Using the Critical Incident Technique to Understand Critical Aspects of the Minor League Spectator's Experience

Article excerpt


Customer complaints and comments provide managers with an important source of information, and an analysis of these critical incidents provides additional insight into which aspects of the spectator experience customers identify as being vital. Using the critical incidents technique (CIT), data on 1,111 positive and negative aspects of the spectator experience were collected from 831 customers at two different minor league sporting events. Incidents were categorized to identify aspects both favorably and unfavorably influencing customers. Findings identify which aspects of the spectator experience are most relevant to spectators at minor league sporting events, distinguish aspects that satisfy customers from those that dissatisfy customers, and suggest critical aspects are not the same for customers of different sports or for different demographic groups. Further, this study illustrates the use of CIT to assess customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction in spectator sports.

Using the Critical Incident Technique to Understand Critical Aspects of the Minor League Spectator's Experience

In the not so distant past, customers at spectator sporting events were treated to uncomfortable seating, inadequate parking, limited concession choices, and little entertainment beyond the game itself. This part of the spectator experience has all changed as the spectator sport industry has evolved to be increasingly more customer friendly through newer facilities, a customer centric focus, and an increase in entertainment. As a result, customers have not only been exposed to better service but have become accustomed to receiving better service. The evolution of the Super Bowl halftime show provides a good example. In its early days, the NFL could send out a college marching band or inspirational singers. Now customers expect large extravaganzas featuring fireworks, dancers, and the hottest musical acts. Similarly, customers used to be content with bench seating and the standard beer. Now it is common for customers to expect to sit in padded seats and have mixed drinks delivered to their seats.

In order to address this changing environment and exceed consumers' expectations, sport organizations need to find new ways to understand how their customers evaluate the spectator experience. Given that it is not always apparent which aspects are crucial to the customer, this study examines how sport managers can use qualitative consumer responses to identify aspects of the spectator experience critical to customers' overall satisfaction.

Service Encounters

Shostack (1985, p. 243) defines service encounters as "a period of time during which a customer interacts with a service" and contends the service encounter includes all aspects of the service in which the customer may interact. These include, but are not limited to, interactions with the core service, the staff, facilities, and other customers (Lockwood, 1994; Shostack, 1985). The spectator's experience at a sporting event fits this definition as the service provider (the sport organization) provides a service (the spectator sporting event) for customers (spectators). This concept is especially relevant as spectator sporting events provide multiple interactions and experiences over a period of time, typically two or more hours. It is important to identify those interactions and experiences which significantly add or detract from the customer's overall experience (Howat & Murray, 2002) as satisfied customers are likely to return and tell others, while dissatisfied customers are not likely to return and will provide negative word of mouth (Cronin, Brady, & Hult, 2000).

Crucial Aspects of the Spectator Experience

Customers enter a service encounter with expectations of what levels of service will be unacceptable, acceptable, and more than acceptable. The range of expectations between what is more than acceptable and what is unacceptable is termed the zone of tolerance (Johnston, 1995; Zeithaml, Berry, & Parasuraman, 1996). …