NEW YORK -- Up until a few years ago, most sports franchises didn't even know they needed CRM systems. Today, they couldn't run without them.
"Prior to 2006, we didn't understand the power of data, and even then, it took three years to convince [leadership]." Charlie Shin, director of CRM and analytics for Major League Soccer, said during the closing panel at the CRM Evolution conference Aug. 21.
Across MLS, a lot of teams were—and in some cases, still are—using their ticketing systems as CRM systems or their CRM systems strictly for ticket sales, he said.
The same was happening in the National Basketball Association, added Josh McNutt, director of data strategy, team marketing, and business operations for the NBA, where the league office has been aggregating and analyzing team data for years.
Part of the problem, according to Russell Scibetti, director of relationship and database marketing for the New York Jets football team, was that teams were selling out their stadiums for every home game, and so they didn't think they needed to do any more.
But, as many teams found out, winning streaks only last so long. "Winning cures all ills in our business," said Dennis Nelson, director of CRM and technology at Comcast-Spectacor, a Philadelphia-based company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, the Wells Fargo Center, and several other businesses that provide sports and event concessions, ticketing, and facilities management.
But, when the winning stops, many fair-weather fans stop coming to the games, and selling tickets isn't so easy any more, Nelson said.
That's when teams have to be creative, and when they start to see the real value of their CRM systems.
CRM, Scibetti said, provides an "opportunity for fan engagement. It can be effective for revenue generation, but it's more important to engage with fans."
Andrew Sofer, CRM administrator/developer for the New York Mets baseball team, agreed. The Mets, he said, uses its Microsoft Dynamics CRM system for the segmentation of fans. Marketing to someone buying a group of tickets for his family has to be different than to someone buying a block of seats for his corporation, he added.
But even then, there are so many ways for fans to express their interest in a team that it is hard to keep track of them all. "There are just so many ways that fans can interact with us," McNutt said. "They can come to the game, buy tickets, wear a jersey, vote online for their favorite players for the all-star game."
For teams, the challenge, then, is converting casual fans to die-hard team advocates, Nelson said. Teams can have millions of fans, but only a few thousand can attend the games. "You want to be sure that they're spending money, not that they're just wearing a hat or t-shirt and watching the game on TV at home," he said.
Regardless of the sport, teams need to get away from looking at CRM as a tool to sell more tickets, all the panelists agreed. "[CRM} has got to be much broader. It's got to be about the whole fan experience," Shin said.
"It's got to be about customer loyalty, creating a much more personalized experience for every fan," Scibetti added.
To do so, Sofer explained, requires understanding each customer better, which comes from integrating as many data systems as possible.
And then, while team competition is good on the playing field, it doesn't always work in the larger sports industry. "Information has to be shared throughout the league for the benefit of all teams," McNutt said. "We all need to share and operationalize [CRM] best practices."