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Using data to improve the modern fan experience

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[Article featured in the UCFB Journal of Sports Business, written by Green 4 Solutions - Download the journal here].

We’re living in a data revolution. Everyday life is run by data wherever we go. From computers and smartphones to buildings, buses, factories, television, banking, now even our wrist watch is connected. The modern world is very much data driven and we’re experiencing some huge benefits as a result.

In the sporting world we’re using data to influence what’s going on, both on and off field. A ton of information is collected from the players to track everything from heart rate to movements around the field. Analysis of this data is crucial to improving performance and prevention or treatment of injury. Performance data doesn’t just have to aid coaching staff however, but this really rich source of information can go a long way to improving experiences for the fans.

On the field performance data is easily accessible through companies such as Opta, providing perfect content to share with our fans. By using this exclusive and interesting content we can bring the fans closer to the team and help to get them more deeply engaged with the club. Anything we can do to make the fans feel connected with the team will lead to better engagement and ultimately increase our ability to increase monetisation. It’s the connected fans that will come more often, buy merchandise and other club products, and they’ll find pleasure in doing so. Let a fan become disengaged with the team and their extra disposable income will be sure to go elsewhere.

Data can do a whole load more for us (and for the fans’ experience with our business) than just sharing statistics on pass completion or shots on goal. A whole raft of information is at our finger tips. From purchases to profiling and behavioural analysis, engagement with websites or email campaigns - to preferences set by the individual. The skill lies in effective collection of data and the ability to analyse, understand and make use of the data at hand. And it’s actually extremely exciting what can be achieved by mastering these skills.

The experience for a fan starts way before they are anywhere close to the stadium. Every interaction with the club, whether it be on the website or via direct channels of communication are important to each supporter’s connection with the team. Positive experiences start by using data to give relevant and personal communication. Making sure that our branding and our message is tailored to the fan, will ensure that they are connected in the right way. Not all fans are the same and it’s a sure bet that 55 year old, John, doesn’t want to be spoken to in the same way as Emily, aged 12. If we strike the right notes with each group of people, their experience of our club will improve dramatically.

We can also use simple pieces of data, such as a birthday to deliver a specific message that is appropriately timed. Leicester City say their birthdays offer is the most popular among fans. Such is the case that some fans who haven’t received the offer actually write to the club to find out why. It works by a schedule of automated email communications that go out in the lead up to a birthday, containing offers for discounted tickets and upgrades to hospitality packages. The club generates over £230,000 from this alone each season.

The fan experience is so much more than the couple of hours spent at a game, and much of this experience now lies in a digital landscape. With the average Premier League fan attending 2-3 games per season and an ever growing audience of overseas fans, the true fan experience is more digital than ever before. A club’s website is the focal point, yet a club also needs to expand its digital footprint across multiple web and social channels. These channels give us many opportunities to engage fans more closely to the team. Our ability to embrace this approach, and to collect the data to make interactions more personal at any opportunity, is what leads to better success in engagement and monetisation of fans.
There are many contributing techniques to achieving this. A club philosophy of CRM (customer relationship management) should be the root of any data strategy in order to give the club a central 360 degree view of each fan. Centralising data sources is fundamental to providing an experience that has consistency across all channels. We’ve already eluded to the necessity of audience segmentation in order to speak to different people in an appropriate way, something that plays a large part in accomplishing our goals. We can use personalised websites (PURLs) to present fans with that personal touch online, especially useful for key supporter groups such as season ticket holders. A growing number of clubs are taking this approach and our partner CRM agency, 4Sight Sport & Leisure, has worked with many clubs from Birmingham City, West Brom and Wolves to Rugby clubs such as Harlequins and St.Helens to deliver this effectively.

A loyalty points programme is another excellent way of increasing the level of engagement, whilst collecting valuable data. Just like you’re used to doing with your favourite supermarket or coffee shop, you’ll collect points for all of your interactions with the club. As you’d expect, you can reward transactions, but you can also reward fans with points at any point of data collection, such as early attendance and digital engagement. The unique thing about this is that in sport we have a number of highly desirable assets, such as behind the scenes experiences that will get a supporter much more excited about the programme than a minor discount on future purchases. Through this approach we’ve seen matchday spend increase ($3 per head at Philadelphia Union) as well as positive behaviour changes (59% increase in early attendance at Seattle Sounders).

There are endless examples of successes from using and understanding data in order to improve the fan experience. Far more than can be squeezed into a 2 page article! One last area that must be mentioned however, is the ability to connect fans with our sponsors. When a sponsor applies itself to the fan’s relationship with the club, rather than just a brand exposure, it’s been proven to have a dramatic effect. The fan will have a much more enjoyable experience with that third party and the sponsor will see a greater return on their investment.

The modern fan experience has become more of a digital one than ever and the key to driving this both inside and outside of the stadium is through effective use of data.

Download the UCFB Journal of Sports Business, featuring this article.


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