Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Friday nights under lights- it's about Customer Experience.

So NZ Cricket had this great idea of bringing T20 cricket to the people by creating a Friday night competition so more people could get along and get involved. For Auckland that meant going along to the hallowed turf of Eden Park, home of the Rugby World Cup 2011. The stadium that holds 45,000 baying All Blacks fans during a Bledisloe Test. The same stadium that is to host the Auckland Aces in their domestic T20 competition.
Friday Night Under Lights at Eden Park

I've been to both games under lights at Eden Park so far, because I never thought about not going. Eden Park is certainly a beautiful setting on a sultry summers evening as the sun sets behind the West Stand. But if it's atmosphere you're looking for, there's a diluted amount, and it doesn't compare to the good old days at Colin Maiden. The crowds have been around the 5000 mark for the two games. Driven there no doubt by Auckland Cricket's policy of handing out free match family passes to anyone and everyone who looks like they might take a passing interest. You can understand their motive. This is about bums on seats, not about revenue.

When you consider that T20 is perfect for families, the shorter game, lots of action, a chance for the kids to see their sporting heroes up close, and maybe even get a photo with them, then the domestic T20 should have a great future. It should also be doing great things for grassroots cricket in NZ with all the junior cricketers taking along their own bat and ball , keen to have a bash themselves before meeting their heroes at the end.
 Unfortunately, the  reality is that the kids have to sit down during the match. They can't even have too much fun waving to the cameras at the front of the West Stadium, lest the Eden park bouncers send them back to their seats for enjoying themselves. That's what I witnessed last Friday night.
 Granted, they can go and play on the Outer Oval until 0830pm. But this only works for older kids. Not all parents would be happy with their young kids finding their way to and from their seats in the main stadium and across to the Outer Oval.

 And as for meeting their heroes and having  a photo with them at the end of the match. Forget it.
 Last season, there were always autograph bats, hats, 4 & 6 signs being handed out and the kids all lined up at the end of the game to meet the teams who were set up at tables, ready to sign anything and smile for anyone. My boys were thrilled to meet players from all teams who graciously posed for pictures with them.
The Good Old Days of HRV Cup

Now, if you're lucky, a few players may come out to the Western end of the South Stand at the end of the match. But you stay in the stand, the players stay in the Boundary area. Lest the Eden Park bouncers catch you trying to get too close. We even got told it was time to go home by the bouncers at the last  match. The players were still signing autographs just below us, yet we were hurried on our way.

NZ Cricket could learn from the NZRFU. We went to ITM cup games at Eden Park where every child was handed a goody bag full of posters, flags, stickers and the like. Then at the end of the match, they opened up a small section of roped off grass where the kids could line up and have photos and autographs with their rugby heroes. And that gesture made the kids want to keep coming back for more ITM Cup games.

I don't think any of this is the players fault. They have to go where they are told, and they do their best with what they are given.  It's about someone at New Zealand Cricket taking a long hard look at the fundamentals. Who are they trying to attract to the game, and what facilities should they provide for them? In its basic form, it's about Customer Experience. Funnily enough that's the stuff I earn my living consulting in. What is the desired Customer Experience, what expectations do the customers have, and how could you meet or exceed those expectations? It's not rocket science.

So the third HRV Cup match is on this Friday under lights at Eden Park. We will be there of course. But it does feel like having takeaway fish and chips rather than the meal from Depot that I really wanted. I wouldn't want to go through that every week, but once now and again it's ok.
Look out for me, I'll be there waving a banner and cheering for the Aces, and probably giving those Eden Park bouncers something to think about!

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