I was at Opening Day in New York last week, attending the first official game at the new Yankee Stadium last week. Honestly, I was underwhelmed. Considering that the Yankees spend $1.5 billion dollars to build the ballpark, I expected more.
Note: I register my opinion as both a die-hard baseball fan and a self-styled ballpark expert. In 1997 I visited all the major league baseball stadiums and have kept up with most of the new constructions since. I usually get to see about 15 ballgames per year, and watch or listen to hundreds more on TV, radio, and online. I have written papers/articles about ballpark construction, spoken and given interviews on the subject, and similar. And in case you are curious, I am a life-long Seattle Mariners fan.
What was I expecting? I expected the prices to be high (they always are in New York, and there has been lots of press coverage about how expensive this particular ballpark would be) — and they were. And I expected the lines at the concession stands to be long (no stadium does that well in my experience) — and they were. But I also expected the new ballpark to have some design features, uses of technology, or other elements that served to enhance the fan experience. The opposite was true. The field carries the exact same dimensions as the old ballpark, the look and feel of the park reflects the design of the original Yankee stadium, and many of the enhancements that were made — like the gigantic new scoreboard — actually detract from the experience of watching a game (example: it took me five minutes to find where the ball/strike/out tally was being displayed).
My underwhelming experience at the new Yankee Stadium got me thinking about my role as a fan, and as a customer more broadly. I quickly came to the conclusion that I am underwhelmed by most of the experiences I have these days — whether I am shopping, reading the newspaper, attending a ballgame, or similar. I go to stores and the people who work there aren’t helpful, or the products they offer don’t meet my needs. I subscribe to dozens of newspapers and magazines and its hit or miss whether I get an article in any particular issue that really peaks my interest or teaches me something new and interesting. I am more than happy to buy things, and spend money, and I do all the time — but more and more, I feel as if the companies who want me as their customer simply aren’t giving me much in return.
I know that every fan’s perspective is different, and the same is true for customers, and audiences for everything. If you ask most Yankees fans they will tell you the new ballpark was a major improvement over the old Yankee Stadium. I just don’t happen to feel that way. You will always find people who say their shopping experience was fulfilling, or the magazine they just read was worth the subscription price, and more. I have been that person, but it has been a while since I felt like shouting from the top of the hills about something I bought.
My question is this: Does anyone else feel this way? Do I make poor choices with how I spend my time and money — or generally, are we settling for less than we should?
The new Yankee Stadium is clean, there are TV’s everywhere to help follow the action, and the bathrooms all seem to work — significant improvements over the old stadium. By most standards, that would be enough for a good ballpark. But for the New York Yankees, and at a cost of $1.5 billion, its not enough. Very little that has changed from the old Yankee Stadium — so in essence you are paying significantly more for the same product. The Yankees, in my view, chose not to put much effort into making sure that the fan experience is worthwhile, that the (significant amount of) money that people spend to watch a game leaves them feeling like they received value and want to return.
Maybe they don’t have to. The Yankees may be a special case — given their history, the success on the field they enjoy year after year, and the loyalty they have built up with their fans, maybe they can get away with charging high prices and delivering a mediocre stadium experience. Even if that is true (and I am not sure it is), they are the exception and not the rule. Consumers have greater control over their consumption now than at any point in history and as a result have higher expectations that what we will receive for our time or money will be worthwhile. If we have a bad customer experience, we will look elsewhere for another, better option. And with all the information that flows online today, there is a good chance that the opinions of an underwhelmed customer like myself will reach others, probably quickly, and impact their decision making as well.
I will still go to baseball games, and probably a few of them will be at the new Yankee Stadium. But given the choice, I would definitely prefer to spend my money on a team, at a ballpark, or more broadly on something else where I feel like I am an improtant customer and I am getting value in return for the time, energy, and money I contribute. Other teams do it, and there are companies and organizations make me feel that way as well — and trust me, those are the ones I spend the most money with. At the same time, too many companies are getting away with delivering an underwhelming experience and I say its long past the time we stopped letting them get away with that.