In February 2017, Spectra / Paciolan held their annual conference, bringing together thought leaders and pros in the world of college athletics and venues for discussions on ticket sales techniques, fan engagement, digital and social marketing strategies, and more.
I had the opportunity to attend much of this great conference down in Newport Beach, CA, and picked up countless nuggets of wisdom, as well as insights from the presentations, stats, and examples and case studies presented. Here are 15 of them:
Fans are looking for tickets on mobile, but more of the money is still on desktop
There are 483,000 searches or live event on Google EVERY DAY. While other digital channels and ads have certainly grown, fans are still most inclined to search for something they want, especially on mobile. In fact, 64% of Google’s ticket sales queries in 2016 came via mobile search.
The one caveat, however, is that conversion rates and overall sales revenue remain higher on desktop. The reasons why are not entirely clear, but a supposed combination of a different mindset of the mobile user and the so-so mobile purchase flow on most platforms. But it’s growing and improving. A compelling stat from the conference revealed that, for the first time ever, mobile comprised the majority of overall ticket sales (by quantity) at 52%.
Broad lesson: Make sure you’re thinking ahead. If you’re posting a link on Twitter, where most user are mobile, are you linking to a mobile-friendly page? Is there a better way?
Personalization is prime
It may be a bit more convenience and novelty to click on a merchandise link and see that offer personalized with one’s name or favorite player. Such personalization is becoming more of an expectation on the consumer side. But it has only just begun and will only grow, but is only as effective as the data collected and the nuts and bolts to execute it.
UVA is getting the most they can out of social media
Many marvel at the social media of a handful of college athletics programs, often citing Clemson as the best of breed. They have a talented, sizable team that helps create such content and experiences. Greg Driscoll, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Promotions at the University of Virginia, noted the Cavaliers have a social media hub/team staffed with ten students. The students are unpaid, but UVA rewards them with experience and opportunities to network and learn. With a focus on driving fan engagement through user-generated content, Driscoll noted that, especially for video, Snapchat drives more UGC to use than Twitter or other platforms.
New fans are tougher to come by than retaining old fans
The keynote speaker to open the conference was former NFL player and longtime college athletics and pro sports leader Oliver Luck. He was quite charismatic and offered a notable opinion that developing younger fans is more important, even at the expense of worrying about alienating older fans [because they’re hard to alienate]. Younger fans need to be excited to go to a game, to an event, and won’t just go because there’s nothing better to do, combined with a sense of loyalty.
Groups getting easier
In an age of Venmo, Messenger, and group communication and experiences, streamlining and improving the group buying experience is an exciting opportunity for new sales and facilitate games becoming fun social outings. It’s less about group leaders and more about making it easier to invite a few friends to a group and each individual pay their way. The key is to mind it or mobile, too.
Michigan is mixing marketing with excitement
Many of us can appreciate the moments when fans are on an emotional high, when they’re most likely to want to eagerly anticipate seeing their favorite team[s] play. The Wolverines seek to capitalize on the excitement of football season starting, by packaging along with them, hockey and basketball. The result – 93% of multi-sport student season tickets are sold in single sales to students. When your biggest fans are ready to buy, one can anticipate their future possible desires, that’ll give them more of that excitement and emotion.
Michigan also wants to incentivize early arrival, so has a points system that rewards fans for arriving earlier, which affects their priority for seat selection the next year.
Mike Veeck says fear of failure can’t hinder innovation and creativity
Longtime baseball marketing exec (and son of the famous Bill Veeck) Mike Veeck was a delight and full of great knowledge gleaned through decades of experience and growing up in the space. His first piece of advice was to “Hire braves souls who aren’t afraid to fail.” Tying that to embracing creativity, he exhorted us all to ‘hold creative meetings with the same respect we hold sales meetings.’
It means treating creativity and innovation like it’s part of your job. It is! It’ also important to not be afraid of a bad idea or failure, lest one’s creativity and thirst to innovate is stifled.
Experience their experience
Another sage piece of advice delivered from Veeck was to have staff live the fan experience, to experience the pain points, and to just walk a day in their shoes. Sitting in traffic around game time, instead of arriving hours earlier, and attempting to leave after the game ended, instead of long after the lots have emptied. Surveys, studies, and social can give clues to fan experience, good and bad, but there’s nothing like just experiencing it onself.
The difference between creating demand and meeting demand
The Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group has some games and events to promote that are seeking to get fans to buy tickets — when there is a need to create demand. Other OSEG events are highly desired and, therefore, the objective seeks to best meet that demand, and capitalize on it. The strategy and tactics for each goal are different and, while you’re still promoting an event and excitement for it, the two distinct scenarios necessitate different actions.
Keys to hiring right, from Disney
I was struck by the simple, succinct points around what makes for the best job candidates, according to David Millay of Disney. They look for people that truly buy into the mission of the organization, and such belief seeps through. They care about the organization and purpose, not just the job. Another good note was to seek people that can communicate well. I have yet to notice any role and any job that isn’t optimized by the ability to effectively communicate.
If you’re resolving pain points, make sure the people who need to know, know
Fan experience and taking active steps to improve it are laudable considerations and goals. But communicating those improvements, especially to the people whom it affects the most, is essential. Communicating the fix/change/improvements is just as important as making the improvements itself.
Data is useless without strategy and organization
Every year, sophistication of data collection grows and grows. Some organizations are just starting out and not as far along as others. But there were some great lessons presented from a panel at PacNet featuring speakers from Turnkey Intelligence, SSB, and USC. The initial consensus was that a full-time data person was needed to pull it all together and interpret and communicate it effectively. USC Senior Associate Athletic Director or Development Tim Martin noted the importance of having an internal champion behind putting the data into action.
When actively deployed through messaging and content, there is no more spam, it’s tailored and, therefore, welcomed, said Steve Hank of data warehouse and strategy group SSB. He emphasized the need to find ‘early wins’ to earn the buy-in to the use of such big data. Erika Gunerman of Turnkey added that data strategy needs to be well-organized (consistent nomenclature, for example) and that all data, just about, CAN be used, even if it’s the more ‘dark’ social and engagement metric, to separate the casual fans from the potential diehards; the leads with better ‘scores.’
Regarding the future of data deployment, Martin foresaw it all becoming more dynamic (responsive and reactive) and progressively more personalized (smarter with each input). An exciting time ahead!
Stanford is making it easier on mobile
Stanford had an impressive strategy presented, revolved around a synergy of search, social, and optimizing purchase flow as much as they were able in controlled environments. They utilized microsites, mobile landing pages, Twitter cards, and Spectra’s integration with the Facebook Events API to, as much as possible, cut down on clicks to confirmation [of purchase]. Even if each little step isn’t going to explode the sales, each step together will move the needle and will result in better, more effective fan experiences on the platforms and place they’re spending their time.
Authenticity has a look…and it’s not highly produced
On a panel discussing digital marketing, content, and advertising strategy, an oh-so-simple, but oft-overlooked insight was reiterated — younger audiences want authenticity. And, for digital and social content, authentic has a certain appearance that shows it’s real, it’s in the moment, it wasn’t carefully prepared for its advertising audience. Along with that, too, was the a-ha to repurpose content that garners social proof (and proof of success among the consumer base) from social to other creative channels. Social is your focus group that will be real and respond when you keep it real and authentic.
Fan Development and Feverish Fan Development
Everybody is out to add more to their fan base. But identifying and cultivating more avidity among current fans can be just as valuable. It was interesting to hear Ole Miss makes this point, with the success to back it up. They appreciate on not just creating customers to come out to games, but fans that live and breathe the Rebels brand every day, and feel a part of something bigger than themselves. When fans can think about you daily, that’s powerful. “We want to turn fans into followers…[so that] It consumes you,” said Jim Hanauer, Assistant Athletic Director for Digital Strategy and Analytics for Ole Miss Athletics.
A little mobile can go a long way
Everyone at PacNet (and everywhere) knows that mobile is growing and growing in importance. But one stat stood out from one of the panels, coming from Ticketpop – a primary ticket provider based in Puerto Rico. One year, they had a website not too friendly to mobile users and no app presence. One year later, thanks to a mobile-friendly website, a mobile app, and a focus on putting ad dollars behind mobile platforms on search and social, they saw, well, massive growth. Ticketpop had a 742% growth in transactions on mobile and 615% growth in revenue from mobile web and app ticket sales. Impressive.
There was tremendous insight and knowledge shared at the Spectra-Paciolan conference, as there is every year, and it’s clear that innovation continues, that digital and social is becoming more important and more sophisticated, and, more than ever, folks are walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, when it comes to putting fans first and considering their needs, their personalization, and their experience.