“Offseason” Isn’t Offseason for Sports Businesses

Players might be taking a well-deserved rest in the offseason, but it’s no vacation for sponsorships, ticket sales, or marketing departments. You know you’ve got draft pick campaigns and you have to prepare for opening day, and…then what?

Time to hone in on next season’s strategy. Your strategy, particularly your data strategy, is what could make or break ticket and merchandise sales, but you can’t come up with one on the fly when you’re in the middle of the season and can’t keep count of all the campaigns you have running. Here are five steps to take while you have “off” time to make sure fans will be there when training camp is over, and keep your team’s fans engaged long after your opening day.

1. Post-mortem

illustration of a presentation analyzing the last seasonIt might not be pretty, but it’s time to take a cold hard look at last season. Loop in your ticketing, sponsorship, marketing and business intelligence staff, and share the big wins and the big gaps. Ask the following to start the conversation:

  • What promotions were most successful? On which channels?
  • What promotions were least successful? What was the difference between these and your winning promotions?
  • Which ticket types missed their targets?
  • Which games were easier to sell? Harder? Why? (For this one, look beyond the team/player performance)
  • What can you expect to be the same this season? Anything unique to last season (e.g., streak of cold weather, losing streak, benched star)?
  • What unexpected situations do you wish you had a plan in place for?
  • Which sponsors renewed this year? Who grew their investments? Who didn’t?
  • Was there a difference in activation types for sponsorship renewals vs churns?

This list isn’t inclusive, but will help point your efforts in the right direction as you prepare for next season, and share in each others’ successes while you find opportunities to improve.

2. Stay in touch with fans

Of course, the conversation with fans doesn’t and shouldn’t stop when the players are off the field. The first reason is a practical one for social media: post too infrequently (or conversely, too much) and your reach will dramatically drop off on two of the largest platforms, Facebook and Instagram. Reach can already be as low as two percent, so maintain a regular posting schedule.

You won’t be able to post at your normal frequency because there is less content to post about, but keep your audience engaged, aiming for at least one promotion or activation per month. Repost your star player’s content or better yet, promote a sweepstakes for opening game tickets or a spring training experience. These offseason activations will add new contacts to your database to reach as the season goes on, and they’ll also help identify higher value “superfans” who you can target for season tickets and merchandise, since they’re engaging with you without knowing how you’ll perform in the new season.

3. Sketch out your calendar

Time to take that post-mortem and use it to put together a rough content and media calendar. This should include organic social campaigns to capitalize on the reach you’ve kept through offseason, email campaigns, search and display, paid social, and physical or broadcast advertising. Make sure that you cover the bases of engagement, acquisition, and conversion, not just focusing on ticket sales or promoting “likes.”

Paint in broad strokes since your calendar will adjust when you get your schedule. Also, remember those “unexpected situations” you identified last season? Learn from history and prepare content and promotions that you can deploy in case ticket sales go stagnant (or identify promotions to run when ticket sales aren’t a problem). When you have a sketch of your promotional and content calendar, paired with your analysis of successful and unsuccessful activations last season, start mapping your sponsorable inventory against your partnership agreements. Set KPIs to prove ROI and ROO to sponsors when renewal comes around.

4. Clean your database

Graphic showing data cleanup with a broomWhy not a little spring cleaning during spring training? Even if you think your database is pretty clean, data will go bad as the year goes on, with around 30% of your sales and marketing data becoming unusable annually. That can be from missing (or fake) emails, duplicate records, or data that’s just gone out of date like changed addresses or jobs.

There’s also another reason to clean your database if you’re selling any goods or services to EU residents: GDPR. We’ve talked quite a bit about the General Data Protection Regulation, and a large part of compliance is knowing what data you have, why you’ve collected it, and being able to justify why you’re storing it. Getting a handle on your data should then become an annual practice, and there’s no better time than the offseason.

Download our five-step checklist for GDPR prep before May 2018

One more reason to do it before May 2018 is the change in opt-in rules for marketing: in case you’ve opted people into your marketing campaigns in ways that weren’t explicit or ambiguous, you’ll want to audit your database to make sure, at the very least, that you’ve offered those contacts a way to opt out before that date.

5. Identify your top targets

Finally, if want your marketing and advertising to be effective when the season kicks off, a shotgun approach trying to reach everyone all at once won’t cut it. You’ll want to target specific groups within your database (along with those outside of your database fitting particular profiles) and you can get your lists ready now based on the goals and targets you have or expect to have.

One category of these groups is lookalikes: Using the combined data on your fans, brand affinities, demographics, geographic data, event check-ins, and more, you’re able to build profiles to target fans who fit the mold for various promotions. Facebook’s lookalike audiences, for example, allow you to upload either a custom audience or pick a set of parameters unique to your audience, and seek out others on Facebook fitting that profile. Umbel’s platform combines that data with past ticket purchases to find fans already in your database, which could help you create a profile of “season ticket buyers” and find people who fit that profile who may have bought single game tickets or interacted with your team in some way.

You can also combine the different data points you collect on your audience to target for promotions or single games where you missed the mark last season. For example, for a game against a competitor that sold out two seasons ago, but was half empty last season, you could prepare an audience to target for ticket sales that includes people who attended that team’s game, along with people in your database who didn’t attend but like the team on Facebook or are from the area or like brands local to the competitor.

opponent segment
Example of a “Competitor” segment in Umbel

The options for using your audience data don’t end there; you can target people for family or theme nights, those that have affinities for a particular sponsor, fans that live in an affluent zip code, etc. Use the time afforded to you in the off season to not only get those lists ready, but predict when you’ll need them and take the steps to reach those fans when it counts. Good luck.

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