Brand Engagement | Oct 4, 2016

It’s hot take time, live from the Leaders Fan Marketing Summit at Stamford Bridge, where around 200 sports executives have joined us to learn about how to reach fans, to communicate and engage with them, in all manner of ways. Our thanks to Andrew Serio and SportBusiness Group’s Kevin McCullagh for their insights.


Data is the new rock ‘n’ roll in the sports business, but it’s not all glamour

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Business Intelligence Centre of Excellence Lead Jonathan Carrigan described his team’s journey to harness big data to build the business’s understanding of individuals, transforming fan interaction from a “one to many into a one to one” mindset. MLSE faced challenges common to any organisation (low fan visibility, siloed data, etc.), and its solutions, as stressed by Carrigan, weren’t the glamorous cure-alls “that we initially sold to [the MLSE leadership] …but they transform our revenue opportunities and our efficiencies,” including “predicting season ticket renewal rates with a 2% accuracy rate.” Initial broad-reaching solutions included installing WiFi in all venues, improving CRM and analytics capabilities, and conducting fan journey and brand sentiment research to provide the building blocks upon which specific activation projects can take place. Several case studies exemplify MLSE’s hard-earned success: linking in-venue giveaways with digital equivalents connects the at-home audience to the live-game experience while launching the new Maple Leafs home kit in parallel with the NHL draft (where the Leafs had the #1 overall pick) “incentivises and rewards fans through mobile.”

Sport is a bunch of SME businesses with FTSE 100 profiles

So said Kevin McCullagh, recalling an old adage, in his excellent SportBusiness International live blog from the summit. The comment came at the end of his write-up of today’s first session, which closed on a solid shard of wisdom from Arsenal Head of Marketing Charles Allen. “We’re not big businesses; we haven’t got big portfolios; we just have to reach people; get them into a dialogue, and then value exchange to secure the data.” Simple. The sage Allen also warned against the right-spirited impulse to reach out to new female fans with the wrong-headed tactic of “shrinking and pinking.”

Your brand is a promise your business delivers

So could have said the Atlanta Hawks’ Peter Sorckoff. Instead, he said something fairly similar: “Brand = Promise of Performance.” To his knowledge, Sorckoff is the only Chief Creative Officer working in North American sport. What does the title mean? He’s not sure himself. His objective, however, has been clear from the start: identify the reasons behind the Hawks not being able to sell season tickets, then cleanse the franchise of its toxic image. A therapist by trade, and a story-teller by nature, Sorckoff’s first move was to attempt to shift the franchise from a transactional approach to fan communication, to a creative one. He put a creative overlay on the franchise’s problem: “are we serial daters?” He asked. “Are we fun to go out with once, but not the sort of guy you’re going to hitch your wagon to?” The answer, according to the large scale data crawl the franchise then undertook, was unfortunately an unequivocal yes. A total brand refit was then kick-started.

Number of sports rights holders who have nailed marketing to kids: zero

That figure courtesy of a straw poll taken by Sony Music Entertainment International Marketing Director Mathias Bluhdorn, disproving the theory that conferences like this are low on audience interaction. Luckily enough, Bluhdorn knows what he’s doing in this area. The UK Sony guys have a segment called ‘Teen Wannabes’, 8-11-year-old girls, of whom there are 400,000 in the country. They are into merchandise and physical items – toy-like items that they can put on a shelf. Digital interest comes later in life. Sony tried a TV ad campaign to promote One Direction – as if they needed it! The ad got zero response according to their marketing measurement – i.e. if they had spent zero money on the TV ads, they would have had the same impact in their target audience. That’s because the audience was all online. In the music industry, they launch lots of new brands every year – each new act is a new brand. To get the young fans into these brands takes time. Hard selling doesn’t work. Sony has to create whole worlds that are easy to discover by young fans. The pay-off comes later. For 1D, they paid two freelancers a monthly fee just to take care of a local Twitter account – expensive, but smarter money than buying TV ads.

There is no better time to be a marketer

Todd Taylor, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for the Indiana Pacers, gave attendees an in-depth look into his team’s journey to build its data analytics capabilities during a discussion with Mark Drosos, VP of Sales for Umbel. He also revealed his passion for the job – which is always nice to see. The Pacers were the 29th out of 30 NBA teams to redevelop their data analytics capabilities, so the team began with an in-depth review into lessons learned from other organisations – as Todd described, “even the science still begins with the art of what we’re trying to achieve.” The team used an iterative, hypothesis-based approach to improving its systems and developing its analytics capabilities, constantly asking the question: is what we’re doing valuable to the fans and to our organisation? The Pacers sought to incorporate third-party datasets (e.g. social data, demographic data) through partners such as Umbel to enrich their expanding dataset of fan information. Based on this new, rich information, the Pacers achieved successes through smarter allocation of marketing resources (increasing renewal rate of season tickets by 4%) and a fan campaign to select the best Pacers players as a part of its 50-year celebration.

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