User Experience Fail: The Super Bowl 45 Ticket Fiasco

Did you watch Super Bowl 45? If so, you were one of the record 111 million people who watched it on TV. If you were actually at the game, you were one of the 103,219 people in attendance. Amazing numbers, right? The Super Bowl is like that seasonal website you have that gets 99% of its yearly traffic on one day. So when that day comes around, you gotta make sure your site is 100% operational, functional and usable. Because if it’s not, your visitors will become your worst nightmare. And that’s even more true in these days of social media and sharing.

This year’s Super Bowl was marred by several things. First and foremost, the ice storm. Next, you had ice falling off the roof of the stadium and onto some innocent bystanders on the ground. Then there was the fact the ice basically shut down North Texas for 3-4 days. There were rolling blackouts at NFL headquarters hotel. And a taxi strike at the airport. It was a real nightmare. Everyone was ready to get to the game. And as luck would have it, the sun came out on the weekend. Awesome!

Super Bowl 45: Unused temporary seats deemed unsafe by the Fire Marshall
Super Bowl 45: Unused temporary seats deemed unsafe by the Fire Marshall

Well, it wasn’t so awesome for about 1,200 Super Bowl ticket holders who arrived at the game, only to find out that their seats were not available. As it turns out, their seats were part of a last-minute installation by the NFL – a rush job that the Fire Marshall would not approve. The temporary seats were all in place, but there were no handrails leading up the stairs to the seats. That’s unsafe, and the Fire Marshall said there just wasn’t enough time to get it completed and checked by game time. The NFL was able to find suitable accommodations for about 800 of the ticket holders, but 400 of the ticket holders were completely SOL. And man, were they pissed off!

Because I am a huge SEO nerd, this entire situation reminded me of website usability. It’s widely known that the NFL and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanted this Super Bowl to set the all-time Super Bowl attendance record.

“I know the stadium can handle it, relative to restrooms, space and concessions,” says Jones, mindful that the Cowboys’ home opener against the New York Giants in 2009 drew 105,121. “You want to do something that’s never been done before.”

My belief is that they got so carried away focusing on that Super Bowl attendance goal – they forgot about their customers, most importantly, their customers’ experience and satisfaction. [And to be completely fair, I’m sure the NFL provided an amazing experience in several others areas of the Super Bowl, but this really goes to show you how all of the good stuff can be overshadowed by one mistake.]

Worst seat at Super Bowl 45? I mean, I can see some of the field.
Worst seat at Super Bowl 45? I mean, I can see some of the field.

Many ticket holders found themselves in temporary seats that had extremely obstructed views. While many other ticket holders had knowingly purchased tickets in standing-room-only areas with very limited views of the field. There were even people who paid $200 per person to stand in the parking lot and watch the game on gigantic TV screens. In those cases, buyers beware. But it really goes to show you that the goal was not to provide an awesome experience. Rather, the goal was to set an attendance record. This is all sorts of backwards.

Just like when you’re building a website, the first thing you want to think about it usability and the experience of a visitor on your website. If someone lands on your site, can they easily find what they are looking for? Is there a quick and simple path to convert and/or purchase? Is the overall experience of the site positive? This is classic conversion optimization, and it sounds like the NFL could’ve used a lesson in these concepts on the gridiron.

I mean, really. I see this all the time: websites with too much stuff packed into the header, navigation, footer, sidebar(s) and content area. This is what visitors never say about your site:

Oh, awesome! That is an amazing splash page. I love the hi-res 3D HD pictures that load into the splash page slideshow! What kind of camera did you use for that?!?! Wow. Such stunning images. And OMFG! That awesome Flash object in the right side bar…it might take forever to load, but it really makes me want to purchase something right now. Great! Oh, and I really like your javascript navigation. It doesn’t seem to load in Firefox, but I’ll switch over to IE8. No worries at all. And whoa! You’ve got music that auto-plays in the background on every page. Killer!

Exactly. These types of things kill the user experience. Get rid of them. Now.

When you are designing your pages, do not forget about the user. In fact, they should be the first thing you think about. Please don’t be like the NFL at Super Bowl 45. Be better than that. Learn from them. Please.