• October 1, 2006
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Market Focus: Sports and Entertainment: CRM for Bleacher Creatures

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How has CRM improved customer relationships in sports? Some might cite the damage control associated with labor strikes, or the marketing frenzy connected to a playoff run. These situations do tend to get customer service issues attention in major league sports, but CRM is now being adopted by franchises in some of the smaller leagues in an effort to expand their fan bases. The recent startup of professional sports leagues like the WNBA and AFL (Arena Football League) has created a new range of teams and sports for fans to choose from. Ensuring that a team's marketability isn't lost among its larger brethren is important if smaller leagues are to grow. This last point is especially true when considering venues like New York and Los Angeles, two cities with multiple franchises and huge fan bases. Franchises use CRM products mostly for the basics (email distribution, ticket-holder customer databases, and fan clubs and loyalty programs), to keep fans informed of promotions, schedules, and team events. But it's crucial that franchises establish a two-way relationship with their fan base to receive feedback and input. "It's important that franchises pay attention to their fan base to uncover patterns such as purchasing habits," says Chris Forrest, customer service coordinator for the L.A. Sparks. "With that sort of information franchises can start offering their fans more relevant promotions, expanding their fan base at the same time." Many sports franchises big and small are now recording customer data directly from touch points, including team Web sites, box offices, and, more recently, Ticketmaster, in an effort to communicate with fans directly. "By integrating their data 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," says Chris Charron, an analyst and vice president at Forrester Research. "They're receiving the data to create targeted messages based on their fans' history of interactions with their team instead of relying on a media outlet to send a generic message." CASE STUDY L.A. SPARKS: A Marketing Fire Spreads
The WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks is one example of a smaller sports franchise expanding its fan base with more CRM. The franchise, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, adopted a new marketing program from vendor Smart Button in May after the team saw other California teams--the Padres and the Raiders--adopt the same program. Season ticket holders often purchase multiple seats. Never ones to let their seats go to waste, these ticket holders usually invite friends and family members. "These guest fans represent a huge opportunity for sports teams to grow their fan base," says Chris Forrest, customer service coordinator for the Sparks. With Smart Button the Sparks manage all of their email blasts to fans and also offer fan club members their own online accounts, which inform them of upcoming games, practices open to the public, team events, and more. In conjunction with the new Smart Button software, the Sparks took things a step farther by starting their new loyalty program, Home Court Advantage. It's the brainchild of Johnny Buss, team president, who gained valuable experience in marketing smaller sports as the manager of an indoor soccer team. The program awards season ticket holders points for each seat they purchased for the season. Ticket holders can give those seats to other people, earning more points for each seat by informing the Sparks at ticket renewal time who's getting the seats. "Now we have [that fan's] information as well," Forrest says. "We can target them with emails, promotions, team events, et cetera. At the end of the season, the top three point-givers receive cash prizes of $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000." As a result, the Sparks have seen a sharp rise in late-season ticket sales this year. Forrest says the new rewards program has created "something of a frenzy" in Los Angeles. "Lots of people are starting to purchase group tickets. They're buying groups of tickets at a time to get back up to number one." While Forrest says he doesn't see the Home Court Advantage Program putting the team on par with some of L.A.'s bigger franchises, he does feel the program is "a step in the right direction." --C.B.
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