The four major Boston sports franchises have combined for eight championships over the last 13 years, and consistently play in front of the some of the largest home crowds in their respective leagues.
But even though the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics all filled their venues to 94 percent capacity or better last season, club executives recognize the importance to improve the fan experience in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Jessica Gelman, the vice president of customer marketing and strategy for the Kraft Sports Group, introduced a panel that consisted of league and team front office administrators at the Experience Economy CIO Summit hosted by Extreme Networks at Gillette Stadium Tuesday night. They discussed how they’re attempting to apply data analytics to better suit the needs of their fans in the digital age, and the challenges that it brings.
NFL regular season attendance has decreased from 17.33 million fans in 2008 to 17.30 million spectators in 2013. As the at-home viewing experience continues to improve thanks to the advent of high-definition TV and programs like the Sunday Ticket Package, teams are struggling to convince potential costumers to attend home games. The Patriots, for example, had experienced their lowest season-ticket renewal rate ever prior to the 2011 campaign.
Gelman outlined strategies that the team has employed to retain its fan base, including rookie season-ticket holder orientations and an outreach method to those who are defined as “at risk” consumers. The club has enjoyed its highest season-ticket renewal rates ever since it implemented these policies, but Gelman recognizes that there is still room for improvement.
“Right now, we only know approximately one-third of the fans in the stadium,” said Gelman. “We are working on getting to know everyone who attends games.”
One way that Boston sports team executives are hoping to better personalize their relationships with consumers is through the instillation of iBeacons in their home stadiums and arenas. iBeacons are bluetooth-powered location systems that communicate with apps installed on iPhones through a transmitted signal. For example, clubs could alert fans of special offers that are available at concession stands and pro shops assuming they have the team’s app installed.
But in order for data aggregation and analytics to be effective, Gelman says the technology has to be used judiciously.
“iBeacon is interesting, but we need to know how to harness it to improve the customer experience,” said Gelman. “We don’t want to inundate the customer with ads. It’s no different from the issues we have with spam marketing today — how to make the information timely, relevant and not obnoxious.”
NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle agrees that it’s imperative for these innovations to augment, and not hinder fans’ enjoyment when they attend games.
“We’ve wanted to ensure that technology is complimentary to the fan experience, and not a distraction to it,” said McKenna-Doyle. “You’re almost better off not having anything if you’re not going to think about it as a complimentary aspect of that experience.”
Arguably one of the most important necessities that an organization must possess to supply high-quality customer service is knowledge about its client base. Red Sox Vice President of Technology Brian Shield says he’s focused on personalizing the relationship between the franchise and its fans.
“We struggle with understanding the individual fan himself,” said Shield. “We’ve been working on our loyalty program. … We’re interested in everything from ticket information, how they consume concessions and merchandising.
“We’re looking for a 360-degree view of the fan. Right now we only have a 90-degree view of some fans.”
Laura Zexter, the director of business intelligence and solutions for the Bruins, says she wants to gather information about everyone who’s in the arena, and not just those who bought the tickets.
“Mobile and digital ticketing is huge for this industry to put in place, because right now we only know the season ticket holder who purchased the tickets,” said Zexter. “We want to know how long people are waiting in line to get into the building, and what the traffic flow is. We can segment those who are a part of our TD Garden app, and send them push notifications.”
The Celtics Vice President of Technology Jay Wessland is also trying to gage how to best familiarize people in the organization with those who attend the club’s home contests.
“We don’t want to just know the fans,” said Wessland. “We want to know what they’re thinking. We survey them all the time and take phone calls, but the problem with that is we only hear about bad experiences – it’s the squeaky wheel. We want to hear from fans who don’t fall within an extreme.”
Wessland and other executives possess the tools to harness the data that they covet. Now the challenge is properly applying, and interpreting it.
“People is the biggest thing that’s [holding us back],” said Wessland. “We know how to ask the questions, but it’s about finding people who know how to move our data into big data tools. Those kinds of people are still hard to come by.”