Unified customer databases are helping to boost the sport's renewed marketing efforts.
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Sport franchises have the advantage of marketing to some of the most loyal customers in any industry, but as Major League Baseball (MLB) found out in 1994, even diehard fans can be disheartened by a sport that goes on strike. It took MLB years--and a fevered Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home-run race in 1998--to regain its stature as America's pastime. Today, the National Hockey League (NHL) faces a similar dilemma as it attempts to recover from its own yearlong strike, although its franchises, unlike MLB, can take advantage of more enhanced CRM solutions.
"For the most part sport franchises don't need to go out and win their customers, the customers come to them," says Chris Charron, an analyst and vice president at Forrester Research. "While their use of CRM technology isn't going to be complex or far-ranging, sport franchises need to take a proactive approach and contact their fan bases directly."
Most franchises use CRM products for basic marketing like email distribution, ticket-holder customer databases, and fan clubs. However, fans often will contact their team directly for anything from tickets to sports accessory information. Charron says this is a missed opportunity that franchises need to exploit. "In terms of customer touch points, fans engage with team brands, such as logos. In addition, sport fans are generally quite tech savvy, so franchises should provide as many ways to incorporate that into their Web sites [to] receive fan feedback and information. Then you've got something going.
"Franchises need to open up to fans and listen to what they think about their teams, scheduling, promotions, etcetera. They need to establish a two-way relationship and receive feedback and input," Charron says. "With that information they can start really getting into the nuts and bolts of CRM with relevant email campaigns, marketing specials, promotions--all of which are well targeted and relevant to the individual segments of their fan base."
Doug Ryan, director of ticket sales for the Chicago Blackhawks, agrees: "Over the past 10 years, sport franchises have really begun to learn the importance of reaching out to their fan base. The advent of CRM technology during this time period has only improved their ability to do so."
Charron says combining CRM with a proactive approach to customer communication will aid the NHL's recovery. NHL franchises are beginning to record customer data directly from touch points, including team Web sites, box offices, and more recently, Ticketmaster. "By integrating their customer databases with Ticketmaster, franchises are working with up-to-date, unified data that enables them to adjust their marketing messages faster than retooling a ticket drive on an annual basis. They're receiving the data to create targeted marketing messages based on their fans' history of interactions with their team instead of relying on a media outlet to send a generic message. That's how you get fans excited about a sport--a brand if you will--after having been absent for over a year."
As far as the technology is concerned, Charron maintains that once the business strategy is set, the sports industry will better leverage the appropriate solutions. "Many franchises are only beginning to delve into the full capabilities of CRM solutions. Once they begin taking a more proactive approach and start reaching out to their fans, they'll really be able to exploit CRM's benefits."
The Blackhawks' Revitalized Game
Driven by last year's National Hockey League (NHL) strike (and in part by MLB's 1994 lockout), NHL teams are looking to put fans' fannies back into the seats. The Chicago Blackhawks recently turned to FrontRange Solutions' GoldMine product to enhance customer relationships. Doug Ryan, director of ticket sales for the Blackhawks, says that it's "about reaching out to our fan base with a personalized touch. GoldMine gave us the ability to see that our Web site was the most efficient sales touch point we have."
On the experiential side of fan relations, when a fan visits the team's Web site and makes ticket inquiries, GoldMine imports that customer contact information into a database and automatically assigns each fan a sales representative. The fan then receives a personalized email with the sales rep's contact information. The rep receives alerts that add the fan's contact information to the rep's call list and calendar.
The entire process takes place in real time, which enables sales reps to call fans while they are still browsing the Blackhawks' Web site. For an added personal touch, GoldMine automatically checks its customer database daily for special-meaning days, such as birthdays, and emails appropriate fans a note with an illustration of a birthday cake occupying the face-off circle. GoldMine has increased the efficiency of the Blackhawks' sales team by 50 to 75 percent, according to Ryan.
"The old days of looking through a notebook or binder for customer information are gone," he says. "While many NHL teams are utilizing CRM to reach out to their fans this year, the use of CRM in sports is across the board. The strikes have pushed CRM to the forefront of sports. More and more teams are really trying to become more customer friendly and are really going after their fans a lot better." --C.B.
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