Gene Serba has been a Flyers season-ticketholder since 1978. "Remember the year that they were losing all those games?" he asked. Then he laughed. "Me and a guy in front of me, we were figuring out what we spent. Just doing an estimate. My first tickets were $6.50, and obviously now they're $58. I think that tells something about our economy, I think, more than anything else."
Make that kind of an investment and you wouldn't mind having a voice in how you're entertained. That's why Serba, of Mt. Laurel, N.J., was one of a couple dozen ticketholders who jumped at the invitation this fall to join a Flyers' fan advisory panel. It's not new in this city. The Soul, for instance, formed one last season, and the Sixers said yesterday they are planning to unveil one by next month. "This council will not only give them access to management, we will get valuable input from them," Lara Price, the Senior VP of Business Operations, wrote in an e-mail earlier today.
Gathering ticketholders is something the Flyers already do, in what they call a "town meeting" setting. Serba says it's part of the reason he calls the team the most fan-friendly of the pro teams in town. He recalled the "town meeting" from March of that miserable 2006-07 season. "They have these town meetings every March; they're very up front. 'You know, here's what we were thinking.' Even the year they had the worst record. 'All right, here's what we thought. We were wrong. It happens.' Obviously you don't want every year to be wrong, but they were very up front. 'Here's what we're planning on, we have a lot of guys in the system. We think we can turn it around,' and they were right. I just thought the honesty, the brutal honesty, was refreshing."
Those give ticketholders a chance to direct questions at not only the marketing folks but also the upper management and coach, allowing the conversation to cover issues about the team and its personnel. The advisory panel takes the interaction a step further, giving more opportunity to suggest ideas that improve the experience at the Wachovia Center. This panel features a cross section of fans: young and old, male and female, original ticketholders and new members of the "family."
Panelist David Seltzer, of Mt. Laurel, N.J., said they've had one get-together so far. "The first meeting, it was actually at one of these marketing research places," he said the other day. "And they just sat us around a table; and they had a set list of questions and they just asked us different things, and we just went around the room and we just basically went around the room and everybody gave their thoughts to each of the questions. They asked us what could be improved, what we would like to see changed, what our best memories were of growing up with the Flyers, things like that. So you got to talk a little bit and answer questions, and it was nice. And you know what, I learned a lot, too, listening to other people, their ideas. There were things that made sense. Supposedly they've already implemented some of the things that were brought up."
They got dinner with that meeting; they're expecting lunch and a Flyers jersey for the next meeting, right before the afternoon game against the Penguins on Dec. 13. So they've received a few perks for the time they've given up. All told, they'll probably meet five or six times total, the remainder of the meetings to take place at the Center.
Serba said he just wants to represent the guy who's sitting in the stands. "One of the things I wanted to make sure is, 'Hey, here's my opinion, and I'm not always saying that my opinion is going to be what the majority says, but I wanted to make sure that some loud voices didn't necessarily portray [how most of the fans feel].'"
They kicked around a number of issues, including the volume of the horn after the Flyers score and the overall noise level in the building during a game. While Serba had no problem with those, he said that one of his pet peeves is all the games put up on the scoreboard during stoppages. "I don't think they need to do that at every game," he said. "If you want to do it on the afternoon games where there are a lot of kids, then, yeah, I agree. But I don't think at every stoppage you need some guy telling me, find where the puck is."
Talked to separately, Seltzer touched on the same complaint.
"Somebody said that the music is just constant, whether it announcements or music, as soon as there's a break in the action, you have more entertainment," he said. "
be the music or just announcements, soon as there's a break in the action, you have more entertainment. It's like, give us a little bit of a break sometimes. Maybe you want to talk to somebody next to you. But then it's the advertising and they're making their money and, so, I get that part. But they [the panelists who complained] are right. It could be a little less of a barrage of entertainment sometimes."
Among other topics has been the scheduling of promotions that recognize a former player, such as Eric Desjardins Night, which don't generally get added to the schedule until the season starts. Serba related the conversation. "Like one woman said, 'Well, I had already sold that game and I would have loved to have gone to that, or what have you.' So the feedback to Flyers special promotions is, 'Hey, we understand, you can't schedule a lot of this back in August and September, but try to give more notice to season ticketholders.'"
Parking has come up, as has the release of the "day-of the game facts" that get faxed to season-ticketholders, Serba said. "My comment was, gee, a lot of times I'm getting out at 5 o'clock, I've already left. So I'm reading it the next day." Since they brought up that topic, he said, the facts have gone out earlier in the day. "I think it's been a two-way conversation," he summarized. "I think they heard some things that people didn't like and they've tried to improve on them."