• September 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The Numbers Game

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Sports today is all about statistics—runs batted in and earned run averages, free-throw percentages and three-point scoring, penalty minutes, goals scored, and shots blocked. In just the past year or so, a handful of teams have also started collecting stats around fan behavior at their favorite stadiums and their own marketing success.

Arguably, though, sports is very early in the CRM deployment cycle compared to other industries.

Major League Soccer (MLS) in June became the first professional sports league to tap into the wealth of fan data to improve the fan experience and boost team loyalty. Using SAS Analytics, it hopes to grow its fan base by integrating data from club-level ticketing, league-level merchandise sales, and digital subscriptions. Then predictive analytics and data mining will help league officials better understand what fans want. With these insights, MLS plans to deliver additional fan services and increase ticketing and merchandising opportunities for the 19 teams in the league.

"Avid soccer fans are the lifeblood of MLS, and SAS Analytics will help us secure a direct path to our most loyal and valuable supporters, which in turn makes our clubs stronger," said Howard Handler, MLS's acting chief marketing officer, in a statement. "SAS will allow us to learn more about those ardent supporters so we can, ultimately, improve marketing communications."

The Orlando Magic, a small-market NBA franchise, is also using SAS Analytics to improve the fan experience. The team pools fan purchasing history, including sales at concession stands and team stores, into a central data warehouse. It applies analytics to the data to compile a big-picture view of all customer activity. A Web portal delivers that data to essential parts of the organization, including ticket sales, corporate partnerships, and client services, letting employees work with the same information.

Another team using SAS solutions is the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. "We interact with fans in several ways, and SAS analyzes data from all those sources," says Jim Alexander, senior director of business analytics for the Pirates. "We use SAS to build powerful predictive models that draw out customer insights and help us deliver the right offers to the right fans."

The Boston Red Sox use Sports CRM from Green Beacon Solutions for just the same purpose, and with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets gain valuable insight into their fans. CallCopy's cc:Discover call recording, quality management, screen capture, agent coaching, and workforce optimization tools even help the Blue Jackets make sure agents in the team's call centers are making the most of every interaction with fans.

"In today's competitive marketplace, sports organizations like the Boston Red Sox need to use innovative technologies to drive their business forward," said Benjamin Holtz, president and CEO of Green Beacon Solutions, in a statement.

But these few organizations are unique in their capacity to understand fans. According to Andrew McNeilly, director of SAS for Sports, few teams or leagues are at that level of sophistication when it comes to fan or sponsor data. "Sports organizations are a lot less mature [than other industries] in their ability to manage data," he says. "They want to add a layer of sophistication in how they interact with their fans, but they do not have a lot of data about them."

Or, when teams do have data, it's often scattered in disparate systems that cannot interact with one another. "They have multiple systems—separate ones for food and beverage, tickets, merchandising concessions. They do not have a single, integrated database," McNeilly says.

Adding to the data complexity, some teams have started to bring in third-party firms to collect fan demographics, such as age, gender, and income levels, to help them further refine their marketing efforts.

Regardless of what's at stake, sports teams traditionally haven't seen the need to invest in centralized data warehouses or products to make sense of their fan data, McNeilly explains. "They invest most of their money in their on-the-field product. They figure that if the team wins, the fans will come."

That's not always the case, which leaves a wide opening for CRM to help improve operations. "Even a small, incremental lift in game attendance can make a huge difference," McNeilly says. "If you sell an extra 500 seats to each game at fifty dollars each, there's a huge benefit right there."

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