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"Business has been a dirty word in sports for too long," says Levine. "Running a team is unique only in that the degree of complexity involved is five times greater than for a company with comparable revenues. While a widget manufacturer sells the same product over and over again to the same clearly defined market, in sports each game is a different sell to a highly fragmented audience, which varies not only from city to city but from household to household. As a result, the downside risk is much greater in sports. But so is the upside potential, and teams have to do a lot more than sit around waiting for a winner. Now more than ever, they have to listen and respond to the demands of their markets."
Nonetheless, the win syndrome persists if only because no one has yet heard fans chanting "We're No. 2!" What is heard is a lot of unsolicited advice from self-appointed experts, and over the years many team executives have developed an occupational disease called "hard-of-listening." After all, they say, who knows better what makes the fans happy than the men charged with the day-to-day operation of a club? The fans themselves, says Levine. Oh yeah, how does he know what they want? Simple. He asked them.
Over the past six years Levine and his Pacific Select associates have interviewed some 300,000 fans, beginning with the basic questions: Why do you go to a game? Why do you stay away? What can be done to make you attend more often? The initial response was, "Gee, I'm glad you asked"; the reaction to many of the results tends to be, "Gee, we never knew that." For example:
•More than half of the people who consider themselves loyal sports fans never attend a game.
•Sportswriters are much less influential than either they or the teams think they are.
•At any given game 15% to 20% of the fans are there to "relieve pressure and tensions."
•Today's young adults (18 to 30 years old) don't know how to watch a game.
•The free-agent shuffle is destroying the sense of stability and continuity that fans thrive on.
•The multicolor court had nothing to do with it; if managed properly, World Team Tennis would have succeeded.
•Bat Day or no Bat Day, baseball is not the big family sport of legend.