally ridiculous blackout of preseason games. Games that don't even matter. Games that many of the biggest stars don't play in. Games that the NFL should be using to get people excited about the coming season instead of pissing them off!

To the demise of NFL blackouts I can only say, "It's about time."

As I type this, I'm on a less-than-half-full flight to New Orleans, flying United. Right in front of me are 12 empty exit row seats. Why are they still empty when we're halfway to New Orleans? Because even on an empty United flight, you have to pay extra to sit in an exit row. I know because I asked. At least I saved myself the embarrassment and asked first. One guy who foolishly assumed he could take an empty seat in an empty row got told to go back where he came from.

Let's examine possible outcomes here. If United let me sit in one of those seats without paying extra for it, one of two things would happen: Either the experience would confirm my original assessment that an exit row isn't worth an extra $85, or I'd like it so much that I'd spring for the extra $85 next time. In other words, UAL would either break even or win -- they couldn't lose.

However, the two possible results of their current policy are very different. When I'm denied access to a perfectly good empty seat, I'm either going to feel neutral about it, or I'm going to be ticked that United is so petty and short-sighted. Guess which one I'm feeling right now? UAL can only break ever or lose.

What the NFL and UAL seem unable to grasp is that more and more, success in business isn't about nickel-and-diming your customers to death. It's about building long-term relationships that generate recurring revenue for years and years to come. It's about developing brand loyalty in your customer base.

Call me stubborn. I'd never go to a game just because it's blacked out, because I refuse to be bullied by the NFL. And given the choice of UAL or, say, American, I'll choose American because I've always been treated well there. I assume (perhaps as foolishly as the guy who tried to get a free "upgrade") there are others like me.

The lesson? It's simple. If for whatever reason, you find yourself unable to fill your stadium or fill your airplane, don't take it out on your customers. Make them feel good today and they'll stand by you through whatever comes tomorrow.

That is all.

#NFL #UnitedAirlines

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