Activating the fan base

Marketing and CRM automation in professional sports

Football stadium

Activating the fan base

In many ways, sports fans are the ideal customers. They are extremely loyal to their club or team, making them vocal promoters of the brand. Sports fans also represent a highly mobile and social community; a group of active followers with levels of devotion and attachment that regular commercial brands can only dream of. Even with COVID quarantines and restrictions in place, sports fans still want to be engaged and involved in the day-to-day events and activities of their favorite club. Yet it seems that far too many sports organizations take this loyalty for granted and do not use the full potential of their fan base, despite having at their disposal a wide range of modern marketing tools. And with revenue from ticket sales dropping significantly (or even being practically removed from the equation), seeking other revenue streams is more important than ever.

It’s about how you use it

The issue is not that sports clubs, teams and venues don’t use marketing automation and CRM tools to manage and interact with their fan base. In fact, almost all of them do, but most sports organizations are not using their platform to its full potential. In many cases, we find out that they are not aware of how to put the data collected from their fans to increase engagement and data monetization.

The use of marketing and CRM tools in professional sports depends on the same cornerstone as in standard retail industries: aggregating customer data, linking the details that are collected, and creating a multi-angle perspective on the fan. Knowing more about your fans lets you segment them into smaller target groups whose needs and activities can be addressed individually. A thorough overview of their behavioral and transactional history lets you create personalized communication and deliver the next best actions to relevant fans.

Football fans in yellow jerseys

The right message to the right fans

With better customer data, messaging can be targeted at individual level. A recurring fan who only buys single match tickets? Perhaps they would be interested in a season pass at a discounted price. How about an avid fan of a particular player? Let’s send them a special offer for a new jersey or other merchandise with that player’s name. And when organizing a pre-season ‘virtual meet-up' with the players, it’d be great to send a personalized invitation to all the fans who haven’t missed a single home match last season.

It’s not just tickets, passes and offers, though. Having better fan data allows the club to align with the right sponsors who are more enthusiastic about supporting the club when they know that their image, brand or message is a good match with the fan base. Fan loyalty can be also converted into a loyalty scheme, or even a gamified program where the fans engage with their club on another level. Knowing that sports fans are passionate about gameplay is halfway to success here. Last but not least, sports have robust media presence and generate tons of content in photos, videos and events. A skilled marketing team can take advantage of it, boosting their communication with authentic messages through relevant channels.

Making it work

Let’s consider a few hypothetical situations and realistic responses that a sports club can put in place using CRM. Most professional sports clubs operate some kind of community hub or center for their fans. However, just because fans are registered in the community hub doesn’t mean they are actively participating in it. It could very well be that 80 % of the registered fans haven’t ever progressed beyond the “Congrats, you’re now a registered member” introductory email. How should we proceed to activate the passive fans and generate more revenue from other streams than just from ticket sales?

Fan data from the community hub has value on its own, but the key to making the most of it is to align it with any other data the club has. Aggregating or linking the data sources can reveal a tremendous amount of information: fan activity can be viewed in terms of ticket or merchandise sales, match planner tool may be enhanced with historic ticket sales data, and much more. Breaking down the individual siloes and consolidating the data unlocks the door to its full use.

Goalkeeper reaching out for the ball

Quality trumps quantity

One of the goals of activating the passive part of the fan community is to create finer customer segmentation. As mentioned above, the club may have multiple data sources, and aggregating them often reveals duplicities or redundancies. The first step after the aggregation takes place should therefore focus on cleaning up the sources.

Once in possession of a unified, comprehensive data source, another powerful tool can be applied: behavioral analysis of fan interactions. Thanks to AI-driven platforms that employ rapidly iterating machine learning algorithms, it becomes easier to create true 360-degree fan profiles, define smaller segments, personalize and automate marketing communication, and engage primarily those fans who show good potential for future interaction. One such platform is Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which Merkle implements to great success.

Having a (near) complete understanding of existing fans and their interactions is a great stepping stone in the process; however, CRM enables sports clubs to venture beyond that. By connecting the DMP (data management platform) to e.g. advertising platform, the club can create and direct targeted online advertising not just to its current fans, but also anonymous visitors whose profile is a good match (lookalike audiences). This enables the club to grow its fan base in an organic way that creates significant prospects for future communication over diverse channels including social media.

Looking to the future

Implementing a versatile CRM platform such as Salesforce can define a powerful long-term marketing strategy for a professional sports club, but it also enables easier intermediate steps such as insourcing of retail business from external merchandising partners or building comprehensive Business Intelligence capability – publishing fully automated insights and reports to measure and optimize their KPIs. Unlocking the full potential of Salesforce solutions lets sports clubs boost previously underperforming revenue streams and adapt to changes in interaction with their fan base. The expertise of Merkle's Salesforce consultants, project leads, developers and specialists makes this possible.