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Pacers enlist Disney to boost customer experience at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Sunday, December 1, 2013 - 8:08 am

INDIANAPOLIS — Bankers Life Fieldhouse could soon be one of the happiest places on earth — at least if the Indiana Pacers have any say.

The team has hired Walt Disney Co.'s Disney Institute to help improve customer service at the field house in a project that will be closely watched by the National Basketball Association.

Rick Fuson, Pacers chief operating officer and executive director of the field house, told the Indianapolis Business Journal that the team enlisted Disney because it wants customers "to think we go beyond whatever they imagined we'd do in fulfilling their needs and wishes."

The Disney Institute was formed in 1986 in response to requests for customer service consultations. It has worked with business interests ranging from manufacturing to health care, but it didn't start working with sports organizations until the last three or four years. That's when sports companies realized more fans were staying home to watch games on television.

Its projects include the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa, the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis and work with the Orlando Magic.

NBA officials were so impressed by Disney's sports-related work that they called team leaders to Orlando this fall to discuss a league-wide initiative. But many teams are waiting to see what transpires with the Pacers' project.

Indianapolis sports marketer David Morton expects the relationship to pay off for the organization.

"Disney is revered with regard to customer relations," said Morton, president of Sunrise Sports Group. "Disney takes money out of your pocket nicer than anyone else. An approach like theirs can only help a company's bottom line."

Fuson said every aspect of the field house operations — box office, ticket takers, ushers, food service and security — will be affected by the Disney deal.

"We think there's a lot we can learn from a company like Disney," he said.

He declined to say how much the deal is costing but said he's confident the final results will be worth the investment.

Fuson and Pacers Director of Customer Loyalty Sasha Williams have already attended three days of training at Disney's headquarters in Orlando, Fla. The next step is to train employees of Pacers Sports & Entertainment. That will start within six weeks and continue throughout the year.

Some of Disney's basic tenets include treating visitors as guests; being both helpful and gracious; and making events memorable. Disney officials will also train Pacers managers how to reward their employees, including a program that allows visitors to recognize workers for top service.

"We're not prescriptive in that we tell people what to do," said Disney Institute Programming Director Bruce Jones. "We don't offer a 10-step process or a manual. We share the Disney approach and help (clients) ... align their culture to achieve those things."