Customer Data Management

No more cold burgers as teams target sports fans via data analytics

Picture the scene. You go to watch a basketball or football game with some friends. You buy a burger. The burger is not to your taste – it’s cold or just badly cooked – you complain on Twitter and within minutes you and your friends are offered free hotdogs as compensation.

It’s a scenario painted by Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team owner andformer CEO of Tibco Software Vivek Ranadivé when talking about how real-time data analytics can infiltrate the sports arena customer experience. In this instance Ranadivé illustrated how his Engage software platform can be the engine that drives analysis of sentiment, determines the importance of the ticket holder, queries the catering inventory for stock levels and what is not selling fast and offers the supporter free products. It’s a slick idea.

Tibco has already managed to get some interest from NFL football franchise the Oakland Raiders and ice hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning for similar solutions, showing there is an increasing demand to use data to not just improve fan experience at games but retain fans through ongoing targeted marketing.

It’s not just about fan loyalty either – most fans are loyal regardless of marketing – it’s about encouraging increased spending and discovering new fans. But how do you do this without spamming emails and text messages and being overzealous with the special offers? Surely what most sports fans want is for their team to win and for the stadium experience to be comfortable in line with the cost of the ticket (you wouldn’t expect posh seats and toilets at an amateur team, would you?).

What the introduction of CRM and data is surely doing is treating the sports fan like a supermarket customer? Should clubs really look to supermarkets for inspiration?

Belgian football team KRC Gent has done just that, employing a loyalty card system to track supporters and reward them with relevant offers and prizes – especially for turning up to minor fixtures. The club uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM to crunch and analyse the data which includes what tickets supporters buy, when they enter the stadium and if they buy drinks, food or merchandise.

KRC Gent is happy so far with what it is doing but only because it uses the data to try and understand its fan base first. Bombarding special offers is not the plan and it never should be of course.

The people get what the people want

Steve Johnson, head of Extreme Networks in the UK and Ireland, says that knowledge about stadium visitor habits outweighs the more traditional finger-in-the-air approach of guesswork and assumption. Extreme Networks is the official Wi-Fi analytics provider for the National Football League (NFL) and has already been tasked with monitoring and measuring fan experience at team stadiums including New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. Ultimately this is about these teams understanding the fans and finding products and services to improve experiences and this doesn’t just mean free stuff.

“The more accurate the knowledge that the stadium has on the preferences of its customers, the better positioned it is to deliver an enhanced, personalised experience,” says Johnson. “This can be prevalent in every component of the customer experience, whether it’s ensuring that the most popular players’ shirts are always available in shops, automatically announcing special promotions, offering preferred seating area tickets down to even proactively letting the customer know which food outlets have the shortest queues.”

Of course the real trick is being able to measure sentiment via social networks. This is what Ranadivé at Sacramento Kings wants to do, but can it be done accurately?

Christian Jochnick, commercial director at Fanmode, thinks so but he would, as Fanmode is in essence a sentiment platform for real-time emotions that can, for example, be integrated into a stadium’s media system. Jochnick reckons that stadium experience is now all about fan engagement and sentiment. He cites Tom Fox, former chief commercial officer at English football (soccer) Arsenal and now chief executive at another English Premier League team, Aston Villa, who once said that Arsenal’s community culture has to be transferable to global supporters to ensure a sense of belonging and identity with the club.

And that’s what this really comes down to. It’s not just about keeping existing fans happy or even encouraging new fans to attend. It’s the globalisation of sport that will deliver substantial value to a club. Look at the NFL coming to London and looking to set up a London franchise. Look at football breaking into India and western teams wooing the vast football audiences of Asia.

“As we look to the future, the experience of the customer will become more and more personalized until the service level becomes unique,” adds Johnson at Extreme Networks. “For example, a particular drink being delivered proactively to a particular customer at a particular time or an announcement that the particular shirt he or she has been browsing for is on a special discounted promotion that day. The key to success is enabling the attendee to progress from simple spectator to engaged customer.”

In a nutshell, that is the future of watching live sport. It’s clearly not just about the winning; more than ever before it’s now about the taking part.


Also read: Why it was the right time to go private – Tibco CEO interview


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Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

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