There was a time when the thrill of seeing a live game, eating stale popcorn, and drinking warm beer were all it took to lure sports fans to the stadium.
But the die-hard fans that sports franchises have come to rely on are getting older, and their children have a much broader array of entertainment options from which to choose—options that cost significantly less and won’t trap them in an arena for hours.
These are the people sports franchises must get to know. Without understanding who their fans are and what experiences they want from their team, it will only become more difficult for sports teams to grow top-line revenue.
Missing Data Leaves Fans Missing The Action
At issue is the use of fragmented, siloed data analytics to track different aspects of customer data, creating an incomplete picture of fans. For instance, data that pairs a specific email address to a specific ticket purchase may not be linked to crucial specifics: The ticket buyer is a woman in her late 30s with a higher income and is a transplant from another city who wants to see her old hometown team. So rather than being targeted with premium seats, she instead receives multiple communications about nosebleed seats and two-for-one merchandise specials.
Without creating a single “source of truth” that tracks every aspect of data surrounding fan interactions, clubs will struggle to create personalized, engaging experiences that drive fan retention and increase spend. And without personalized, engaging experiences, fans will likely opt to spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere for a fraction of the cost of attending a game.
Building A Sustainable Fan Base
Today’s sports franchises are about so much more than the sporting event itself. Games form only one part of a rich entertainment experience. By identifying who specifically their fans are and what unique needs they have, franchises can invest their marketing dollars in personalized experiences that will attract and retain them. And as their fan database grows, franchises will be able to mine that data to drive the development of new offers and products, resulting in higher customer lifetime value (CLV) across the entire fan base.
So what can sports franchises do to seize the opportunities that come with fostering a new generation of sports fan? Here are a few ideas:
1. Align the organization with the realities of the modern sports market: Sports franchises need to build for tomorrow rather than reacting to the needs of today. This means rethinking how the marketing function is structured. Start by creating an in-house “center of excellence” that eliminates the current siloes between different digital properties, marketing channels, and marketing functions. Agree on KPIs and meet at least once per week to rigorously assess performance so that you can optimize sales and marketing spend.
2. Create a complete view of your customer: Leverage modern analytics platforms to create a unified view and repository for every piece of fan data the franchise collects across every channel. Then, ensure fans have a reason to want to share their data. That means providing them something of value—whether that’s actual merchandise or even just specially curated content—in exchange.
3. Rethink the revenue model: Explore new opportunities to generate revenue. Consider selling experiences rather than just products. This could mean a single-ticket game pack that bundles food, beverage, and merchandise into the price. Or consider creating an opportunity for fans to attend only part of the game or purchase seat upgrades as they walk in. These experiences need to be easy to find and simple to purchase or engage.
4. At the stadium, create a fan experience of the future: Having the technology in place to gain complete visibility through multiple touch points into a customer’s habits and preferences allows sports franchises to serve up personalized experiences in real time at the game. This can be anything from mobile or facial recognition ticketing, to ordering food from their seats, to offering discounts for future games while they’re watching the current game. These multiple touch points create opportunities to turn a one-game patron into a loyal lifetime fan. They also allow the sports franchise to collect valuable data about its fans that it can use for more targeted sales and future marketing campaigns.
Consider A Phased Approach
Given the historical nature of today’s sports franchise operating models, change will take time. The same practice and commitment that go into becoming a professional athlete is required for providing world-class customer experiences. Transforming data analytics and marketing capabilities requires a phased approach that begins with realizing quick wins early on to gain executive support, and then developing a multiyear road map of enhancements. By taking on this work, franchises can build a long-term fan engagement strategy that delivers a lifetime of value and wins for years to come.
Ehren Hozumi, VP of sports, media, and entertainment at Adobe, contributed to this article.