What many fans would describe as the perfect environment as they sat at home in front of their big screen televisions enjoying this year’s March Madness was the coverage and game analysis. If the millions who watched from the comfort of their family rooms looked closely, they may have noticed that not every seat was filled—and some sections were noticeably bare. Enticing fans to go to the stadium to actually take part in the action has become a more challenging task for sports teams and arena management not only because of the ever-increasing ticket prices but also due to the growing expectations fans have for that “perfect” stadium experience.
Look no further than the NFL. The NFL is arguably the most popular and profitable professional sport. According to ConvergEX and CNBC, however, it has seen a decline in stadium attendance since 2007, while its home viewership has grown by 15 percent.
There’s no single answer or strategy to address how to entice more fans to come to the stadium and improve their “in venue” experience. However, teams and stadium executives should be thinking beyond player and team statistics and employing analytics that converge customer sentiment data and stadium-experience data with what they already know about their consumer base. Truly, this is no different than a retailer of men’s clothing company that seeks to gain deeper insight into the “how” and “why” one of its outlets increased overall sales and experienced a spike in return customers, while another store in a different area was a bust. For sports venues just as for retailers, it is vital to get closer to the consumer and work to understand his or her specific desires so that the particular venue can provide targeted products and services that will keep them coming back for more.
Data Ready for Play
What stadium officials may readily overlook is where they can glean insights from available data. Information about how many tickets were sold, how much beer was consumed, or how many hot dogs were eaten is easily tracked. Advanced, social analytics against these known, measureable variables creates advanced insights by analyzing data from the customer experience, a sweet spot of big data.
Predictive analytics using both operational and social conversation data can, for example, aggregate and correlate hot dog sales to locations in the stadium, inform analysts ‘why’ that location was a high sales activity location, if it is likely to repeat, or even if it is a desirable location to make it consistently repeatable. The correlation of sales to Tweets may tell analysts that someone spotted Tom Cruise buying a hot dog at the game and every female near that section rushed to share a hot dog with Tom; not likely repeatable. The correlation of Facebook check-in to sales may also indicate that hot dog purchases were made just prior to and during the first inning as fans are arriving at the field. This a scenario marketers may want to exploit by creating pre-game meet-ups in the stadium
Big Data and advanced analytics can be deployed in three areas:
Teams are leveraging Big Data analytics to engage fans for pre-event activities such as ticket pricing, pre-game event alerts (concerts, autograph opportunities), Groupon and discounted parking coupons, plus exclusive pre-sales or premium seating and merchandise rewards promotions.
A simple fact: once in-venue, a fan will spend money. There is just no way around it. The question venue managers must answer is, “Where do I want them to spend their money?”. In venue, fans are confronted by myriad opportunities to spend money – food, beverages, merchandise. Data drawn from fan’s past purchases, loyalty programs, pre-event and on-going engagement activities can all be aggregated to drive group level-engagement or personalized to drive individual engagement. For deeper insights to help shape the fan spend pattern, venue managers can merge social data (Facebook, Twitter, etc) to look for sentiment patterns and other correlations to allow them to be more advanced (predictive) in their venue operations.
For die-hard fans and those who think they want to be die-hards, mobile devices offer an assortment of apps that allow participation and often real-time analysis for everything from draft status and probabilities to using actual player data from online sites in Fantasy Football leagues. Teams are also partnering with local businesses to drive home the advantages of being “part of the team” thinking. In St. Louis, for example, one gas station chain offers free Slushies if the Cardinals win. This drives traffic to the local business plus is a constant reminder that “my team won.”
The Opportunity for Victory
Sports franchises, like other organizations, understand the value of data privacy and typically have procedures and controls in place to insure privacy. Whether at home or in venue (mobile), the tweets and posts of fans vocalize their satisfactions and dissatisfactions with everything from bad calls to the conversation they had with a supporter of the opposing team while standing in line for a beer. Social listening can turn these seemingly random interactions into meaningful insights for venue marketers that will extend the experience of the fan beyond their seats. These fans can engage in dialogue with other fans providing in-stadium meet-up opportunities; check-in at their current location to receive instant coupons; register their expected experience before the game and their actual experience after the game all within the context of the mobile dialogue.
Event organizers taking advantage of this opportunity must balance two levels of engagement with fans. The first is the emotional aspect. Does the fan feel like they had a good time for their money so they become a repeat customer?
The second level of engagement is the ongoing relationship with consumers. Are the analytics designed to entice the fan into revenue generating activities for the venue?
There are always fans that will prefer to stay at home and watch the big game on their television with their finger on the pause button and forego the stadium experience. Leveraging analytics will allow venue management and team owners to understand the fans that they want to target and those that simply have a higher acquisition and retention cost and should be allowed to remain in the comfort of their living room. Knowing and understanding which fans will maximize the return on investment and how to target, acquire, and retain them is the key.
There is a 1979 song by a band called the Buggles entitled “Video killed the radio star” that was the first song/video released on MTV. The premise being that with the new media for reaching music lovers (video), the radio stars that once ruled the airways are all but “dead.” Similarly, one could say that digital video recorders (like TiVo) have seriously impacted the fan turnout at sporting events and without analytics to provide stadium management and team owners with a means to get “rears in chairs,” the once steady revenue stream from ticket sales, concessions, team paraphernalia, and the like would all but be gone.
It is the realm of big data analytics that allows venue marketers to create that balance for the fan. By listening to the voice of the fan through their purchases and social wants and desires, venue owners can be assured of repeat, satisfied fans. Leveraging some of the sophisticated analytics solutions available today, sports venues have the opportunity to gain better insights and increase fan engagement.
Scott H. Schlesinger is senior vice president, head of business information management at Capgemini / North America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @sschlesinger922.
Dorman Bazzell is enterprise intelligence & analytics practice lead at Capgemini. Email him at email@example.com.