Day one and game one of my latest fan engagement trek to gather new ideas and showcase some of the best activations from Australia and New Zealand and I hit the ground running at 530am Melbourne time on Saturday 22nd October. I make it to the Qantas International terminal via a quick early morning Uber and recap on the trip plans in the QF lounge before my scheduled 10am flight to LA. I’ve had some shocking bad form recently with flights cancelled or delayed for work and holidays and today turned out to follow that recent form with the plane losing power as we we’re waiting to take off. Quite an odd un-nerving eerie silence filed the cabin due to no noise from the AC or speakers however two hours later and we we’re finally on our way. I settled down for a few quick films including Nice Guys and a classic in Garden State before drifting off to think about the sweet sweet NFL and NBA game day fun that was coming up on this trip.
A few hours kip and we had landed in Los Angeles albeit two hours later than scheduled. With a rental car waiting, I race through immigration and have three young female immigration officers asking me how the hell I’m doing 7 games across 6 states (I so bet I get pulled up at some point as well- I’m tipping Chicago) in 9 days and what I do for work. I reply I just love sports, fan engagement and love learning and that combining these is my passion. They ask me for my contacts and tickets and tell me that the Lakers are the only team worth bothering about so seeing as I’m not seeing them I can keep walking and it’s ‘good bye Aussie’. A good bit of banter to start the day and I’m through customs and into the Dollar car rental bus to get my ride sorted.
I arrive just past 9am and pick up the keys to my new ride, a Ford ‘small’. I didn’t catch the actual make but it was a compact and for $40 and $4.10 in fuel upon return, it did the job for close to 120km today. Attaching the GPS to load the Rose Bowl, I brush the sleep away and hit the pedal on LA’s notorious highways. Just like in the Blues Brothers, this car had some decent pick up for a 3m x3m plastic box and flew me out to the golf course parking lot that UCLA use on game day’s. Signage was adequate but they sure are making a killing at $30 per car on game day although if you’re a Honda driver then you’re in for free due to the game day partnership from Honda.
I park the red Ford small (wrong colour on a game like today versus Utah) in lot 7 and make the decent hike to the stadium. I always love to walk around a stadium one or two times to soak in the architecture and design and talk to staff both from the security and game day organisation side about the match and the venue. There is absolutely nothing like superb customer service and today I had the best of both worlds from UCLA Bruins staff and Rose Bowl contracted security officers. A bit of a mixed bag but more so a negative on the security part as the Rose Bowl senior security (who I found out were there full time as opposed to game day staff who were new and inexperienced) showed a lot of leadership and knowledge however as is a concern for modern security in stadiums, the contracted casual staff were quite lax in terms of professionalism- from the 4-5 I spoke with so take this as probably just a few who didn’t buy into the venue culture.
The staff I had a chat with as I walked around the venue who were from UCLA were exceptional and as usual with American’s went out of their way to help with ‘Yes sir, this way sir, thank you sir etc’. Overall exceptional manners all round and something which is not hard to do but is missed by so many businesses and not just in the sports business. Furthermore, having seen the work that people like Paul Turner at AT&T Stadium and Brad Mayne at MetLIFE stadium do to instil trust and professionalism in their stadium staff it always surprises me how superior the customer service is at these US stadiums as opposed to Australia. When’s the last time you’ve been referred to as sir or ma’am (I mean does that even matter?, probably not but I’m big on manners)
Back to the security and there were a few situations where I and other fans were screamed at by security for going into an area that we were not supposed to be in. Being screamed at is certainly never the lasting impression I want to take away from a venue. This situation was due to the fact that the security guards- both of them- were personally occupied at each end of a entrance and on their phones and had missed seeing this group, myself included who all had innocently just walked through an entrance that was also not sign posted with any information saying not to walk there. On a few occasions when I asked staff if the venue had WiFi or if there were water stations I was told simply in a negative tone ‘I don’t know’ with no attempt to bother to find out. I’ve trained under some superb venue managers who teach their staff the importance of having a ‘please and thank you’ venue as well as ensuring that they understand the culture, the in’s and out’s of the venue and how to talk to customer’s so this was a bit perplexing but you’re always going to get this with casual staff no matter what business.
After a quick couple of laps outside the stadium I venture into the new UCLA Bruins fan zone which was an overload for the senses. From games to a kids playground, giveaways galore, photo opportunities and live music this fan zone had it all and was one of the best I’ve seen in college football. I and other fans picked up numerous free giveaways like sunglasses, lip balm, bags, hats and snacks after signing up for data collection iPad surveys from sponsors. I also really liked the fact that the highway patrol had been invited to have a stand that featured kids policing and football themed activity sheets and stickers. I love the idea of getting community groups and police involved in the game day with their own stands to raise awareness of their work and think we could do more of this back home. However one thing that was lacking on such a boiling hot day like today was a sunscreen giveaway. With a 34C hot and dry Los Angeles day a sunscreen giveaway would have been a good idea for fans not least considering the whole stadium has no sun coverage.
Food and drink options were quite numerous and featured everything from sliders to asian inspired bowls but the one that caught my eye was the bacon wrapped hot dogs. Such was the intense heat today I grabbed an icy cold lemonade for a staggering $9US (that’s about $13 AUD) but I guess it was a typical 1 litre size drink as well. I love the way here in the US how concession staff are really encouraged to call out to fans, get loud and vocal and get them to come over to check out the food options. Here at the Rose Bowl I found it was a bit of a laugh amongst fans who got in on the banter. I guess also with food and drink prices so high it’s pertinent to try and sell as much stock as possible by getting into fans faces as they walk by the concession stands.
There was a big focus from UCLA and the Rose Bowl on putting fans first with their numerous fan help stations that assisted fans with information on the game day. I spoke to Renee who was very helpful and who informed me about the history of the venue, the team and what I could expect from today.
No WiFi was a bit of a let down but it’s understandable that a venue that is 94 years old might find it difficult and expensive to roll out cabling easily across the entire venue.
Overall it was a really impressive fan experience from the Bruins and the Rose Bowl. The new fan zone was colourful and fun and featured a few new cool ideas which I’ll be talking about to some clubs back home in an effort for them to explore the possibility of replicating or putting an Aussie spin on things.
The current time is 8pm on Saturday and I’m on my way to game two in Miami, Florida with a six hour, 10pm overnight flight for a meeting with the Dolphins fan engagement rep and the game against the Bills tomorrow at the Hard Rock Stadium. Bring on game two of seven. Good night.