Hey everybody, it’s Rex Manning Day… errr… I mean Theo Epstein Day!!!!  Was it as good for you as it was for me?  I must say Mr. Epstein did just about everything right today, he presented himself well, and inspired a fan base that is desperate for a brighter tomorrow.  That is what I call customer service.  If you think of any professional sport as the result of an organization putting a product on the field then I think the Cubs are aligning themselves to be a very well run business in the near term future. 

I’ve given a lot of thought about the fan (the customer) experience in professional sports of late.  It’s one of the main themes that brought about the NFL lockout over the summer and the much less ballyhooed NBA lockout that is currently in progress.  No it’s true, the NBA is locked out right now.  Learn something new every day don’t you?  One of the problems that both of these leagues are facing, and really all of professional sports are to a degree, is the fan experience.  As the home viewing environment improves by the day, with TV screens growing in lock step with picture clarity, one’s man cave is becoming more appealing than a billionaire team owner’s coliseum.  By the time you weigh the value of the ability to flip channels, play Angry Birds, & check your fantasy scores against sitting in grid lock traffic, paying for parking, and essentially get robbed every time you step towards the concession stand, staying home starts to make a lot of (dollars and) sense.  Professional sports is coming to terms with recognizing the fan experience and trying their darnedest to ensure that the value of coming to a game and handing them your hard earned money is still the preferred method to consume the product. 

It also helps when Bill Simmons gives you a solid hour long interview with Nathan Hubbard, CEO of Ticketmaster, on this very topic.  Talk about stimulating conversation.  I love this stuff.  Nice job Bill.

With all of this on the brain, on Saturday morning The Wife and I decided that a good use of our evening could be found in attending the Blackhawks-Avalanche game at the United Center.  I had watched the game last Thursday night in Denver and fell in love with the fast paced action that the teams played with and wanted to catch the encore as it arrived in our backyard.  We had no tickets in hand nor any friends with connections.  I turned to the Blackhawks website and StubHub, found a deal I was comfortable with in the lower bowl (I figure we can treat ourselves seeing as how our social lives for these type of events are going to go down the toilet in four months) and made my purchase.  I was happy to see that I could claim my tickets electronically through StubHub and didn’t have to drive to BFI (Bumble-Fuck-Illinois) to go pick them up from a stranger.  This is a good way for these ticket companies to deliver a product without the needless hassle of physical copies.  It turns out however that StubHub is only able to go half way on this front.  You can collect the ticket online but you still need to bring a physical copy to the game with you.  Why that is I’m a little unclear but it’s a pain in the ass as I don’t have a printer.  Well technically I have a printer but it’s just not hooked up.  Call me lazy but in the past seven years I can count the number of times that I wished I could print something off at home on one hand.  Printers will have gone the way of The Noid and pagers by 2020, just you wait and see.

So there I am with two electronic tickets that have zero value to me unless I can produce them on a sheet of paper that costs less than a cent.  Makes sense doesn’t it?  My original thought was to go to my office and print them off there (my outlet for all printing related needs since 2003).  Unfortunately my beat-the-system mindset quickly turned to that of frustration as I connected the dots in the parking lot of my office building in realizing The Wife had my keys which have the swipe card I need to enter the building with her.  I hope my employer does not have cameras monitoring our parking lot as there was a wonderful swear-filled tirade on full display around 2:30 Saturday afternoon.  There was even some foot stomping and dirt throwing.  It would be fun to watch in slow-mo reply if they have it. 

Tantrum over, I found myself ticketless and game time fast approaching.  I came upon a shopping complex not far from where I work and scanned the names of the businesses on the signage out front wondering to myself which businesses instill the customer service mindset that is expected from a 21st century consumer.  I don’t want to turn this into a slanderous website but companies with names that rhyme with “Ballgreens” and “Vest Lye” failed this little science project with flying colors.  It’s not so much that the failed, but the degree to which they did so was amazing.  At the first store I tried, a kid who appeared to be the non-permed embodiment of Napolean Dynomite, was really having difficulty understanding that all I needed from him was access to the internet, two pieces of blank paper, and a printer.  This type of request was way beyond his jurisdiction and required not one, but two trips in back to talk to his manager.  I like to think myself a patient person, but fifteen minutes into my visit at “Callmeans” and boy wonder was still in back clarifying the situation with the powers that be.  This resulted in my turning and heading for the exit before he re-emerged.  For a company that prides itself as a neighborhood and family convenience center, they could have not done less to appease their customer’s needs.  Here’s a fresh, outside the box idea for you “Small Dreams”, empower you employees to make decisions on their own and do what’s best for the customer.  For the cost of two sheets of paper and some toner you’ve lost this consumer and gathered some negative PR for those countless thousands that read this site.  Is printing two pages from my Gmail account that much to ask?

At my second stop I wasted no time and made a beeline straight to the customer service line.  “Chest Cry” has a specific group of employees and a special section of their floor space for the sole purpose of resolving customer’s issues.  I waited my turn patiently and then explained my situation to the fourteen year old kid with a wireless headset on standing on the side of the counter where decisions are made.  What I can give him credit for it that he had the capacity to make decisions on his own, unfortunately for me that decision was that the customer is wrong and printing paper is a service that is beyond him, despite a computer and printer both being within arm’s length.  Luckily for him that counter was wide enough that he was more than arm’s length from me or I would have taken that little headset and jammed it into an entirely different head of his. 

For the record I did Google “Kinko’s” and the nearest store was over 20 minutes away from me.  I take this as a sign to support my argument that the need for printers is dissipating in our society at large. 

To make a long story short, we were able to get our tickets printed off as The Wife was near one of Chicago’s lovely hotels when I called her to explain the situation, and she was able to show some leg and got the concierge to print the tickets for us without issue.  Customer service at its finest for someone not even staying at the hotel.  Imagine that.  

The rest of evening was as delightful as could be.  We started at West End for a bit of food at non-stadium prices, and to get into the spirit of the game amongst the other Hawks faithful.  We took their complimentary shuttle to the United Center, a very nice touch on their behalf might I add, and got to catch the Mikita and Hull statue unveiling outside the arena. 

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks is famous for saying that if he sees someone in the stands at a Mavs game looking down at their cell phone during the game, then he hasn’t done his job as an owner providing sufficent entertainment.  That may be a bit dramatic as people look at their phones more than they look at their children these days but that’s besides the point.  I can honestly say, aside from tracking down my father who also happened to be at the game, I was never inclined to see what else was going on in the world during the entire Blackhawks Experience. 

I attribute this to a number of factors.  First of all, for a woman four and a half months into pregnancy, you’ve never seen anyone move quite like The Wife to ensure we were in our seats in time to see the National Anthem.  I am the guy that that made famous the phrase, “the first quarter is overrated” during my Madison tenure, rarely entering Camp Randall prior to halftime, and now I find myself hustling to get into the stadium and to my seat in order to hear the Star Spangled Banner for a regular season game in October.  This is what I’m talking about when I say the “Blackhawk Experience.”  Secondly, the Hawks have put together an outstanding product on the ice.  They’re a very likeable team that is fun to watch and plays an exciting brand of hockey.  The crowd is knowledgeable and into the game.  I even had “that guy” next to me, the kind of guy that you only meet at sporting events, where he’s there with a date/his wife that doesn’t really know what she’s watching so he’s left trying to find someone to talk to about the action.  My “that guy” on Saturday night was very into this year’s Hawks and provided interesting insight and colorful commentary.  That’s the “Blackhawks Experience.”  The between period and at the whistle entertainment was enjoyable also, and our selection of Ice Girls for the evening left nothing to be desired as well.  Aside from the outcome, a 4-5 shootout loss, the evening was everything I could hope for from a sporting event and I felt as though every dollar was well spent.  I say all of this with acknowledgment that I consumed an entire floppy flask of blackberry brandy throughout the evening as well, which may have played a small role in my generally jovial outlook on life over this same span of time.   

So with the NBA fighting over how future incoming dollars will be divvied up, I suggest they take a look at the organizations that share occupancy in their buildings as the NHL is on the come in providing an experience that can’t be found from your family room couch.  The Cubs too are well on their way to providing this experience given the cathedral that is Wrigley Field, the summer sunshine, and what promises to be a competitive and fun to watch product on the field for years to come.  Come to think of it, if they’d just distribute floppy flasks full of liquid goodness to each paying customer, every day could be Rex Manning Day.

We mustn't dwell... No, not today.  We can't.  IT'S REX MANNING DAY!!!

We mustn't dwell... No, not today. We can't. IT'S REX MANNING DAY!!!