It’s a chair. It’s a phone. It’s Cricket Wireless’ new Chair Phone. – Fierce Network

5 minutes, 24 seconds Read
  • In what may be the gimmick of all gimmicks, Cricket Wireless equipped a folding chair with 5G technology
  • It’s all part of Cricket’s multi-year deal with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
  • The chair prop is making the rounds at some Cricket stores

There’s a lot going on at Cricket Wireless these days. It’s offering a new $15/month single line rate plan just as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is ending. It’s supporting the Apple Watch – and claims to be the first in its prepaid category to do so. And it’s got Chair Phone.

What is Chair Phone? Well, if everyone had one, 5G might not seem like such a disappointment.

TL;DR version: For reasons we’re not entirely sure about, the folding chair is a prop widely used in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Cricket is giving the chair a 5G twist as part of its WWE partnership.

“We have a lot of fun with that sponsorship and I thought that was a neat way to bring it to life,” said Cricket Wireless CEO John Dwyer.

The Chair Phone can do anything a real phone can do, including make calls, send texts, play music and record video – and it doubles as a fog machine. Cricket features it in spots like this one, where you have to see it to believe it. (It’s not for sale, but it we’re lucky, we might get a glimpse of it as part of the 2024 Chair Phone Tour.)

In a recent interview, Dwyer talked about Cricket’s WWE relationship, current promotions and the competitive landscape for Cricket, which was acquired by AT&T in 2014. Dwyer has been CEO of Cricket for about eight and a half years.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on at Cricket right now,” he said.

Dwyer previously oversaw Cricket and AT&T Prepaid, but AT&T made a recent move that put AT&T Prepaid under the postpaid division. Dwyer said it was a change he supported for a long time, as AT&T postpaid and prepaid products are best served under one roof.

Cricket creatures

Cricket creatures have been part of its marketing for years.
(Cricket Wireless)

As for Cricket, it’s always been its own prepaid brand and recently launched a new $15 rate plan, which he said coincidentally came at the end of ACP. The plan offers 1 GB of high-speed data, so it’s not for customers who consume a lot of video, but it’s enough to get by. Cricket also offers $30 and $40 monthly plans that offer additional data.

Cricket’s press release on the $15/month offer doesn’t mention the ACP.

However, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” said Jeff Moore, principal analyst at Wave7 Research. “I think the timing tells you all you need to know. They needed to have something out there that would be affordable to people who can only come up with $15 each month and that’s what they’re doing.”

It’s no secret the ACP served more than 23 million customers. “I don’t know what Cricket’s share of that was but they want to keep those customers and not have to report negative churn” for Q2/Q3 2024, “so the $15/month plan is a smart move,” Moore said.

Cricket’s competition

Competition from cable companies is increasing across the board. Because cable’s offers are based on “super low-priced” promotions, they appeal to customers who are looking for a great deal, including Cricket clientele.

“It absolutely affects us,” Dwyer said, adding: “We do find that some of them who go there [to cable] quickly come back.”

Cricket also competes with the usual suspects – Metro by T-Mobile being one of them.

A couple weeks ago, Metro by T-Mobile introduced new Metro Flex plans that give customers free phones when they join and Metro touted how it’s the only prepaid brand with a plan that “gives new and existing customers the same, fair treatment.” It’s part of Metro’s “nada yada yada” slogan.

Cricket called “baloney” on some of Metro’s claims.

“AT&T launched the first-of-its-kind Best Deals for Everyone program in 2020, which other postpaid carriers adopted not long after. AT&T still offers its best deals to both new and existing customers … New and existing Cricket customers have a wide selection of deals available, and more flexibility to switch their plans. We’ve been offering this level of customer service for years. Metro is late to the party on this,” Cricket said in a statement provided to Fierce.

Cricket has been bragging in recent years that it’s the fastest growing brand in prepaid, and Wave7’s Moore said that rings true when compared to the likes of Verizon’s Value brands, Boost Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile.

In Q1 2024, Verizon reported 216,000 net losses in prepaid and T-Mobile posted 48,000 prepaid net losses. AT&T was in the black, but barely, with 1,000 prepaid net adds in Q1. AT&T doesn’t break out Cricket vs. AT&T Prepaid numbers. AT&T ended Q1 with a prepaid customer base of 19.21 million.

The more things change …

One of the things about Cricket is things don’t change often or fast, Moore said. Its offer of four lines for $100 has been pitched for a while, as well as free Android phones for switchers.

“What we’re really seeing from Cricket is not a great deal of change but a high level of consistency,” Moore said.

The Chair Phone is one of the more recent additions. It’s not unusual for Cricket to have WWE wrestlers appear at its stores, and now the Chair Phone is part of the act at select locations. Cricket has about 4,400 retail stores across the country, all run direct by dealers.

Is the Chair Phone working for them? “This is a full-on marketing stunt and whether it works for them, I don’t know,” Moore said. “But they’ve continued the WWE relationship for years.”

Which begs the question: What exactly is the connection between Cricket’s prepaid phone service and the WWE?

“I think the commonality here is fun and joy. If you look at our competition — they’re all about cheap service. And I get it. In some sense, that’s what customers want,” Dwyer said. However, “our brand is about inspiring smiles and meaningful connections and this idea of joy is really important to us.”

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