Welcome to the second part in my series on improving the fan experience at Highlanders matches. Last week, we released “Part 1: Sights & Sounds” which focused on a few important things that we see & hear at the matches. Today, I’m focusing on two much more important senses: smell & taste. Some of it is very good, and the Highlanders have done some great things. But some areas could use a bit of a rethink. As with the 1st part, we’re only going to look at a few things, so we’d love to hear what smells & tastes you think need improvement at the match.

Let’s start with the first of those senses: the sense of smell. It may come as a shock to many, but we’re far more likely to remember what an event smelled like, than what it looked like. The scent of fresh-cut grass, food cooking on a BBQ, delicious fresh cotton candy, hot buttery popcorn… These all contribute to making an event good, and aside from the fresh cotton candy, the Highlanders managed to hit the other three on our list. Sadly, there was one other smell that lingered, especially during the hotter games: sour garbage. Like many events, there were too few garbage & recycling boxes, and they weren’t emptied nearly often enough to keep pace. Thankfully there was no wind blowing the garbage smell into the stands on the hottest days, or this would have definitely have hurt attendance. These things need to be checked every 10-15 minutes, more often on hot days. If it’s half-full, it needs to be emptied right away. Any delay risks overflow and that sour garbage scent wafting across the stands.

Concessions behind the goal. Image by Shawn Gray. CC 2.0 BY-SA

When we talk about taste, it’s all about the food and it was delicious. The BBQ menu was fantastic, providing something tasty for almost anyone (who isn’t gluten-free, vegan, diabetic, or otherwise eating of delicious-food impaired). The problem is with where it was located. Sure, there was U-Vic’s basic concessions in the concourse, but it was the BBQ tents from the Strathcona that were the real attraction, drawing people to them with a mouthwatering aroma.

Where were they? Right behind goal. Visible? Definitely. Easy to queue? Could use more work, but it was workable. Safe? Not on your life. My quick-thinking wife was thankfully fast enough to turn & block a full-force ball from hitting my 4-month old in the face. Other people were similarly pummeled. The ball occasionally found its way into the tents. There has to be a better spot, where there is less of a chance of getting walloped. My vote? Instead of a single large food tent area, put smaller ones on either side of the west-stands, right next to the stands. That way it’s not in the full-force kick zone, allows you to split the queues, and is still easily visible & accessible for your guests to pop over and grab a bite to eat or something to drink.

Speaking of drinks… Let’s start by making sure we have that license in place before the 1st match this year. Then, can we upgrade from mass-market crap beer to local craft beer? I mean seriously, this is Victoria. We have 30+ breweries in Greater Victoria. When I moved out of Ontario in 2014, there weren’t even 30 in the whole province, and you have that many within the 13 municipalities. You can definitely go local. Doesn’t matter if it’s Hoyne, Vancouver Island Brewery, Phillips, Category 12, Spinnakers, or any of the other few dozen available. The options are there. Heck, the great thing about working with a craft brewery is that if you spin it properly, they may even make a brew called “Highlanders” to help celebrate the partnership. Not quite sure what a “Highlanders” beer would taste like, but it’s a great cross-marketing opportunity. Personally I would love a good Porter or Stout, but I know they aren’t usually available at matches, so I’m willing to down a Blue Buck if that’s all you can manage.

Having all the drinks located with the food is not the worst idea in the world, but it certainly makes for some long lines, and greatly reduces the profit from alcohol & beverage sales. Many generally avoid leaving their seats during the match, which means they’ve often finished their drink or snack early in the first half and are waiting for half-time to mob the tent. Instead, take a page out of baseball’s handbook (or the Ottawa Fury) & have some vendors making the rounds with a refreshment tray. These refreshment trays can be very simple: two straps on either side of a decent box. Load it with both alcoholic & non-alcoholic (lots of bottled water during hot game-days), maybe even some quick-grab food, and make some rounds up & down the Westside. If people choose to sit on the non-licensed (why exactly?) & uncovered Eastside, send someone over there periodically too. You could even have these people selling the food tickets, thereby reducing the line-up at the ticket-table (just a thought).

Additionally, having vendors in the stands will have the side-effect of increasing security & it will help monitor people’s alcoholic intake. Since vendors will need to have their Serving it Right, they’ll better be able to make the decision to cut someone off when necessary. Contrast this more relaxed & gradual serving of drinks to the two people at the BBQ tent who are being mobbed by a hundred or so people at half-time. This provides more time to interact with your guests thereby increasing guest satisfaction, and helps ensure the beverages aren’t passed off to underage or overly drunk individuals. It’s a risk management strategy that will also help your bottom line. I like to call that a win-win.

I mentioned the food & drink ticket table earlier. Much like the concession stand, it’s in the wrong spot, wasn’t very clearly marked, and often ended up being mobbed by a crowd. Try putting a kiosk beneath the stands at either end. If you put the “front of the line” for the two concession tents suggested earlier nearest the field, this will spread out your lines, as well as split them between two different locations. People are already headed to the concessions, so it’s on the way. All you really need is a proper sign that can be read from 1-2 metres away, and you’re all set.

This was the 2nd of 3 parts on improving the fan experience at Highlanders matches. Today I looked at smells & tastes. In so doing, I’ve recommended a more active timetable to remove an event-spoiling odour, potentially improved the flow of guests, reduced line lengths & wait times for delicious BBQ goodness, and to top it all off, we’ve increased security, helped ensure safe consumption, and increased the safety of Highlander fans. We’ll be back February 6th with “Part 3: Feel & Own It”

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