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Blog Posts

Old Clubs Leading the Way with New Fan-driven Approach

July 16, 2019

Sam Richardson

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I’ve been fortunate to attend two conferences this summer in the great sports town of Chicago. 

The Intersport Sports Brand and Engagement Summit run by the Sports Business Journal and the excellent 29th Annual ALSD Conference and Tradeshow brought sports organization leaders together with companies like Nepa who are at the cutting edge of sports research and analytics. 

During the course of both conferences, it was great to see how far sports teams have come in understanding the value in their fans and partners. – However, it was also clear that many still do not have a proper handle on developing better fan insights. Data-driven approaches and new technologies are an imperative in this day and age. 

I’ve always been a big fan of the Windy City, having first visited in 1989, three years after the Chicago Bears enjoyed their famous Super Bowl XX winning season. At the time, I was an undergrad studying my bachelors’ degree in Scotland,  but had taken the summer off touring U.S. sports cities with a buddy.  

We arrived in Chicago and, being big NFL fans, made a beeline for the iconic Soldier Field only to find the stadium locked up for the offseason. Unperturbed, we knocked on the big iron doors at the old south entrance to the stadium and managed to talk the groundskeeper into letting us in after coming ‘4,000’ miles from Scotland just to see Soldier Field!  We were rewarded with a wonderful hour-long self-guided tour of the old stadium and even managed to get our feet onto the hallowed turf. 

Thirty years later, almost to the day, I was back touring Soldier Field, this time as an attendee at the ALSD conference, where Nepa were invited to speak on about disruptors in sports.  

Originally constructed in 1924 and dedicated to U.S. servicemen and women who died in WWI, the 61,500 stadium has changed a lot in 30 years thanks to a somewhat controversial $660 million ‘flying saucer’ renovation in 2003Sadly, the modern redesign resulted in the stadium being ‘dropped’ from the National Historic Landmark register. 

But while the new architecture and continued location has its critics, I was impressed with how well the new architecture had complemented and preserved the ‘feel’ of the old building by conserving the inner concourse and its iconic Greek colonnades outside. 

What impressed me most though was how the Bears, celebrating their 100th season this year, have embraced new technology in almost every aspect of the revamped facility from adding a comprehensive mobile app and DAS wireless network to ticketless entry, new video boards, interactive seating charts, locked charging stations and in-seat ordering. 

Up on the North side of town, the changes made at the historic Wrigley Field are even more impressive. The Bears played at Wrigley from 1921-1970, but it’s more famous as the home to the Chicago Cubs since 1912, when it opened as Weeghman Park. Changes and renovations to baseball’s second-oldest stadium had to be considered carefully to respect the history of the grand old dame, but the Cubs have embraced new technology and modern improvements while preserving the romance and majesty of this iconic facility. 

Their ‘1060 Project’ began in 2014 and since, the old stadium’s bleachers have been expanded, a 4,000 square foot jumbotron has been installed (but respectfully to mirror the iconic old green scoreboard) locker rooms upgraded and the bullpens relocated. Four new luxurious field-level suites have been added to increase club seats from just 70 to 1,700 with new revenue-generating locations such as the “W” Club, Barrel Room (sponsored by Makers Mark), the 1914 Club (American Airlines), the Catalina Club and the Bunker Suites – all of which hark back to the history of the Cubs and the golden age of Wrigley. 

The Cubs have taken key learnings from this five-year project, citing the following keys to their success: plan early, adopt a data-driven and client-focused approach, speak to the fans and offer them what they want, create urgency, sell creatively and never forget about service. 

It would have been easy for both the Cubs and Bears to sit back on tradition, rest on their historic laurels and continue to sell based on their fan’s loyalty. But the move to modernity and state of the art technology, while respectfully preserving and indeed enriching their traditions, has very much been embraced by two of America’s oldest sports teams.  

Both of these organizations have realized, that in order to continue to attract fans away from their home viewing experience and other competing interests, they must remain relevant by continually talking to and surveying their fans for feedback, as well as staying focused on high levels of service, luxury, convenience and technology being offered by their competitors both inside and outside of sports. 

In both cases, century-old institutions have embraced technology and a data-driven approach to maintain and grow their business in the new digital age. If even the Cubs and Bears are doing this, shouldn’t your organization be doing the same 

Blog Posts

When Season Ticket Holders Don’t Renew

April 02, 2019

Sam Richardson

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Getting repeat customers is the holy grail of most businesses, and what’s better for that than a sports fan and season ticket holder? Fan loyalty is huge, and for many franchises tickets are hard to come by. In some cases, families pass them down from generation to generation. So when fans stop renewing it suggests something is going seriously wrong.

What does it take to drive these people away? Losing games isn’t usually enough. In fact, some of the worst-performing teams have some of the most loyal fans. For these folks a game is more than a game – it’s a social event, it’s a part of who they are. Most realize that teams will have their ups and downs and they’re willing to tolerate that, even when there’s more downs than ups.

But there are other aspects to the fan experience besides on-field performance, and they can alienate even the most loyal of customers. For management, the question is: how do you identify these issues?  How do you know what’s motivating your fans? What circumstance or combination of circumstances finally drove them away? Answer:  you have to measure it.

Fan Experience (FX) is the new battleground

The reality is that Fan Experience (FX) is the new battleground in sport.  Every sports organization needs actionable Fan Intelligence to compete and to maintain and build loyalty.  Questions management needs to ask (and answer) include:  what are fans saying online and in the stadium? How does that correlate with ticket purchasing?  With stadium behaviors? What are they saying about the food, the concession stand lines, the cost of tickets? And these need to be answered in as close to “real time” as possible.

Today’s CX technology allows sports teams to track fan reactions and the path to purchase across multiple channels and to correlate the data with business outcomes. It provides tools for understanding what works and what doesn’t and for quickly moving that information to the place in the organization where it can have the greatest impact. It has an Artificial Intelligence capability incorporating predictive behavior analysis to anticipate future fan needs.  All of this  reflects a simple principle: loyalty is built when management responds to customer issues – whether that’s at a department store or on the soccer pitch.

CX program gives better understanding

And this doesn’t just apply to season tickets. Sponsors are looking for better ways to measure their investments in on-field, broadcast and online advertising. They want to know the ‘true’ value – in dollars – of their sponsorship. They want to know how the fans react, and they want to see the numbers. A CX program can provide the framework essential to this understanding.

One recent example illustrates the point. Nepa was brought in by a sports franchise for purposes of sponsorship validation. We used multi-channel research (social media, TV, digital) along with traditional surveying to analyze and measure the impact of sponsorship on fan buying behavior. In this instance we found that the franchise was charging just $100,000 for a sponsorship that was delivering value worth more than $500,000.  A lot of money was being left on the table.

In another instance, our Sports Optimizer platform gave a franchise the ability to directly connect with its supporters and  gather feedback from thousands of regular fans and high value season ticket holders. Through this, we identified new ways for sponsors to interact with fans inside and outside of the stadium. And with real time analysis throughout the season, the team’s business management team could track progress after each home game. The result was a $1.3M increase in sponsorship value and an 18% boost in season ticket renewals.

In the past, teams mostly measured in-game exposure to signage and TV viewership and called it a day.  But now the competitive stakes have been raised.  For many franchises, it’s time to re-think the fan engagement process. A good way to get started is to establish a benchmark from which to measure progress for your organization in all areas including fan experience, retail and hospitality optimization, and sponsorship valuation. This can help identify problem areas and open the door to actionable and revenue-drive solutions.

Blog Posts

Does Your Sports Strategy Rely Too Much on GameDay Tactics?

March 15, 2019

Sam Richardson

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“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu, Art of War

Since starting with Nepa Global Sports, I’ve been fortunate to attend many great professional sports conferences and seminars around the country. I’ve met great leaders, representing the best-known professional sports leagues and teams in the world, and had the pleasure of engaging with some really smart, cool and talented folks.

Sports is fun but it’s a business too, and leagues and teams are like everybody else trying to come to grips with rapidly changing business demands and consumer needs.  So, whether it’s trying to accurately evaluate the value of their sponsorships, monetize social media, engage more fully with their sponsors or better understand their fan bases there’s a need to know more.

Sports business professionals get it. They understand that they need to know what motivates their fans in order to guide the strategic direction and to bring value to their partners, but they have got to put in the time, effort and most importantly, the resources needed to capture this critical information and drive consumer insight.

This may be due to the seasonal nature of sports; all too often, short-term tactical needs seem to take the priority over longer-term objectives. In baseball you would call that an error.

How many sports marketers look at their budgets based on long-term and short-term objectives? Consider:  what resources have you put aside for development, research, insight and understanding, and how much of that is being directed at tactics such as digital advertising or social media? To be really successful you have to measure, and not just once every five years, but constantly and in real time.

It’s all very well finding new fans to come through the turnstiles, but if you don’t know who they are or what your offer means to them, that turnstile effectively becomes a revolving door, churning revenues that have to be constantly replaced.

The sports success franchise that is riding high on the back of a winning streak and great attendance today is a potential headache tomorrow if the team’s management isn’t working to uncover how it can continue to get better by understanding and serving its customers.

In order to be successful over time, it’s estimated that marketers should be investing at least 60% of their resources in long-term brand building, with the remainder in short-term sales activation to achieve the best returns on their marketing investment.

I would guess that most sports marketing teams are probably putting less than 20% of their budgets aside for long-term strategy while fighting the weekly fires of life in seasonal sports by throwing the rest of the budget at short-term tactics.

A recent study from McKinsey on short-term vs long-term resourcing in business, reported the following:

“Among the firms we identified as focused on the long term, average revenue and earnings growth were 47 percent and 36 percent higher, respectively, … Companies that were managed for the long-term added nearly 12,000 more jobs on average than their peers from 2001 to 2015.”

Too many sports business professionals rely on on-field performance or worse still, their instinct or what they have done in the past, to gauge what their fans are thinking and feeling.

“Winning cures everything,” is the mantra. And it’s true, but only in the short term.

Sponsors have a different approach – they’re now looking for better ways to measure investment by analyzing specific KPIs, and they want to know the ‘true’ value – in dollars – of their sponsorship.

So how do you continue to grow your brands, provide value to partners and guard against complacency? The answer is surprisingly simple. Do the research!

Longer term sports organizations need to identify and optimize their fans’ path to purchase. And they also need to provide sponsors with a true valuation of what their sponsorship is worth in the eyes of consumers.

Fan Experience (FX) is the new battleground in sport and every sports organization needs actionable Fan Intelligence to compete. If you’re curious about how your organization’s fan experience measurement stacks up and how to take it to the next level, I’d love to talk with you.

We can start with a simple assessment.  It just takes a few minutes and you’ll receive an immediate analysis and a free copy of Nepa Sports “Cultivating FX measurement” eBook, based on decades of experience working with teams at all stages of maturity.

Click here to start your assessment.

Blog Posts

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.”

Blog Posts

Why Investing In Fan Insights Is a Smart Play

October 24, 2018

Sam Richardson

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Sports fans are extremely passionate and typically quick to give you their thoughts about a certain player or team. However, many sports teams and organizations do not capitalize on this passion and generosity by asking their supporters about the experience of being a fan. As a result, fan experience suffers and leads to less engagement and profitability.

In recent years, professional athletes have adopted a much more scientific approach to their training and conditioning. To stay competitive, professional sports organizations should do the same with fan insights. Here are the reasons why teams should listen and act on fan experience.

Better Fan Experience, Better Ticket Sales

In the sports world, poor sales performance is often attributed to team performance or the efforts of the sales team. But we know from other industries that the customer experience matters to customer acquisition and retention. Gameday fans have many critical moments of truth with sports brands as they park, buy concessions and much more.

Is every member of the team behind the team contributing to satisfying the fan and optimizing the fan experience? How do you know if everything is going smoothly to ensure that your fans have a great experience that they want to share with others? The answer to these questions will help drive sales through repurchase and recommendation.

Just like a coach reviews game footage, continuous fan experience insights can uncover the real reasons behind poor sales performance. Often, it’s not just the sales executive who fumbled.

Better Fan Experience, Better Gameday Revenue

Fan Experience not only keeps the turnstiles turning – fan engagement also drives spend at the merchandise and concession stands. It’s not surprising that a key factor to minimizing gameday sales are the length of lines – but it’s also a big stadium cost driver to manage the crowds. Fan Insights provide powerful value in assessing where best to allocate those resources and what is the optimal level to capture the most value from attending fans.

Sponsors Love Fan Insights

Professional sports teams are diversifying revenue streams – with some making over 50% of their revenues off the field. Sponsorships are now a major source of club income and the market for sponsors has become increasingly competitive.

Just like any other form of media, sports sponsorships are more valuable when the buyer knows exactly what they’re getting. Adopting principles from other industries, leading sports clubs are adopting insight-based selling methodologies to win more sponsorships and increase the value of existing ones. Check out how Louisville City FC used fan insights to increase the value of their sponsorship assets by over $1M.

Why Aren’t Teams Utilizing Fan Insights?

We’ve helped many clubs that hesitated to invest in a known need for fan insights to overcome these common hurdles:

  • Financial – Sport Insight has been controlled by a small number of expensive firms, so many sports marketers have a wrong perception that fan insights are out of their reach.
  • Priority – Even when traditional resource allocations are providing diminishing returns, some sports marketers are hesitant to invest their staff’s time in understanding fans’ needs.
  • Business Cards – There are a small number of fan insight companies out there (as we mentioned above), and the need for fan insights is often stymied by not knowing where or how to turn.
  • Fear of Knowing – Listening to fans takes courage and opens the door to unpleasant feedback that might upset senior management or ownership.

It’s extremely important to get over these obstacles in an age where expansion teams are shaking up leagues and fans have more ways to engage and interact with teams now than ever before.

Through improved ticket sales, merchandising, gameday revenues, and sponsorship values – an investment in fan experience insights could end up being your most valuable player with the investment paying for itself.

Fan insights are within your reach – Nepa’s Fan Experience Platform, Sports Optimizer, uses proven technology and expert staff to provide actionable and holistic intelligence at a much more reasonable cost. We assist you through every step of the process and help pinpoint areas for FX improvement.

Our veteran consultants can help you deepen understanding of your fanbase and improve renewal rates, optimize gameday revenues and bring in extra sponsorship value. Read a full case study here.