Fan Friendly: Jets Front Office Goes Extra Mile To Score With Fans
By Kevin Newell
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
September 18th, 2003
If the New York Jets organization had a cheer for their loyal followers, the aforementioned chant would not only be a spin-off of Jets Nations’ famous war cry, it would also be apropos.
However, just because we don’t see owner Woody Johnson sitting on team president Jay Cross’ shoulders wearing a Fireman’s helmet and Bruce Harper jersey urging on the rest of the Jets front office doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t applaud or recognize our loyalty. Despite the recent season ticket waiting list fiasco, the Jets organization has done and will continue to do many things both out front and behind the scenes that not only thanks its extensive and rabid fan base, but enhances the experience of being a Jets fan.
Jets Insider.com recently sat down with Ron Colangelo, the Jets vice president/public relations, to hear firsthand what the organization is doing to reward arguably the most loyal, if not patient, fans in the NFL.
“The effort is being made because the ownership, Mr. Johnson, has pretty much mandated that we should do whatever we can to give the fans the best experience,” says Colangelo. “From an in-game entertainment standpoint, from a guest-relations standpoint, to servicing our fans as season ticket holders and ‘quote-unquote’ stockholders in the Jets franchise.
“Mr. Johnson has been pretty adamant about that in a pretty constructive way. He hired Jay Cross as president and Jay has gone out and established a number of initiatives that are very important to the long-term viability of this franchise. And that is being very proactive in the community and being responsive to the fans. We are listening. You don’t always have to act on everything but it’s important to listen.”
Listening went along way in reconciling the outpouring of negativity surrounding the ill-fated $50 yearly surcharge for fans eager to get their hands on season tickets. Local newspapers and sports radio programs alike took the Jets organization to task, none more so that WFAN’s Mike Francesca when he confronted Cross on-air about the issue.
According to Colangelo, it was the people with the tape recorders, pens, and microphones – not Jets fans – that caused the biggest stir. “The media really blew it out of proportion,” says Colangelo. “Our phones did not ring like the media magnified it to be. We fielded the phone calls we did receive and listened to what the people had to say. It was important to get their input. But overall it’s been a very passionate response from the fans. What is there ulterior motive? It’s to get Jets season tickets. They’ll do what they need to do to move up the waiting list.”
The yearly $50 fee will now be applied toward the final purchase of the season tickets, if and when your number is called.
Says Colangelo: “It will be a process that we will continue to evaluate and see how it unfolds.”
Colangelo knows a thing or two about keeping fans happy. His previous experience was as vice president of communications and broadcasting for the Florida Marlins. He also oversaw media relations, community affairs, creative services, and in-game entertainment for the team. Prior to working for the Marlins, Colangelo was the assistant director of media relations for the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
His vast experience has played a vital role in developing and overseeing similar projects for the Jets.
While the prime objective is giving the fans a winning product on the field, it’s not all about X’s and O’s. The Jets are constantly tinkering with ways to add amenities that will benefit the fans. For starters, the organization has made every effort to improve conditions for fans attending training camp. New bleachers were constructed, a Jets Fest interactive area was added, and a Modell’s merchandise tent is stocked with virtually anything a fan could want.
Additional fan-oriented extras include draft parties, a new and state-of-the-art Web site with streaming audio and video, and fan clubs for kids.
For fans attending home games, the Jets, in conjunction with their sponsors, have set up four strategically placed fan oases’ – resembling airplane hangars – in the stadium parking lot.
The oases provide an alternative to tailgating by incorporating live entertainment, interactive games for kids, and the chance to mingle with former Jets players such as Greg Buttle, Marty Lyons, Freeman McNeil, and Bruce Harper.
Inside the stadium fans will notice several changes, the first being the new FieldTurf surface. The club has also spent millions of dollars on its in-game entertainment, highlighted by the various video packages displayed on the two JumboTron video screens.
As for cheerleaders, don’t expect to see scantily clad girls in green and white waving pom-poms anytime soon.
“We want the fans to be the cheerleaders,” Colangelo says. “It’s just one of those things where the fans get it done. They have every right to boo. But when they cheer, Jets fans are pretty darn loud. There’s never been a public outcry for cheerleaders. So something’s are left better alone. The same applies to a mascot. It’s about the game. The fans want to see the players. That’s how we want to present it.”
According to Colangelo, the Jets have participated in focus groups and have done extensive research and analysis on the demographics of its worldwide fan base.
One of the most important things the Jets have learned is the importance of cultivating young fans.
“You just can’t assume that little kids today are going to be football fans, let alone Jets fans,” Colangelo says. “So you’ve got to get out there and publicize your brand. Get out and be visible. Let the kids see the green and white. You need that younger audience so you have to plant the seed.”
Besides Jets Fest, the team also holds a yearly “Kids Training Camp Day” each spring. This is an event for kids of all ages where the Hofstra University Stadium is set up like a training camp field and participants have the opportunity to run football drills, get instructed by and mingle with NY Jets players.
That said the Jets are launching a weekly half-hour animated children’s program called “Generation Jets” that will air Saturday mornings beginning Oct. 4 on CBS-TV (Channel 2) in New York City. The program will feature five school-aged kids who explore New York City's landmarks and learn from their adventures and interaction with Jets players and coaches
Other broadcast ventures include “24/7” with head coach Herman Edwards, which airs Sunday mornings on CBS, and “Jets Journal”, airing weekly on MSG. On the radio side, the Jets relationship with ESPN 1050 AM Radio – the home of Jets football – has spawned the “Herman Edwards Coaches Report,” the “Chad Pennington Radio Report,” and “Inside the Jets with General Manager Terry Bradway.” All of these shows are designed to reach the fans and give them a way to interact with the team.
Yet another aspect of how the Jets are trying to reach the young fan is through the Jets JV Kids Club. Members receive a Jets JV cap, spiral notebook, Generation Jets trading cards, two newsletters, and an invitation to the 2004 Jets JV Football Clinic, among other goodies. Information is available at www.newyorkjets.com/kids.
“We are always evaluating what we are doing,” Colangelo says. “We’re always trying to improve. We don’t get enough credit from the critics. This is the best sport in the world. We’re part of the most well run business in the world – the National Football League. We’re in the greatest city in the world. And we have the most passionate fans. So we want to make the best of it and do everything we can to be top notch.”
Perhaps the greatest gift the Jets can give their fans is a place to call their own – a new “green and white” stadium. With the teams’ lease at Giants Stadium soon to expire, Woody Johnson, Jay Cross, and VP/development Thad Sheely are determined to build a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan.
Nothing is written in stone, but the organization is driven to make it a reality, sooner rather than later.
“The Meadowlands is a great facility,” says Colangelo. “But at the same time, we are tenants there. The seats are blue. And there’s a big sign out front with some other team’s name on it. I think the fans would like to have their own place. If you can build a new stadium you do create a lot of new jobs and a lot of opportunities for people. And you create an excitement, especially in New York City, to build the first-ever football stadium for an NFL team. That’s big. The fans deserve it and we think they would really welcome it with open arms. It’s on the horizon. It’s in the works.”
One of the boldest and most progressive moves the organization has done of late is grant Jets Insider.com exclusive access to the team – be it at the team’s Hempstead, NY-based facility or game-day coverage at Co-Tenant Stadium. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, the Jets are the only team in the NFL to grant access to a fan-based media outlet such as Jets Insider.com.
“Our basic policy is that we say no, because it’s dangerous,” says Colangelo. “What do you get out of it? It’s really not worth it if you get some headaches. We talked about it and we made the decision to go ahead and see how your staff and writers would handle things, and things have been fine.
“You go on instinct sometimes and say, ‘You know what, it could be, if it works out, another vehicle for us to get our true message out there. And Jets Insider.com has helped carry that message for us a little bit. Get the real inside story of the Jets and what we’re doing on and off the field. Somewhat of an extension of the team.’”
Media relations director Doug Miller and his staff – Jared Winley, Kristin Ianiero, Dave Lawrence and Jennifer Pugsley – have been courteous and extremely helpful in allowing Jets Insider.com to bring you, the fans, the inside story.
So the next time you attend a home game, peer up at the press box or the organization’s luxury suites. And don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of Johnson, Cross, Colangelo, Sheely, and the rest of the organizational team high-fiving one another after a touchdown or key defensive stop.
“We are as emotional and passionate about the team as our fans are,” Colangelo says. “We live and die with every pass, every running play, with every kickoff. Our staff is incredibly dedicated. You may not know the people behind the scenes, but we take a lot of pride in wanting to be the best operation off the field.
“We really strive to work towards giving the fans a great product. It’s an ongoing process. We have a lot of bright people in this organization who have great ideas and want to do things in a first class manner in representing the Jets and the NFL.”
NOTES – The Jets organization has several outstanding community partners, including the Alliance for Lupus Research, Muscular Dystrophy Association, MDA Summer Camp, Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, United Way, and the Public School Athletic League (PSAL).
Among its community programs are the Jets Academy, an education initiative designed to provide elementary school children with an enjoyable and valuable learning experience; the New York Jets Youth Football Clinic; the High School Coach of the Week; and the Newspapers in Education Program (NIE), a geography-based lesson plan in its 11th season that is featured in Tuesday’s editions of the New York Daily News.