Tom Benson isn’t willing to let the New Orleans Saints just sell tickets, even though history has shown that the seats will often fill themselves by simply opening the doors for games.
The Saints and Pelicans owner wants the fans who come to his stadiums to have the best possible experience, which is why when the NFL provided the organization with the results of a recent survey and New Orleans placed in the top five of nearly every category, he wanted to know about the few outliers.
Despite being in one of the smallest markets in the league, the 90-year-old’s goal is outpunching his weight in all areas, both large and small.
“Mr. Benson remains very competitive in this small market, no matter the sport, or the business he owns, and the fan or customer must have the absolute best experience from beginning to end,” Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said. “He is adamant that we over deliver on every detail of the fan or customer experience- no matter how small the detail, to be the best, to be number one.”
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Benson is determined to continue to have the Saints and Pelicans operate among the top organizations in their leagues, which is why he’s put his own money toward improving the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and why the San Francisco-based architecture firm Gensler Sports is putting together a plan on potential improvements for the venue.
Bensel said Benson’s approach in all his businesses, whether it be Dixie Beer or one of his automotive dealerships, is that he’s selling customer satisfaction. And that’s the approach the team is taking with many of the improvements — some of which include possibly adding natural light to terrace level or creating central security entrances leading into Champions Square — under consideration for the Superdome. Unlike some of the previous renovations, the goal isn’t to maximize revenue. It’s to improve the experience.
That's something the team is looking at in all areas of operations, whether with the building itself or how people buy tickets to enter it. After years of using Ticketmaster as their ticket broker, the Saints and Pelicans are looking at other services that provide a more fan-friendly and hassle-free experience and could soon consider a change.
The team isn't resting on any laurels despite providing what the NFL and NBA consider to be among the best fan experiences in either league.
The Saints rank in the top five in gameday satisfaction, entertainment, arrival, departure, safety and security, food and staff. The only areas in which they rank outside the top five are in stadium technology, a rating that is expected to improve by the end of the season; and merchandise.
Likewise, despite hovering around .500 when wins can influence survey reults, the Pelicans finished in the top 10 in many of the same categories.
The survey, which the NFL and NBA conduct by interviewing fans and sending a stadium expert to every game, ranks each organization on a scale of 1-10 in the various categories. After every game, teams receive reports from the experts, who tell them how they did and provide recommendations for improvement. Overall, the Saints scored a 7.5 or higher in all but one category for home games in Weeks 2, 6, 8 and 9.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome was only recently updated, but the 40-year-old stadium may be in line for another round of upgrades.
That was the expectation this season. The Saints made a strong commitment to improving the fan experience when they brought in Disney to train stadium employees, from the janitors up to the ushers, two years ago. The goal was to build a culture in which employees are friendly, attentive and engaging with fans. Both teams also have a staff that does nothing but focus on customer satisfaction.
The commitment has helped the Saints improve in many categories over the past few years, but the biggest jump has come in departures, which used to be something the team considered one of the more problematic components of the fan experience.
As far as the stadium renovations are concerned, the Saints are still weighing options and trying to figure out what is feasible.
The goal is to make the Superdome a viable building for the next couple decades. The organization realizes the cost to improve the venue likely won’t generate much more revenue, but the upgrades will keep people satisfied when they come to watch a game for years to come. Many of the changes under consideration have come from fan feedback.
Some of the things the team is looking into are improving the concourses, food stations, technology, stadium entrances, and potentially adding natural light, among other things. The changes are all being weighed, prioritized and looked at in terms of cost and time. The Saints don’t want to undertake anything that could conflict with a season or other events scheduled for the Superdome, which is why some renovations could be done in increments.
Once that is all figured out — and the Saints, arena management firm SMG, and Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District’s interests are aligned — a master plan will be put together with everything they hope to accomplish.
Until then, the Saints are going to continue working toward improving in all categories that aren’t currently No. 1 on the survey, and try to stay ahead in the categories where they're already near the top.
“Mr. Benson believes we should be the best at everything we do and invests the resources necessary to achieve that goal,” Bensel said.