2014 Sports

How Leagues, Teams Are Using Data to Boost Ticket Sales, Retain Fans, Help Marketers

Data Moves From the Field to the Front Office

By Published on .

Forget the first downs, strikeouts and three-point percentages. Some of the most important data in sports is streaming through the front office.

The National Basketball Association began automating marketing communications based on 10 years worth of fan-purchase data this season. Through its 2-year-old Fan Marketing and Research division, the Chicago Bears franchise has wrangled what was once a sprawling set of databases into one integrated system. And, starting this season at Citi Field, home to the New York Mets, Major League Baseball is testing mobile sensors placed throughout ballparks that aim location-specific messages at fans through a mobile app.

US Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Suns
US Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Suns

The NBA's Team Marketing and Business Operations division can see data across all teams at a league level, said Amy Brooks, senior VP of the division. The group consults with its basketball clubs, providing insights on tech tools and best practices for ticket sales, seating, fan retention and, of particular interest to marketers, sponsorship-campaign measurement. Over the past few years the group developed its customer-analytics database, consisting of more than 26 million unique names of fans who have bought tickets or all-access passes or interacted with the league's teams over the past 10 years.

The league applies a score to each fan based on his propensity to buy tickets and provides teams with updated fan scores each day.

"Our teams are becoming increasingly sophisticated at using data to reward fans, retain fans, acquire new fans and prove that [sponsor] partnerships work, so they're very cooperative and very eager to use not just the data that we provide but other types of data as well," said Ms. Brooks.

The NBA's Phoenix Suns tested a service from Verizon's Precision Marketing Insights last season that tracks fans' mobile phones from the auditorium to sponsor locations to gauge impact of in-game sponsorships. Though Verizon provides measurement data in aggregate, such novel tracking technologies as present controversial privacy concerns.

"In the last five years we've been in this massive data-collection phase," said Steve Seiferheld, senior VP of Turnkey Intelligence, a research firm that conducts sponsorship surveys and provides software to clients including NBA and the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning. Today, clients are beginning to invest in staff and consulting services to learn from that information, he said.

Before the Chicago Bears began using Oracle's Eloqua software to integrate disparate databases, someone who bought team gear online and also signed up for a Bears email newsletter may have received two promotional team emails in an hour or two. Now, the team knows where there's overlap.

The football club analyzed results data from promotions and used it to inform a new approach for marketing its annual draft party to season-ticket holders who typically don't attend them. After offering special incentives to season-ticket holders who purchase draft-party tickets in a pre-sale -- such as expedited wait times in player-autograph lines -- the Bears sold out draft-party tickets in around an hour.

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