When Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics’ GM, approached the 2002 MLB draft, he threw out the old statistics teams used to gauge players. Avoiding subjective metrics like stolen bases and fielding percentage helped the A’s fill out their roster with undervalued players, and brought them to playoffs in 2002 and 2003. He saw through the noise and knew prospects inside and out by taking a cold, hard look at the data.
Sports marketers are in the midst of their own "Moneyball" moment, but now it’s time to look not at the lineup, but at fans. Throughout history, they had no choice but to reach consumers en masse via broadcast and wide-reaching awareness campaigns; the data they had told them almost nothing about their fans. At best, all they often knew was age or gender.
Now, marketers can truly “know” fans and reach them through numerous other channels. And each of those channels comes with its own hefty revenue opportunity—for example, with 650 million fans engaged with teams on Facebook alone, just a 1% conversion would be a massive windfall.
There is no other industry where consumers have such unbridled passion for a brand. What else inspires people to paint their faces, dress babies in logo apparel, and pass their loyalty down through multiple generations? Because of that loyalty, consumers share a staggering amount of data—ticketing, social likes, email address, etc. That data, of course, comes with a price. By sharing data willingly, they expect highly personalized, contextually relevant marketing in return.
A number of teams have started to unlock the power of first-party data collected directly from fans. With social logins, they have the ability to gather hundreds of brand affinities with a single tap. Data points like these create limitless possibilities in developing fan segments teams can reach with hyper-targeted messaging at the right time on the right channel (whether at the event, email, broadcast, etc.).
Teams who have leveraged first-party data have continued to sell out stadiums and arenas, and keep fans engaged before, during, and after games despite constant and noisy competition for consumers’ attention. Teams can even thrive during losing streaks with a consistent focus on the fan relationship. For example, they could discover their audience has a high affinity for the Grateful Dead, and then host a theme night.
For teams who don’t know how to personalize their marketing, or worse, don’t know how to reach their fans, the consequences will be long-lasting. The fewer tickets bought, the less historical ticketing data you can use to keep fans returning or bring in similar fans; the less fans are engaged, the less likely they are to enter a sweepstakes for merchandise; the fewer games fans attend, the less concession data you have to work with.
All that is to say, the future of your team depends on the present. Like Billy Beane’s "Moneyball" statistics, the data is out there, waiting for those willing to put in the effort to collect and use it. Fan loyalty gives sports marketers an advantage, but will only take them so far if they take it for granted; they must continue to improve the experience and give fans a reason to turn data over. Those who embrace fan data in order to engage fans both present and future will be unstoppable in the competition for fans’ wallets, where the only constant is that data is your most valuable asset.