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Friday, June 14, 2024

Putting Fans At The Center of Your Data Strategy Post-COVID

Photo Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Within many major sports organizations, structuring sales and marketing teams to be more tailored to fan needs has been a goal since before the COVID-19 outbreak. This means offering more personalized experiences, understanding the right packages for the right fans, and overall being more conversational with fans. While the shift was occurring at various speeds across all leagues, COVID-19 has turned this focus from aspirational into a “must do”.

For starters, the pandemic has forced teams to think about how they can monetize fans at home since they are unable, in many cases, to admit fans to games in-person.

“I think this has been a really interesting opportunity for teams,” Dewayne Hankins, EVP & Chief Commercial Officer at the Portland Trail Blazers recently told Front Office Sports. “The NBA always tells us this, but 99% of your fans will never go to a game. If that’s the case, we need to make sure we’re building those relationships in a different way, that’s not centered around tickets. Now the league has given us that opportunity and they’ve changed some of the rules even within the last nine months for teams to go out and seek international partnerships and have a larger view of the audience they’ve grown. We’ve been able to grow our marketing territory double from what it used to be and with the tools we’re using, we’re able to track that.”

While international partnerships are likely on the horizon for a number of NBA teams, digital and social media is already helping to fill in revenue gaps in North America with significant room still left to grow. The Trail Blazers have been one of the league’s most successful in this department with roughly 15% of the team’s total revenue coming from digital channels.

StellarAlgo sees these challenges and opportunities as well and is ensuring that its customer data platform is growing in the areas most important to live audience organizations by working closely with a number of professional sports teams, including the Trail Blazers. This work centers around ways data, and StellarAlgo’s platform, can help teams better understand the value of their fans – from engagement and avidity to the monetization of your fans in various ways. The result becomes stronger marketing and sales strategies that reflect purposeful nurturing of different segments and the ability to accurately track what’s gaining the most traction.. StellarAlgo’s Chief Product Officer, Joseph King believes knowing how to engage fans digitally is only going to become more important.

“This year teams have had to realize that in addition to being event companies they’re also content companies which is more like a product company in that if you don’t have fans in the stadium, then you just have content,” King said. “Regardless, the fan as a customer is at the center. How do you see the value of that content to that fan? How do you engage with your fans and generate revenue off of that?”

Teams can gain revenue from this content in a few different ways. Attaching a corporate sponsor to certain content is one way to make this happen, while some teams have found ways to use content to drive purchases on merchandise as well as tickets to future events. This can also be a way to drive lead generation for sales reps to follow up on at a later date.

“I think there is a recognition that many fans want to engage more digitally with things, in terms of their processes,” King added. “They want more control in the buying process. When a consumer wants to buy something, more often than not trends show that they do that research online and consumers, unsurprisingly, will definitely gravitate towards things that make it easier for them to buy things online. We see that happening with tickets. So how are you going to guide people through to having that buying experience and then lead them to having a good fan experience?”

As events slowly return, one more thing will see a sharp boost in importance for professional teams. According to Hankins, that thing is first party data.

“StellarAlgo has become that central hub for us and supports what we continue to try to do better, which is create better first party data and then use that data in the smartest way possible,” Hankins said. “We really want to own that relationship with our fans and better understand how they’re interacting with us across all different channels and systems. In the past, we’ve relied a lot on remarketing cookies from Google or Facebook or other entities. Those things are important and have been important, but they are eventually, I think, going to go away.”

Ultimately, building up first party data to enhance that ‘centralized hub’, as Hankins referred to it, requires that organizations prioritize data-driven decision making at all levels of the organization. It’s not enough for analytics teams to be the owners and sole distributors of data, marketing and sales need to be able to access it and put trends and insights to good use. Using data to understand all fans – not just ticket buyers – and personalize the content that is served up to different audiences have become table stakes as the noise consumers see everyday increases. Sports has become more than simply marketing or selling events. Organizations now need to see themselves as global media drivers and focus on engaging and monetizing remote fans too.

All this information helps create a complete picture of the fan and therefore helps teams improve how they can authentically engage with them. While some organizations have been slow to implement measures like what the Trail Blazers have done, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that steps similar to this will need to be taken worldwide to help the industry rebound.

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