5 Burning Questions That Sports Marketers Have About Fan Data

The truth is that sports marketers don’t really get an offseason. You’ve always got a deadline. You’re either moving tickets to a game or scrambling to build the masterplan for next season. This season, everyone’s got data on the brain.

In my time at Umbel, I’ve had the opportunity to talk data with many different people at many different organizations. There are some interesting themes that arise across industries, and the questions answered below have valuable application beyond sports.

Recently, I’ve found myself talking more and more about data to the sports world. The questions that people are asking are interesting ones. I’ve shared them below along with what I can only promise is my very best advice.

1. Do I need a data warehouse?

I hear this question everywhere. The truth is that it depends on what you want to accomplish.

A data warehouse, as the name suggests, is really good at… drumroll please…warehousing data. If you’ve got data all over the place and you really want to get it off the living room floor, a data warehouse can do that. Where that can cause problems is when you want to get the data out again.

Along with a data warehouse, you’ll be hiring and relying on a team of analysts to maintain it and to go find the data you need to answer any questions you have. This takes time, and you’re definitely not their only internal customer. If you didn’t ask the right question or they didn’t understand the question properly, you start the whole process over again.

Don’t get me wrong. Data warehouses have their place in the sports business. But if the goal is to generate intelligence quickly to inform marketing decisions, a data warehouse is not going to be a magic bullet.

For driving revenue and improving the fan experience, what you really need is a data strategy that complements your marketing strategies.

2. How can I use fan data to save time?

Marketers are constantly being asked to do more with less, and still with only 24 hours in a day. You want to work smarter, but too often you find yourself just trying to keep your head above water.

The best marketing strategies find a balance between vision and practicality. Everyone wants to do award-winning work, but the fact is that you’ve got a limited budget, a stadium to fill and the clock is ticking. A good marketing strategy makes the most of what you can do with the time and resources you have to work with. Beyond that, all you can do is try to figure out how to do it better next time.

An effective data strategy applies the same lean-and-mean mindset to a different set of resources. You’ll never use all of your data to make a single decision. You need the right data.

So when thinking through your own data strategy, there are three components you should pay special attention to: collection, management and execution.

What data are you collecting about your fans? Are you collecting the right data to answer the questions you really want answered? How can you be more deliberate about it?

The amount of data you have is growing by the minute. How is it all connected together? Is your data organized in a way that’s relevant to the decisions you’re going to be making with it?

How can I get relevant data into the hands of the people making decisions and executing communications? How can I be creative in using the intelligence generated to get more mileage across every channel?

A good data strategy could mean the difference between selling out profitably and dumping surplus tickets for pennies on the dollar. It could also mean the difference between running one successful campaign or three underperforming campaigns.

3. How do I grow my database?

Having a big email list is great, but what do you really know about the people behind the emails? And are you using what you know about those people to inform what you put in front of them?

There are two dimensions to your database. On one axis is people. On the other axis is what you know about them. Be mindful of both.

Find and create more opportunities to collect data about more people in more places. And find creative ways to learn more about the people that you already know. Both dimensions add to your ability to spend your time and budget more profitably and provide a better fan experience.

As of the date of this writing, Umbel has helped the Indiana Pacers collect data on over 300k fans. More importantly, rather than just names and emails, these fan profiles have thousands of data points attached to them.

An important part of the “what you know about them” axis in Umbel’s work with the Pacers has been social data. More and more, social media is becoming an important data source rather than just a marketing channel.

Social data can provide insight into what makes people tick and help you deliver a personalized experience that delights and surprises your fans.

4. Who is at the game and what are they doing at the stadium?

Coming to a game is the pinnacle of the sports fan experience. As a marketer, while you don’t have control of what happens on the scoreboard, you do have the ability to create an experience around everything else.

With the right technology, you can have you a view into who is in the stands and interact with them in a way that enhances the in-venue experience. But this interaction goes both ways, and as I mentioned earlier, you need to have some foresight into the data you’re collecting and how you can use it to do what you do better.

WiFi, RFID, Beacons, POS, Mobile App, SMS and more are all opportunities to engage with fans in the stands, collect data, and in turn provide them with personalized offers, contest opportunities, coupons, video clips, player statistics, venue maps or whatever else your marketing brain can imagine.

In addition, collecting data in-venue is an important opportunity to build relationships with people who didn’t buy tickets or aren’t in your database. Who came with the ticket buyer? A friend? Girlfriend? Wife and kids? Each of these scenarios presents a different opportunity to turn a visitor into a net new 1:1 fan relationship.

It’s important to make the most of the in-venue experience from a data collection perspective because it’s a rich first-party data set you can use to inform communications with fans even long after they leave.

5. What is my data worth?

This is a million dollar question and I don’t hear this question as often as I should. However, I’m confident that once the sports world starts to feel more confident about jumping into the data deep end, it’s going to be on everyone’s mind.

Sports teams have a unique marketing challenge. It’s not about recruiting the other team’s fans to start wearing your colors.  It’s much more about taking ownership of your own fanbase. You have a captive audience, but you don’t know them as well as you’d like to or as well as you should. And without that foundation, it’s not always easy to see the advantages that taking control of your fan data can offer.

I mentioned earlier that the Indiana Pacers have created a very rich data asset on over 300k people. Perhaps an even more impressive number is 35%, because that’s what the Pacers have really accomplished. They have created profiles on 35% of the Indianapolis population.

I challenge anyone to point me to a larger or more in-depth consumer panel of the Indianapolis market. In addition to getting to know their fans better, the Pacers very well might know the people of Indianapolis better than anyone else.

Corporate partnerships are already a big money maker for sports businesses. Brands have been paying big money for decades just to get eyeballs on logos. It’s a totally different conversation when you have data to backup your ability to craft a sponsored fan experience. It’s going to be a game changer.

So what is your data worth? I’m not sure. That’s the thing about value. Anything is worth as much as you can get someone to pay for it. But I’m confident you’re going to find it’s worth a lot more than you think.