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Fan Friendly?

If you have ever read Howard Schultz’ book, “Pour Your Heart Into It” then you know that the Sonics owner and Starbuck Chairman cares about his customers. Nearly the entire first quarter of the book deals with the relationships between his customers and his product. He succinctly points out what anybody in the coffee business knows:

If you want to charge $4.00 a drink then you better be selling more than a cup of Java.

In the coffee business you sell an experience; a combination product, ambiance, and interaction. Schultz describes his first taste of true café life during a trip to Italy and it has defined his mission at Starbucks ever since. In addition to pouring a quality cup of coffee he believes that his customers savor both the process and the interaction that go into the drink. Familiar sounds and faces, a steady routine, and a sense that another human being crafted a custom product for you the consumer make the beverage worth it’s steep price just as much as any ingredients.

It was with this in mind that I questioned Team President Wally Walker on media day last August. I wanted to express to Walker my frustration with an organization that is arguably the most tightly lipped in the industry. While team’s like the Miami Heat feature online video of draft workouts and announce nearly every free agent visit to the public we Sonics fans are faced with months of dead silence as our team plays out its plans behind the scenes. Following the Starbucks model I cannot help but wonder whether fans would feel more of an attachment to the end product if they were exposed a little bit more to the process of assembling a squad. Wouldn’t it be easier to work at maintaining summer interest than it is to regain momentum come September?

Walker’s responded to my questioning essentially by saying the team feels like it loses an advantage if it releases information to its competitors. Given the limitations of the franchise both geographically and financially he considers it essential that the team maintain every advantage that they can.

Still, as a fan I feel a bit shorted.

For the die hard fans rumor mongering and speculation during the summer are half the fun of the NBA. Is there not some middle ground where the franchise can meet us? Do they care more about the corporate suites and yuppie season ticket holders than they do the guys sitting in the cheap seats decked out in green and gold? I truly began to wonder about the Sonics devotion to their most obsessed fans.

This season many of those questions have been answered for me personally.

What began as a wonderful offer to attend media day from a single member of the Sonics staff turned into a season long interaction with the team, coaches, and management. As an excited fan I was able to not only find out a bit about how things operate but to participate. At every level the team has been gracious and receptive.

To take the Starbucks analogy one step further just remember that the process Schultz advocates is not one of subservience, but one of interaction. The customer and the barista engage in short, but meaningful dialogue during the preparation of the drink. Dialogue is a two way street. It involves two party participation rather than a one sided monologue from the person behind the counter. What I have learned from this season is that the team is open and receptive to their fans and that it welcomes fans to actually participate in the process.

This week the team was kind enough to recognize our efforts on this site by providing some excellent free tickets to remaining home games for our writers. Jason Rubenstein, an account executive with the team made the gesture and it honestly is pretty typical of the organizations response to fan participation. I for one feel greatly appreciated as a fan and look forward to working with the team to maintain that summer interest.

If you are looking for more information about tickets, this season or next give Jason a shout.

Jason Rubenstein |Account Executive | Seattle Sonics & Storm
351 Elliott Ave W Suite 500, Seattle WA 98119 | 206-272-2526 Work

While I'm at it I also want to once again thank Sonics Public Relations Director Marc Moquin for his consideration to me this year. Moq is a great guy on a lot of levels. He has no reason to give me the time of day but treated me with great courtesy and kindness all year long.