Riptide Partners’ Rob Comstock Shares Insights on Sports Media Report

Article Written by Jerry Milani

So much of business today is rightfully focused on ROI, especially for the consumers. People, especially fans of things like sports and music and even movies and Broadway, have lots of choices on where to spend discretionary dollars, and if their customer experience isn’t great, they can frankly, go somewhere else. One industry that seemed to try and be immune from that were live sporting events.

It was all about the game, and being in the stadium when that moment happened. What happened off the field was not as important. That has been steadily evolving over the past few years, as teams and arenas have come to battle more for attention and dollars and entertainment falls more in line with sports.  Fans want more than cheap hot dogs and wooden seats. They want an overall experience that justifies that spend.

Redefining the Customer Experience

Into that space comes Riptide Partners. Recently expanded and led by executives who have experience both with consumer brands and at elite facilities like Madison Square Garden, the New York based firm is using cutting edge data and technology working with a partner (Medallia) who has helped improve, streamline and customize the customer experience for some of the world’s biggest consumer brands, almost in real time.

We asked cofounder partner Rob Comstock to fill us in on the marketplace, what Riptide is doing, and how they can change the customer experience for all.

SportsMedia Report: As an executive at MSG, where did you see a need that wasn’t being fulfilled?

Rob Comstock

Rob Comstock: What is the norm for most venues and teams is that performance on the field will drive consumer demand, but that is not true as much today. The traditional model has most teams using third parties for concessions, security, ticketing, merchandise, and being able to have ultimate control over all those vendors is problematic. Many are also tenants in their own arena, so that too limits what you can ultimately control in the consumer experience. At MSG we were unique in many aspects in that we did have more, but not total control over our venues, and we saw that model as the best way to make sure that everything your consumer connects with his under your purview. That takes the winning and losing out of the equation because you have no control over that from a business perspective, and gives you the opportunity to tailor and engage fan experience to the needs of the customer very clearly.

Using real-time fan feedback to truly understand and action opportunities for improvement is where we see the big opportunity.  Attendance and fan spend on F&B, Merch and other enhanced experiences will become more and more critical to the overall economics for the industry.

SMR: Explain Medallia and the partnership and why it’s different?

RC: Medallia has been working with some of the biggest high end and successful brands in the consumer space; companies like Delta and Hyatt, to use Consumer Experience technology that they own to improve and engage with the end to end experience of all their customers. It is very detailed, very thorough and very customizable.

One of the verticals the company was not pursuing was in sports and entertainment; the industry was just too fragmented and difficult to engage with from the outside. Since we have great expertise in these spaces we were a great fit to roll out a custom Medallia platform tailored to the sports and entertainment industry. The platform provides real-time fan sentiment that enables teams to react to good or bad feedback and take the necessary actions immediately. Not to mention using the fan feedback to enhance all aspects of the fan experience before and after games.

Also, this is not just the ability to do “surveys.” This is a custom-tailored and fully supported experience using Medallia technology that no one else has. We think the platform combined with our know-how and dedicated support sets us apart as we build partnerships, some of which are coming this fall already.

SMR: What lessons have you learned in other areas that tie to the business of sports, specific to Riptide?

RC: The consumer, no matter what his or her age, wants to have the best possible experience with the brand. You cannot hope that someone buys a ticket, some merchandise and food and goes home happy just because a team wins.  Great brands manage that experience for life now; they know who is engaging with them and where and can build their business accordingly so that the experience is second to none way before you enter or exit a brick and mortar facility.

SMR: What’s the biggest gap the company sees in the customer and user experience pipeline today?

RC: Like we said earlier the gap lies in the full control of the experience. The focus is so much on the field or the ice or the stage that things can fall through the cracks. Our business is based on the immediacy of response. The seat is broken we find out, ketchup missing we set it up. Parking flowing the wrong way and there is a complaint we can help adjust to make sure that from the minute you leave your house to the second you return you feel part of the process and that you feel included and engaged for your needs.

SMR: Who are some of the brands and companies that do customer service right?

RC: The one we always like to point to is Disney. They supervise and manage the experience for life. Anyone who comes to a Disney facility is treated first class; their needs are serviced and sometimes anticipated, and any issues that arise are treated with the customer first. It is a phenomenal experience which they have shared with hundreds of the best companies, many in sport, who are looking to improve and give deep value add to the consumer spending premium dollars.  Attendance at their parks continues to grow, bucking the trend we’re seeing for live sporting events.

SMR: Is there such a thing as too much data being harnessed from the consumer today?

RC: There isn’t too much data, what is lacking is good information. Listening to the consumer is also key, it can’t be force fed. That’s the value of what we bring to the table. We can deliver a level of information that’s not available with regard to true guest sentiment because we find the right questions to ask, and then help take the appropriate steps, many times in real-time, to alleviate concern and manage the process. The key is being able to quickly summarize the data in a cost-effective way and being able to quickly operationalize the fan sentiment to achieve an ROI. That is where the teams, leagues and venues need help.

SMR: As a relative startup, what’s the biggest challenge and opportunity? 

RC: The biggest challenge is being new to penetrate an industry that is latent.  Credibility is key. What we offer is not just surveys. We need to explain and educate at a high level where this needs to reside. So our conversations many times move up to the President and CEO who has ultimate accountability over all business units. It isn’t just a fan engagement survey or a marketing tool. It is an all-encompassing look at fan experience that can have tremendous ROI in a short period of time.

SMR: Lastly, what does a successful 18 months look like for Riptide Partners?

RC: It is not about the number of clients we sign per se, that is a long process to convince legacy brands…in this case teams and venues…to make a bigger investment than what they are doing right now. We will build over time and show wins that can be amplified.

If we can shift the conversation around value and its meaning in the consumer experience will be key and we believe we can. It’s not a volume play or a data exercise, its changing a mindset, and a business exercise for the long term.

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