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Warning: If You Handle Customers Like the NFL, You're Screwed
Last Updated February 7th, 2011

Time out! We have a customer service penalty!

Imagine you bought a $800 ticket to the Super Bowl. The event takes place thousands of miles from your home, so you booked a flight and a hotel too. You’re excited for the game, but on the big day, you hear terrible news…

Stadium Employee: “Sorry, we can’t seat you due to a lack of seating. As an apology, we’re offering you $2,400, nearly triple your ticket price, and a free ticket to next years’ game.”

You: “What? $2,400? I spent close to $2,000 to get here, and you ruined my weekend! And my consolation prize is a few hundred bucks and a new ticket? Screw you!

Maybe that’s a little extreme, but you’d feel that way, right? Right! I would too, and that’s why the NFL screwed up. Let me explain.

The Superbowl XLV Seating Disaster

If you haven’t heard by now, 400 people, WITH TICKETS, were unable to attend Superbowl XLV because of a lack of seating. As an apology, the NFL offered a generous reimbursement (three times the face value of the ticket) and a free ticket to next years’ game.

I’m sure they meant well, but they committed a fatal mistake.

Think about it… People who spend $800 on a Super Bowl ticket aren’t hard-up for cash. They do, on the other hand, want the enjoyment that comes from seeing the big game live. So, do you think it was smart of them to offer money and a ticket as a replacement for a once in a lifetime experience?

If you said no, you’re  right. The NFL didn’t offer enough, and that’s a mistake. A huge mistake.

Why The NFL Screwed Up

When you have a mismatch between what people want, and what you give them, you make people unhappy, and in some cases, resentful.

So, when the NFL threw chump change and a free ticket at people to make up for their mistake, they screwed up.

It’s all about customer intent. People go to the Super Bowl to see their favorite team play, a potential once in a lifetime event. If you ruin that experience, you must recreate another once in a lifetime experience.

For example, instead of just offering cash and a ticket, the NFL could have promised better seats to next years’ game. They could have also partnered with a major hotel company to offer free room and board. It would have been expensive, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to a Superbowl commercial.

Now on to the most important question…

The Lesson Behind The Seating Disaster

You’ve heard it before. It’s not about the money, it’s about the experience, and trust me, it’s becoming more true each day.

If you run a business, offering people a refund is the bare minimum. Sure, they’re happy to get their money back, but what will they do with that money? Will they spend that money with you again?

In the NFL’s case, probably so because there’s only one NFL. However, for most of you, you have fierce competition. Do you think those people will come back to you or flock to your competition?

Now what if you do more than is expected? Would people notice it?


What’s Considered Above and Beyond?

The short answer is, that depends…

If you made a small mistake, and caused a minor inconvenience, a refund should suffice.

When the stakes are higher, like with the Super Bowl, you must increase the compensation. A free ticket and a refund is the bare minimum, but a free hotel and free airfare to next years’ game would have hit the sweet spot.

What do you think? Did the NFL handle this poorly? How do you react when you accidentally inconvenience your customers? Do you go above and beyond to impress them? Leave a comment!

UPDATE: The NFL is now giving away a SuperBowl ticket to ANY Superbowl, plus an all expense paid trip. It looks like they’re finally doing right by their fans.

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28 comments Leave a comment
Darren Scott Monroe

Oh D I am in Dallas and it was even worst because the weather shut Dallas down. So to add insult to injury people couldn’t go to the parties or other events as well .Major turnoff. I think you will see the Superbowl in Dallas come 2099 LOL

Martyn Chamberlin

Hey Derek,

Good #blogchat last night, huh? And you’re right, having a white background is a good rule of thumb, but not exactly a must. I made the tweet edgy to get lots of RTs and @s. It worked. 🙂

This blog is SUCH a breath of fresh air. Percentage wise, few bloggers get every aspect of their digital real estate correct, and you’ve nailed it. Awesome design, calls to action, headers, images, and body copy. It’s perfect.

Oh, and the article I’m commenting on here was really interesting too. I’m not an NFL genius so I won’t get any more specific than that. Something about keeping customers happy, right? Got it.

So yeah. This site is now gracing my Google reader.

Good times.

    Derek Halpern

    Ha ha. Thanks. I’ve been doing the blog thing full time since late 2005. I know a thing or two 😀


I had absolutely no idea that this occured, Derek.

Had the NFL acted in the way you advocate — that being, giving better seats to next years Super Bowl and arranging free hotel accomodations — the potential upside, longterm, benefit to them could have been much much greater in the positive publicity, etc. Had I been one of those 400 people, and was offered those accomodations, sure I’d be disheartened to not be able to attend that game….but, I’d also be excited to see the extent to which they were willing to make amends and accomodate me.

I’d probably write a blog post or two about it…tell everyone on Facebook….etc. The resulting positive publicity could have turned a bad situation into a very beneficial one to the NFL’s name and image.

    Derek Halpern

    They did do right by their customers, but it took them a while to get there. At first, they offered refunds, and then a free superbowl ticket. Then, later, they offered free airfare and hotel to ANY superbowl, which I think is fair.


If I ran my business like the NFL I would be a billionaire. Enough said!


bob garrett


Yup you hit it out of the park. The NFL and Cowboys could of scored a touchdown but loss the game. Season tickets to Cowboys or Green Ba or Chicago at a minimum, double the number of tickets to next years Super Bowl – with all expenses paid and getting some of the affected attendees on cam with the offer, would have won the day. But they “cheaped” out and will pay $100X’s more for the mistake. The Super Bowl is big business ($10B in revenue) and a hundred thousand or so in offers – would have made this a win/win for everyone.


Sounds like a major luxury problem to me.

People are dying from lack of food all over the world and you dedicate a blog post to whining about how you didn’t get to see your favorite team. It all sounds like a kindergarten kid to me.

All in all, 2400 dollars is a lot of money – and if you also get a ticket to next year’s game (which would become your once-in-a-lifetime-experience) it’s a fair measure.

    Derek Halpern

    Karen, did you read the article? By the looks of it, I’d guess no. I didn’t have tickets the Super Bowl game. And I wasn’t whining. I was merely suggesting that the NFL could have improved how they handled the situation.

Brandon Yanofsky

I hadnt heard about this. Major mistake. Definitely a great lesson for any business.

Vinny O'Hare

Derek I think what Peyton said is the truth, I have seen that written on other blogs as well.

At the last minute the stadium said the seats weren’t safe and they made the call. In my eyes these fans should thank the NFL for saving their lives.

peyton ripley

They supposedly overbooked with the overflow in temporary seats in order to set an attendance record. When the local contractors did not finish the job the ticket holders got shafted.

Vinny O'Hare

Yeah the NFL screwed up but I think the fans got an ok deal. Especially if they were a fan of the winning team and got access to the field during post game. That would rock!

The NFL doesn’t have to go nuts for these 400 fans as there are thousands of people that will buy tickets to the Super Bowls for years to come.

The NFL is not worried about 400 fans or the negative publicly that will be gone from peoples memories by next week.

Adam Baird

I think you’re pretty much spot on here with one exception. I doubt the folks sitting in the further-out-than-nosebleed seats think $2400 is chump change. I would think you’d be significantly more likely to see the die-hard-holy-shit-my-team-is-in-the-super-bowl fans in those seats than the lower level seats that would set you back a few grand just for the seat.

If Michael Douglass or Harrison Ford (clearly neither of them gave two shits about the game) had their seats taken away, I wouldn’t feel so bad. When its John Q. Public who works at the meat shop in Pittsburgh and has been saving for years for a once in a lifetime trip, its a really sad situation.

I don’t think there’s any question the NFL needed to do more.

    Derek Halpern

    Maybe you’re right. I’m not sure how much nose bleed seats cost. But realize, the people in the nose bleed seats, wouldn’t get $2,400. They only get 3 times the face value of their ticket.

      Adam Baird

      Dollar amounts don’t really matter in a situation like that.

      I guess the practical application is that you need to evaluate exactly who you’ve wronged and respond appropriately.

        Derek Halpern

        You’re right. Dollar amounts don’t matter. It’s about how people feel, and when they offered free tickets and dollars, they failed to account for that.


Hey Derek,
What an awesome analogy! You make an excellent point here.
Yeah the NFL screw up from the outset by not being able to deliver, but they REALLY missed the boat by just throwing back some cash. I think you’re right. The NFL can get away with this, but the average small business entrepreneur absolutely cannot. Perhaps it’s a good idea to be prepared for the worst, and not only have a refund policy in place, but an above and beyond policy as well. I’ve had a screw up (that wasn’t even my fault) where I had to go above and beyond to redeem myself. At the end of the day I knew that even if I wasn’t the root cause of the issue, the problem had to be handled by me. I realized that a refund wasn’t enough, and I made sure my client knew it – the best part of the whole thing is that they are now one of my biggest referral sources. If you screw up but go the extra mile to redeem yourself, I think you not only win but you can make a disappointed customer a loyal fan.

    Derek Halpern

    Couldn’t have said it better myself 😀

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Jan Rossi

I think you are forgetting a major piece of information with this story. It’s because where they would have been sitting was considered dangerous. Ice falling earlier in the weekend hurt 6 people. They did it for their safety. So, while it is a sad thing that they could not see their game, they are actually alive and well and able to go about their business because the stadium officials protected their life.

I do believe they could have tried to set them up a bit better on the actual Super Bowl day, but in such a short amount of time, the money offer came out and there it was on the table. I’m sure all the “swanky” hotels were booked perhaps? So that solution probably could not have happened.

I am happy they are alive today and if there was a tragedy in the stadium during the game – the whole thing would have been cancelled – so I think they did ok given the circumstances. We can’t always have everything go perfectly, but I think it was fair.

    Derek Halpern

    You are right. It’s better to be alive than dead. However, it doesn’t change the facts. The NFL is responsible for the stadium and the stadium’s attendants.

    I’m not referring to a free hotel this year, either. I think they should be comped a hotel for the following year, where they received free tickets.

Jackie Adkins

To be fair, the NFL also gave them passes to be on the field during the post game celebration, and gave them free food and gear for the night on top of what you mentioned in your post. So, I’m sure if they were Packers or Steelers fans (especially Packers fans), nothing the NFL did could completely make up for the mix-up, but I do think that the NFL did a good job of going beyond what many would expect (a refund of the ticket).

    Derek Halpern

    I do think they did go slightly above what was expected. A refund is great. A ticket to next years’ game is also great. However, they’re trading some food for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s unfair. They should recreate that experience by offering airfare and a hotel too. Plus, I’d think a hotel would gladly step up and offer a discount because of the press they’d receive. Same with an airline.

      Jackie Adkins

      Right, but forget the food and gear, that was just being hospitable. They were able to offer them another once-in-a-lifetime experience by allowing them on the field, a place were very few fans will ever have the chance to be in any sporting event. Considering how this was a last-minute situation, I thought they improvised pretty well. I would, however, be interested to see/hear what those 400 fans thought of the deal the NFL cut them.

        Derek Halpern

        I saw something on the news today, and it suggested that the fans were still upset. However, I’m suspect of the news because they tend to look for the negative. You’re right though. I’d love to hear from the fans, and I hope they find this article.

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