For the first time since April 2011, Sprint has reason to crow in its home market. And it plans to do just that, starting Friday.
The Overland Park-based wireless company got good news this week about its network’s performance here. RootMetrics, a network tester based in the Seattle area, ranked Sprint’s service best in town in a tie with Verizon Wireless.
Before dismissing a tie as something akin to kissing your sibling, note that Sprint hadn’t topped RootMetrics’ twice-a-year Kansas City rankings in seven tries.
“You’re going to see us being proud all over town,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure told The Star on Wednesday before the rankings were public.
Armed with the new report, Sprint plans a big push to win the hearts and minds — and especially the cellphone business — of the area’s cellular citizens.
Claure said to expect “something” at Friday’s Kansas City Royals game against the Boston Red Sox. (Is it a coincidence that Verizon’s color is red?) Keep an eye open at Sporting Kansas City’s upcoming home games, too.
Part of Sprint’s improved local network performance stems from increased service at the stadiums. RootMetrics’ ratings look at network speeds — where Sprint has gained ground — reliability, data, call and texts.
Sprint also plans to launch a social media sweepstakes Friday to mark its network-backed effort to win local customers. The promo asks residents to post selfies with whatever makes them proud of Kansas City. Use the hashtag #KCProud.
Offline, watch your mailbox. Sprint’s planning a letter campaign to appeal to its hometown audience.
Sprint’s local push comes as it struggles to stay ahead of fast-growing T-Mobile to remain the nation’s third-largest wireless company by subscribers. Both finished March with about 57 million subscribers, with Sprint having slightly more than T-Mobile.
At home, however, Sprint dominates.
Data from ShareTracker LLC, near Columbia, show that Sprint claimed 31 percent of cellphone subscribers in this market at the start of the year. That’s the largest market share among the four national carriers and twice the 15 percent market share Sprint claims throughout the nation.
T-Mobile has about 24 percent of the market in its hometown, the Seattle area, but that’s only good enough for third place there, ShareTracker president Eric Fogle said.
Clearly, many Kansas City area cellphone users already like Sprint.
The Westport Flea Market switched to Sprint last month, noting on Twitter that both companies were “homegrown.”
Jessica Best started using Sprint more than eight years ago when her employer handed her a Sprint phone. She stayed with the carrier when she changed jobs and has remained a customer.
“I hadn’t had any reason to switch,” the Kansas City resident said.
Yes, there have been service problems, notably last year when Sprint was doing a large network upgrade and phone calls were dropping wherever the work crews went.
Best said she stayed with Sprint partly because of the employees she’s gotten to know as a heavy and early user of wireless data. They’ve taken care of her, and she put up with service issues knowing it would hurt their “economics” if she dropped Sprint.
“I was like, ‘OK, I promise I won’t leave, but you’ve only got three more months,’” Best said. “Because at the end of the day, it has to work.”
RootMetrics’ reports on Kansas City over the years have shown that Sprint’s service here has lagged behind other national carriers. It explains why the company isn’t winning new customers as fast as it needs to if it wants to remain the top carrier in town.
Claure said Sprint currently is winning only about 15 percent of those who sign up for service the first time or switch carriers in this market.
“We should be at 50 percent,” Claure said.
Claure, on the job 10 months, has said he wanted to make an appeal to area consumers as the hometown wireless carrier. But he has waited until the company’s network would impress them. The RootMetrics report became the launching point for the campaign.
In its report, RootMetrics scored Verizon’s Kansas City area performance at 98.6 and Sprint’s at 98.2, out of a perfect score of 100. Officially, the rating company said, it’s a tie.
T-Mobile scored 97.2, and AT&T scored 95.5. The reports cover RootMetrics’ testing during the first half of this year. It will make a second-half report on Kansas City’s market later this year.
To win the tie with Verizon, Sprint had to knock off T-Mobile, which had been in a tie with Verizon in each of the two Kansas City reports for 2014.
Sprint’s improving network ranking lends credence to the somewhat sheepish “pardon our dust” message that Claure’s predecessor, Dan Hesse, offered as the company updated its entire network infrastructure.
With that work over and improvements following, Claure has been able to adopt the optimistic mantra “getting better every day.” He says he constantly runs into area residents who tell him they used to be Sprint customers. He’s counting on the hometown appeal — and the better network — to win them back.
“This is a place where a lot of people were not proud of Sprint. They’ve lost that pride,” Claure said. “Our goal basically is to regain that pride, and you regain it by having great products.”
Overland Park resident Adam Stutz switched to Sprint four weeks ago.
He had been an AT&T wireless customer for four years, and he regularly uses a work phone on the Verizon network. He reluctantly switched to Sprint despite its reputation for running a weaker network.
So far, he’s not impressed.
“I was really hoping for more with them being right here,” Stutz said.
Stutz said he had some customer service issues, and his iPhone on Sprint drops calls more often than his iPhone on AT&T did, especially on his work route.
Stutz travels Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis working for a tire distributor. He said his Verizon phone from work also gets better service than his Sprint phone on fishing trips near Garnett, Kan.
It’s a good point to keep in mind as Sprint touts its Kansas City performance. These are mobile phones. Wireless networks need to work well everywhere.
Claure says that’s coming. His goal is to make Sprint the No. 1 or 2 carrier in every market.
Sprint has announced plans to beef up its national service by building out a denser network of towers and antennas to carry signals. It also will be able to make use of wireless capacity that currently sits idle.
But that crowing will have to wait for another day.
Follow Mark Davis on Facebook and Twitter at mdkcstar.