It’s 8am, I’m standing on the platform at Secaucus train station in New Jersey, it’s absolutely freezing but I know today will be an exceptional day of fan experience learning from some of the best in the business.
Today I’m excitedly back at the New York Jets home base of MetLife Stadium to shadow stadium President and CEO Brad Mayne and experience the world class fan experience and fan engagement here.
Hear my thoughts as I waited for the train to MetLife Stadium:
Last year when I did my 2014 US sports PD trek (Read here: I Flew From Australia To America and Went To 14 Games in 22 Days. Here’s What Happened.) I took in a Jets game here and was blown away with how well MetLife Stadium value and look after their patrons as well as being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the fan engagement activations on offer both inside the stadium and around the concourse of the stadium from the Jets. Today I was again amazed at how outstanding the fan experience and customer service is here.
Back tracking briefly and after riding the 1 downtown to 34 Penn Station and then catching a NJ Transit bound train ($5.50US) from Penn Station to Secaucus, New Jersey I then jumped on the Meadowlands express train which drops you within 10m of the stadium.
By 9am and with four hours still til kick off, the train is packed with Jets fans, some of whom will go to the game and thousands of others carrying eskies, cartons of beers and BBQ meats who will tailgate which is a fan experience all in itself.
Hear the moment the train pulled into meadowlands station:
Stepping off the train and the walk off the train is easy, fully accessible and even with a large crowd it moves fast as you enter the stadium or the tailgate and surrounding areas of which house around 30,000 car spaces. It was interesting to hear that while the stadium is serviced by such high quality transport from both New Jersey and New York City that the vast majority of people travel here by car and that on average it only takes an hour to clear those 30,000 cars and 80,000 fans onto local highways or via public transport. I’ll touch on this later but having left 10 minutes after full time and with thousands of fans still streaming out, I only had to wait 30 minutes to get on the train to start the journey back to New York City.
I didn’t have to walk far to find a cool fan engagement activation from Jets sponsor Chase Bank. The stand involved fans (and all fans, not just Chase card holders) being given a different key to a locker and then opening a locker of their choice and winning whatever prize was in there. I won a rally towel but fans were also winning jerseys and other Jets gear as well.
Next, I met up with hard working and enthusiastic Jess Klepper who works as Brads executive assistant. After a chat about Australian sport, fan engagement and this incredible stadium with Jess and some interns from various universities, I joined Brad on an informative pre-game walk around the venue. Brad took me deep under the MetLife Stadium and talked extensively about the staff training that goes into making the game day experience a memorable day out for fans. Mayne stressed the importance of ‘giving fans all they need’ and looking after them as guests in your house. Wise words from an exceptional leader who I witnessed positively reinforce every staff member he came into contact with as he remembered the names of every cleaner and security or digital staffer as we walked through the stadium.
It was quite interesting to see how this process works as each of his team takes on certain areas throughout the stadium to check that they are clean and ready to go on game day. An integral part about MetLife Stadium’s culture is A.R.T which is about having the right (A) attitude, taking (R) responsibility and working together as a (T) team. I found that Brad (and his team) exemplified these characteristics and demonstrated a positive attitude and excellent leadership as for instance he picked up small scraps of the tiniest pieces of rubbish so that the venue was spotless before gates opened.
Later on I would talk to MetLife Stadium’s Director of Guest Services, Anne Wheat who laid out some brilliant advice on providing a world class fan experience in that ‘if you can’t get the simple things right from the start, then it’s failed as a positive fan experience for the fan. We’re all for fan engagement and if things like parking, finding your seat, transport, food, ticketing all work easily for a fan then the rest is icing on the cake’. Wise words from this guest services leader who truly understands what it means to give fans everything they need to have a safe, fun and memorable day out here.
The fan experience at the Jets is one of the best in the NFL and as I start my walk around the venue I’m instantly overwhelmed with the carnival atmosphere, how presentable the stadium is and how pleasant and helpful the staff are. It was good to hear from Brad that not only do the 80,000 odd fans walk away with a freebie when the Jets or Giants do a free promotional giveaway but all the staff do as well as thousands of items are put aside for them. It really seems like the staff from the top down absolutely love working here and have a lot of passion in ensuring supporters both enter and leave the venue feeling like they received everything they needed and had a memorable experience.
The main fan zone area, MetLife Central was kicking off with heaps of free giveaways, a big screen showing the pre-game action on the field and around the stadium and a marching big band performance all on this miniature astro turfed picnic type NFL pitch where fans can relax, eat and mingle with other fans before kick off. If location services are enabled on the NY Jets app then fans can participate in scavenger hunts around this area as well as receive push notifications for exclusive offers on game day food and merch.
If you take a walk half way round the stadium from MetLife Central, there’s a stage with live bands playing rock anthem music, interactive digital screens showing player stats and insights and more food options. There’s a player and fan appreciation wall that is a good photo opportunity and the photo ops don’t stop there with many other sponsor activations having a photography element in some capacity. In fact it’s all about the photo opportunity and capturing the memorable moments of the day for fans (and the data for the team as well.) But its good to see here that every activity on offer was open to all fans and not just US residents which I have sometimes come across in the past and leaves those fans feeling a bit left out.
Continuing our walk around the venue and Brad shows me the NFL and Jets control rooms with digital teams surrounded with endless with wall to wall HD screens. We pass the MetLife Stadium New Jersey police processing office and the operations team who are busy prepping for the game.
Next is ground level and we’re standing on that perfect green turf in the end zone where Brad is awarding a select group of hardworking game day staff members with a Jets jersey and thanks for their excellent guest services. I have a brief chat to a few of the staff members and again they talk about how they have so much pride in working at the stadium and for Brad who they say greatly respects their efforts and remembers their names. We all know that this type of positive reinforcement, respect and reward system greatly increases the chances of people investing more in the vision. I’ve been a teacher and seen this work with students to improve grades and managed staff in a stadium who once they see the vision go the extra mile. It’s clear that Brad and his team illustrate the very best in leadership around customer service and it’s why fans love this stadium.
As for food, you just cant go wrong here with countless yummy options for all tastes and dietary needs. From standards like pizza and fries to hotdogs and pretzels I was also intrigued by the special food truck like hidden gem area which the stadium uses to try out new food ideas like kebabs, Mediterranean food and other sweet and savoury delicacies.
Brad informs me that last year they trialled a stick of bacon as well as a cheese sandwich which proved so popular people were buying both and making their own creation. Today I also see pizza logs, dumplings and wings. There’s plenty of healthy vegan and vegetarian options as well which is good to see as it’s important to cater for all fans who want to stay healthy at the game.
Walking a little further on and I came across the Jumbo food stand that was serving jumbo bagels (with 4 eggs!), pretzels and hot dogs. The prices speak for themselves as these are designed for 4-6 people or one very hungry jets fan!
One of the first fully app integrated loyalty programs, ‘Jets Rewards’ is a tap and go rewards system for fans that allows them to accumulate points and put it towards exclusive experiences, tickets and merch.
Anonymous Text Line
The stadium has an anonymous text line for fans to let the operations team know of any anti social or poor behaviour around them and fans were even given these badges so that they can alert the appropriate staff to address the issue.
This was the second time for me to check out the WiFi here and again I think its the best (even faster and better than Levis Stadium) in the US (Tied with AT&T Stadium in Dallas) because there are no sign up’s meaning no data collection. I don’t mind if I ever have to sign up at a stadium to use the free WiFi but whatever the case if there are barriers or user experience issues then it becomes frustrating. It’s a really positive idea if its free, runs smoothly, is easy to access and get connected and stay connected. I have found that both times at MetLife Stadium the net is faster than my mobile service in Australia, doesn’t drop out and loads pics and videos very easily. Its important to the fan that they have a positive experience with a stadium’s WiFi as its often the first thing they will do when arriving at the stadium so it can really set the tone of their day.
Many teams in the NFL have an equal gender split when it comes to fans following the team. I talked to a few of the female Jets and MetLife Stadium crew members and female Jets fans about why the high female numbers in membership and attendance and some of the comments back were that ‘everything is on offer here’, ‘it’s easily accessible’ and ‘it’s the whole experience’. Talking with Brad and Seth Rabinowitz (Senior VP Marketing/Fan Engagement at NY Jets) later on and this line comes up in conversation ‘If you make the stadium experience so good, then fans have to come!’ and I couldn’t agree more. There is so much on offer here for fans, both male and female of all ages to have a memorable day with the family or their mates. It’s overwhelming fan engagement at times as you want to participate in every activation, but in a good, fun, exciting way.
Fan Experience and Fan Engagement Activations
The fan experience and fan engagement in the stadium featured the following, some of which I snapped pics of on the big screens.
- #JetsSelfie (getting fans to post pics of them and their mates)
- Salute to service. Today’s defence force hero of the game.
- Fantasy stats on player performances provided by FanDuel. Continues the trend of fantasy sports dominating fan’s lives
- ‘Song of the game’ fans get to vote for the tune of the day via the app. I missed what it was but odds on The Weeknd!!
- Food item of the day. Special deal on an item if using the app which was a meatball sub for the bargain price of $7.
- Jets Jamz. Getting the fans up and dancing. I swear if I have to listen to ‘I can’t feel my face’ or ‘Hotline Bling’ at a stadium I’m going to lose it. Nah just joking, great tunes!
- Outdoor skills tests field where kids young and old can run through the tunnel onto a smaller but realistic NFL field to kick goals and learn other football skills
- ‘Player of the game’ voting via fans using the Jets app is a fun way for fans to participate
- ‘ChalkTalk’ is an outside discussion and Q&A with fans and commentators on today’s match
- Free rally towels are being given away to fans
- There’s a BudLight beer garden with cheap beers and live music
- The in app chatting feature of the Jets app is a good way fans can communicate
- The emphasis on the crowd cheering along and ‘getting loud’ is such a big part of the experience here so it was obvious for the Jets to have a sound meter measuring fans vocal chords. Its a pretty cool thing to witness as the sound reading rises and rises. 108db was around the highest I saw it get here
- One of the cooler activations was where fans could make a digital bobblehead from Pepsi. So basically snapping a picture of their head using facial recognition software, bobblefying it and then fans receive a pic of this afterwards.
- Today was ‘Generations Day’ and so fans with 30, 20, 10, 5 or less years as a member were encouraged and asked to stand up and receive a round of applause for their commitment to the team.
- There was an award for today’s designated driver of the game. I really love this idea of a DD and think we need to bring this to Australia.
- The rocket tee shirt gun was firing free shirts into the crowd and they were going high into the stands!
- The free promotional item at today’s game was a Pepsi/Jets magnet and photo frame set however it appeared on walking to the train that many fans just thought it was a magnet as there were hundreds of the cut out left on the grounds.
- Jumbo food. Everything’s bigger in the USA!
Leaving the stadium after 4pm was very easy. I grabbed a free promo item and only had to line up for the train for 30 minutes to first get back to Seacacus. At Seacacus it can be a bit tight as thousands of fans board to head back to NYC Penn St but overall it was surprisingly fast to get out of MetLife Stadium and back to Manhattan.
The fan experience at MetLife Stadium and the fan engagement fun from the NY Jets are both world class. From state of the art technology, extremely authentic customer service and an overwhelming array of fun things to do for fans of all ages, these two businesses deserve more praise as they are continuing to set the bar for what the ultimate fan experience should be.
Hear the NY Jets fans here
*Thanks to Brad, Jess, Seth, Anne and others who took me behind the scenes and under their wing today to experience everything MetLife Stadium and the Jets have to offer.
**I didn’t try the 4 egg bagel
***How good are the Jets going! 4/1