This article is excerpted from the SportTechie + Umbel report, “How to Create the Ultimate Fan Experience.” Learn about more how teams like the Panthers, Pacers, and Brooklyn Nets drive engagement and ticket sales with fan data by downloading the full report.
Only a couple of years ago, the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx were more traditional in how they allowed fans entry into games.
Both franchises relied on fans to print paper or e-tickets, which were torn or collected as fans entered through stadium turnstiles. But beginning in 2016, both the Timberwolves and Lynx added more innovative methods of checking in: mobile phones that display game tickets, credit cards that validated their original purchase, or driver’s licenses that confirmed identities.
What the franchises found was that between 75-80 percent of fans used their mobile phones to gain entry. Once fans entered the arena, the data and consumer information suddenly available to both franchises opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
“It’s important for us and for our fans and our general market that when we reach out to them, we’re trying to make a real connection with them,” said Laura Meyer, the Timberwolves and Lynx Vice President of Business Intelligence. “We often identify who our buyers are, who our attendees are on our website and through email. But having the opportunity to tie into first-party data is really appealing.”
First-party data is data collected directly from your fans, and can include past ticket purchases and digital engagement, but with social authentication, can also include interests and specific brand affinities that can be used to create audience segments to reach fans long after the game is over.
Going all in on mobile—and data
Mobile ticketing is a growing trend with varying levels of investment. The Miami Heat, for example, became the first NBA franchise to shift to mobile-only entry, eliminating paper tickets altogether. “Adopting mobile-only entry is all about improving the fan experience at the American Airlines Arena,” the Heat announced in August 2017. “Mobile-only entry will make getting into the Arena seamless, simple, and fast.”
Like the two Minneapolis-based franchises, the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys also saw a boost in mobile ticket entry after the team began to experiment with mobile ticketing leading up to the 2015-16 season. When initial participation was extremely limited with three to six percent of fans using their phones to gain entry to Cowboys home games, team officials took a more aggressive approach.
Thanks to an ongoing working partnership with Ticketmaster, the Cowboys learned that mobile entry made up 21 percent of all attendance at AT&T stadium that season, with over 80 percent of single game ticket holders using mobile entry.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been working with teams, like the Cowboys to really explore the benefits of pushing fans to mobile,” Jared Smith, Ticketmaster President of North America said in a 2016 interview with SportTechie.” How do you educate and push people to mobile to use the technology, which is both better for them and the team. If you can make [mobile ticketing] work at AT&T Stadium, you can make it work anywhere.”
Starting in the fall of 2017, the Target Center in Minneapolis—home to both the Timberwolves and Lynx—will go completely wireless, offering a new level of accessibility to fans through their mobile devices. While the advancement in technology is a boost for fans, it also opens up new opportunities to Meyer and her team.
Once a fan enters the arena by using their phone, Meyer said they will have access to a smartphone app that will allow them to interact with in-game promotions being displayed on the arena’s scoreboard, to menus for various concession stands around the venue, as well as, to purchase food and merchandise from any number of vendors.
“Our focus is to try and give people what they’re asking for,” Meyer said.
That’s where the digital connection – and the data that can be garnered out of it – comes into play. Meyer and her team do their best to remain on the forefront of technological innovation when they can and are the first franchises in the greater Minneapolis market to go completely digital when it comes to the interaction their teams have with their fans.
The data that is made available—by going completely digital—to Meyer opens new doors to Timberwolves and Lynx fans and provides a different level of insight into the fan base both franchises need to better connect with on a regular basis.
“That’s the nice thing about the data – you can allow the data to dictate the story and how we need to respond,” Meyer said. “It tells us what people are preferring…besides what’s happening on the court. Certainly, content is big for us. The content we are creating out of all of our different channels is a variety of not only what’s going on with the players, but what the franchise is doing within the community. What other outreach are we doing? What pop culture things are we doing? There’s a lot of things the brand is doing that don’t have anything to do with the game.”
Click below to get the full report on how the Timberwolves, Lynx, and more use data to drive fan experience.