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5 Key Takeaways – National Sports Forum 2019

February 19, 2019

Sam Richardson

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I recently attended my first National Sports Forum in Las Vegas and, Wow – what an event for the sports business enthusiast! It’s a big show and I was fortunate to have a veteran tour guide, Steve Livingstone, Head of Nepa Global Sports. As Steve and I reflected on the seminars and conversations, here are 5 things that stood out most:

1. Clubs ‘Engagement’ Focus Risks Fan Experience

Sports business leaders are enthusiastic about “fan engagement.” Many teams and their partners were discussing ways to involve the fan in more aspects of the game. It struck us how few were talking to fans about their view of the “experience.”

Since Valentine’s Day just passed, I’ll use a dating example to demonstrate experience vs. engagement. A husband goes all out for a date night: flowers, car service, dinner, theater, etc. He spends hours in planning and several hundred dollars on the evening. However, what she really wanted was the two hours of just the two of them together. In the end, it was all great and very appreciated, but if he had just asked, he would have known that a nice quiet dinner would’ve been enough. And saved some time, effort and money in the process. And remember, those expectations are now higher for next year. Think of your fans in the same way – take some time just to ask what they want directly.

2. Maximize Sponsorships by Understanding Affinity

Not surprisingly, the topic of maximizing sponsorship came up often at NSF. Taking that all in, sponsorship value is at its best when fans’ passions intersect with sponsor’s offers. That doesn’t mean 100% engagement with every sponsor, but those partnerships should relate based on the fans’ demographics, interests and buying behaviors. If that’s the case, it will be a mutually rewarding proposition for the fan, the team and the sponsors. You shouldn’t leave one party out of that mix, or all three suffer.  If the sponsors don’t experience an uplift of the sales from fans, they won’t renew – leading to lost revenue that impacts what the club can do for the fans.

Teams can avoid this trap with strong measurement – not just in sales or attendance, but also a measurable affinity. Again, talk to your fans and establish KPIs that will help you evaluate the success of sponsorships, including those that can be tied directly to valuation.

3. Drowning in Data

Teams are getting more data, but doing relatively less with it. Market data, fan data, attendance data, merchandise & concessions data – I saw an NSF presentation about data that corresponds to movements within the stadium to evaluate concessionaires and seating in sections. With all this data, teams are often left with generic takeaways from a single source of data. It is understandable that most teams don’t employ a full-time data scientist, but it’s also important that they understand where data should be merged, where there are gaps and how that data can benefit the entire organization.

4. Play as a Team

Even in a small environment, teams seemingly operate separately from one another.  You can find the best example of this when speaking with two members of the same team in different departments.  While speaking with them on current projects, one brought up specifics in their marketing initiatives, which prompted the other to respond, “I wish I had known that earlier, we could have used that information in selling tickets.”  Even in smaller offices, teamwork sometimes is overshadowed – not necessarily maliciously, but often as a result of everyone trying to focus on their own job.  It may require someone taking the initiative, but your fan engagement, fan experience, ticket sales, events and sponsorships can – and should – all be working together.

5. You Can’t Please Everyone

Recognize that you can never please 100% of the people 100% of the time. That even goes for everything above – don’t expect a one-size-fits-all approach. I’ll summarize this idea in one of the most memorable session takeaways, when Las Vegas Aviators VP Chuck Johnson said there will always be CAVE people.  What are CAVE people? They are “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.” That sums it up quite well.

I’m sure many of you walked away with some great takeaways. For me, an overarching theme was – the time is now.  Sports will continue to evolve, fans will continue to evolve and their business together will continue to evolve.  I heard several times that front offices can no longer afford to wait, things are moving far too fast.  Measure now, analyze now, evaluate now and win as a team now. I’m looking forward to NSF ’20, where I’m sure we’ll hear teams talking more about “Fan Experience.”