Understanding the Business of Sports Through Yogi-isms

Sports franchises are billion dollar industries that thrive on highly engaged, loyal, and extremely vocal fan bases. People spend their hard-earned dollars to support their favorite teams - whether it's football, baseball or basketball - and they want to see a high-end return for their efforts. How can franchises put, and keep, butts in the seats? Legendary sports man Yogi Berra has a few 'tips' that every sports franchise should keep in mind.

"A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore"

That great 'philosopher' Yogi Berra once said, "a nickel ain't work a dime anymore." Boy, ain't that the truth! While fan passion is as old as sport itself; leagues and franchises face constant challenges about how to keep their fans engaged and add new ones into their midst - and most importantly, get them to spend money. How are franchises getting fans to part with their hard-earned cash? I asked that question to Boston Celtics President, Rich Gotham and he stressed the importance of transparency.

The Celtics are one of the most iconic brands in sports, with a long legacy and strong tradition of winning. The fans demand a great product for them to spend their dollars on and the front office looks to deliver this year in and year out. Gotham says they constantly communicate to (and with) their season ticket holders what they're doing to put a championship-caliber team together. Having the committed fan base that they do, it is important their fans know how the organization is going to achieve their goals and give them a product the fan base can be proud of. It's a 'quid pro quo' relationship for any franchise - if the product is good, the fans will come. And even if the team is having a bad year, communication with the fan base becomes even more important. If they see the front office is constantly working to improve the product, the fans will continue their support. Transparency is the first step to guarantee your fan base spends their money on your product.

"You can observe a lot by just watching"

Once you have your fan base paying for season tickets, partial plans or even the occasional night out with the family, now what? Franchises have to become one with their customers and are using technology to achieve these goals. It's that simple! Gotham says it's the interpersonal nature of the sports world. Franchises like the NBA's Sacramento Kings are looking to enhance their customers' in-game experience when their new arena opens in 2016. The new arena will have mobile apps for check-in, ushering you to your seat, indicating the shortest bathroom and concession lines and even in-seat wireless charging.

The rest of the NBA also looks to expand on the use of technology to further engage with their fans. The Boston Celtics, says Gotham, demand their employees treat every customer like family. Every person that works for the organization acts as a brand ambassador at any given time, so get to know your customers -- take time to learn their names and engage with them when they are not expecting it. Know when their birthdays are and have their favorite cocktail delivered to their seat, include your most loyal customers in special fan invitations to pre-game warm-ups or post-game press conferences, or have them stand next to a player during the national anthem. This small, yet significant, gesture will get your customers talking, mostly on social media, about their great experience at the game.

When Gotham told me all of this, I realized I couldn't agree more! I firmly believe that every company, regardless of your line of business, needs to treat their customers like they're royalty. They'll remember the experience and spend the message through all their social media channels. It's good PR for the brand!

Once again, Yogi was right, "You can observe a lot by just watching."

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future"

There are only two certain things in life: death and taxes. No matter how good we are (or we think we are), there are certain things we can't control. The future is one of those things. You can study as many spreadsheets as you want, read as much as you want and life will still throw you that unhittable curveball. Sports franchises are no exception. Once again, the Celtics aim to have a championship-caliber team every year, but things can take a turn for the worse if players get hurt or if the coach is not a good fit for the team. One misstep with your team - front office, coaching staff or players, can derail the best laid plans and send it all careening over a cliff.

Like sports, in business you have to foresee for these types of events and, while you can't prevent them all, you certainly can navigate the rough waters. The Celtics adage is: stick to your principles, be transparent, be a brand ambassador and find leaders that are the right fit for their culture. With these tenets in place - which should be a staple for any organization, companies stand a fighting chance in winning at the game of life.