• September 1, 2016
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Keeping ’Em on the Team

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September has arrived, and with it the pro football season, America’s favorite variety of sportsball. For the next 16 weeks, teams of extremely large men will brutalize one another in pursuit of a brown leather egg in order to have a shot at the championship. Counting the postseason playoffs leading up to the Super Bowl, we’ll be hearing and seeing football until the end of January.

It’s not just the NFL that will draw our national attention; college football is nearly as popular and is responsible for the bulk of university revenues as well as the future of the pro sport. Even high schools go nuts for their teams’ weekend matchups, especially in the Midwest. Despite the risk of concussion and other injury, football is the driving force in many young men’s lives.

It’s not just football, either. Baseball is about to head into the postseason, NHL hockey is just a month away, and the NBA follows close behind. Needless to say, professional sports are a big deal, with billions of dollars to be earned from eager fans. League and team sales reps are doing everything they can to get more butts in seats and otherwise generate as much brand presence as possible.

Considering our national hunger for team sports, you’d think this wouldn’t be hard. For example, I have a nephew (young cousin, really, but you know how it is) who locked himself in the bathroom for two hours at a family gathering when the New York Rangers were eliminated from postseason play. For the rest of the evening, he was clearly on the verge of tears. Fans have been known to riot when their team loses, and when their team wins. Philadelphia fans riot on days ending in the letter y. How tough can it be to get fans to part with some green?

As it turns out, there’s more to it than holding out your hand and waiting for people to put money into it. Ticket sales are an important revenue source, but many games are televised. The leagues used to be able to black out games in local markets, but cable, satellite, and the internet have made that impractical. Fans who buy tickets are gold, and season ticket holders are even more valuable. The solution to keeping this money faucet flowing is CRM.

For the past few years, CRM luminaries Paul Greenberg and Brent Leary have made a focus on CRM in sports and have treated CRM Evolution attendees to a presentation of best practices in the leagues and teams. As always, the key is personal attention and a complete view of the customer. Occasional ticket buyers can be enticed to attend games to celebrate life events like birthdays, but only if the sales agent has that info for fans and their children. Fans who buy regularly are ripe for upselling to season tickets, and there are always upgrades to be had. Agents always have something to start a conversation with—the team performance and current events.

That’s great for teams with winning records or big stars. But what about the teams that suck? I’m no stranger to this situation; as a Long Island kid I leaned toward the Mets and not the Yankees, and preferred the Islanders to the Rangers. My support of traditionally mediocre teams may help to explain my lack of interest in sports today.

Again, it’s the relationships that keep interest. Sports fans tend to operate on equal parts nostalgia and optimism, which good sales agents can tap into. CRM can help, especially when multigenerational fan families are involved. So what if the team is at the bottom of the standings? Evoke memories of a weekend day at the game, eating hot dogs with your dad, and feelings will make the sale for you. Talk about your own memories from past years when the team wasn’t so hot, and you can form a bond with that fan; even if it doesn’t result in a sale, you’ve strengthened his connection to the team.

Team loyalty is a special kind of brand loyalty, one that’s almost as strong as family ties and long friendships. Nurturing those feelings of pride and nostalgia is championship-level CRM play.

 Marshall Lager is the head coach and star player of Third Idea Consulting, helping big league companies play to win. Come play catch at www.3rd-idea.com or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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