A List of Sports Biz Insights and Stats from the Sloan Conference

The leaders in the sports business world are constantly on a quest to get bigger and better. They’re studying, predicting, measuring, analyzing, evolving. And many of them came together for the 2017 Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference. While the conference is very much about athlete and team performance, there is also a wealth of sports business stats and insights shared.

Here are 29 quick sports biz bytes from the conference, shared via Twitter from #SSAC17:
[See full recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 here. Lots more.]
*Leagues are evolving in their relationships with sponsors. The NFL talked about actively collaborating with corporate partners on all facets of the business of the league and he game. The success with Microsoft Surface was highlighted as a win.

*Fanatics has become such a dominant player in the sports merchandise space because of its robust digital offering that can act upon demand in an instant. An example cited was that after just five games into his breakout career, with his name hotter than ever, Joel Embiid’s jersey was one of the top-selling in the NBA, thanks to the speed of Fanatics.

*While this principle was stated from the NFL and MLB, it was a theme (and has been) for thought leaders for a while – content must be disseminated to reach fans at the places and on the platforms on which fans are consuming their content. Simple enough, right?

*Also from the NFL and MLB [and another recurring lesson] – a major key to the growth of any sport is youth participation. Get them playing, make them a fan while they’re, and there’s a better chance they’ll be fans for life.

*It’s great if you can collect data, but it’s all about what you do with it. Casey Wasserman clearly shared a lot of wisdom to SSAC attendees and this one resonated, as it should.

*Teams and leagues are now seeking to serve every fan, regardless of where or how they’re consuming and engaging. That means focusing during games on digital engagement, on the in-venue experience, and on the TV broadcast. Each offers an opportunity to engage, and treats every fan of the team with care.

*The FOMO acronym seemed to be another common consideration. It’s still about making others want to be there, at the game.

*Lots of talk about personalization. Ticketmaster envisioned reaching a place, soon, where every experience for fans is personalized – discovery, purchase, amenities. Team execs are similarly focused on personalization, particularly with fan messaging and in-venue experiences. The new norm is personalization, and it’s only going to get better.

*A stat that certainly stood out – 50-70% of Fanatics listings on Amazon are counterfeit. Bad news for consumers, perhaps fodder for teams to convince fans to buy from their stores. Or maybe teams should sell directly on Amazon.

*Every league is worried about the waning attention spans, and desire for ‘content snacks,’ of Millennials and Generation Z. The objective is not so much focused on shaving minutes off games, but more so about reducing dead time in games [NFL, MLB, NBA]. Less time between action. The NFL also noted adjusting their commercial ad structure, for something more fan-friendly.

*Some interesting findings from stats around Los Angeles Dodgers concessions – alcohol comprises 49% of concessions revenue. Perhaps not surprising, but interesting. Also from the Dodgers – fan cart size increased with self-serve kiosks, and the Dodgers saw concessions revenue and sales decrease when Clayton Kershaw pitch, because his starts were so much shorter. (And fans likely want to be in their seats to see the ace in action)

*Stats to consider from WWE – While we focus on so much on mobile TV viewing, just 15-20% of WWE Network viewing is on mobile devices. Even on the digital-only WWE Network, fans still seek out the big TV for their sports. Another eye-popping stat from WWE – 70% of their content consumption comes from outside the US.

*Wasserman Managing Partner Elizabeth Lindsey noted the need for sports leagues to focus on international growth, despite so much attention at home paid to driving youth, female, and minority viewership growth. The NBA has their eyes on India (looking for India’s version of Yao Ming), while the NFL is hoping to crack China. The NBA, in discussing their success growing the game and the league in China, noted that content was provided for free to a Chinese network to show on TV, building in exposure for the NBA and the game.
*Pretty impressive user and user engagement stats from Twitch. The esports and video game streaming platform boasts 100 million monthly active users, and their users average  a mind-blowing 140 minutes per day on Twitch.

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*The aspects of personalization are also of increasing concern when it comes to content and digital marketing. As more data is collected and put into action, greater degrees of custom experiences with content is a goal for the sports business industry, as well.

*Virtual reality and augmented reality were not surprisingly popular topics. A stat that stood out that either means future growth or stuck in the rut for VR is that the Consumer headset market for VR in the US is currently around six to ten million. One definite positive was the news from sports VR company STRVIR, which reported that it has been profitable the last two years.
*NBA Commissioner Adam Silver talked about how lucky they are to have players that market the league themselves, with all their activity on social media and in the media. The league also focuses on social media education and empowerment, which, along with willing and already social media-savvy players, makes for great success there.

*170+ million fans watched March Madness games in 2016. That’s a helluva number, and is certainly happening on an ever more diverse array of platforms now.

*Uninterrupted, the player-driven and video-focused content network co-founded by LeBron James, is not trying to displace journalism outlets like ESPN. Instead, explained Maverick Carter, their competition is more premium content producers, like HBO.

* This stat just stood out to me a bit…Which sport would you guess has the fifth most estimated fans in the world? I’ll give you a second…

It’s volleyball. I wouldn’t have guessed correctly.

*Good gambling stats to heed, as legalization expands in the US –> In Europe, sports gambling via mobile comprises 80% of the market and in-play [during the game/match] gambling makes up over 50% of total handle. Lots of $$ to come in this space for the US. That said, one limiting factor for such real-time gambling, it was noted, is the slowness/lag of data feeds delivering the stats.

*The CTO of Ticketmaster provided some fascinating insights on a panel at the conference. One that stood out to poder was that 68% of all tickets on Ticketmaster are sold after the original on-sale and presale. This could mean a lot of things, but mainly that most tickets are not bought early, which aligns with notion that fans are waiting to buy tickets.
Another ticket sales stat, that ws quite mind-blowing, was that there is an estimated $7 BILLION worth of arbitrage in the ticket sales market. You think teams want some of that/

*Another stat that opens some eyes for teams (via Ticketmaster) is that the names captured to tickets sold ratio is 1:2.8. Yep, nearly 3 of every 4 tickets are sold without teams knowing the identity of the buyer.

*The point was raised that there are two main cohorts of fans attending games. There are those fans that are there because they’re fans of the team and feel invested in them. And there are those who are there for the experience of attending the event, the spectacle (and, yeah, probably the social media fodder).

* A great insight from the San Francisco 49ers VP of Sales & Serivce Jamie Brandt, as he noted that, for Millennial fans, share-able experiences are valued far more than expensive things/items. Something to keep in mind for memorable fan experiences.

*An interesting stat from the panel on gambling was a study estimating that legalization of gambling would result in an average 10% increase in viewership for pro sports. Fans that are invested, literally, are engaged and don’t miss the game.

*In the ever-evolving world of tickets, paper and paperless, the 49es talked about everything from all-mobile ticketing to even a ‘biometric’ solution for fans of the future to gain entry into the game.

*As teams, leagues, and brands continue to try and do social media the right way, a statement that permeated and penetrated was that ‘Social media is for consuming content, not [conducting] transactions.’ (Though, Facebook Ads do work pretty well). Don’t forget why fans are there in their Feeds in the first place.

*There was a fascinating panel on sports journalism with Adrian Wojnarowski, Adam Schefter, and Ken Rosenthal that was full of good nuggets, some of which you can see in the SSAC recap. The powerhouse reporters talked about the nature of breaking news and how it’s not always so simple when you want to balance confirming vs. getting beat, and throwing in promises to sources to hold info until a certain time. They also spoke about the importance of building relationships and getting to know a lot of people in the industry, as well as getting to know the athletes as people. Other tips included a warning against burning bridges  (because word spreads quickly) and when reporting news answer and bring out the why and the how, not just the what.

*It’s a dialogue, not a monologue on social media. This is paraphrased from VP of Wasserman Mike Bernstein, which succinctly reinforces the need to remember the social in social media. If you’re the only one talking, that’s broadcasting, not relationship building. Creating conversation through content is powerful.

 

I’m always thirsty to learn more and greatly enjoyed picking up on some insights via #SSAC17. Be sure to check out the recaps.

 

16 Sportsbiz Things from the #PacNet17 Conference

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

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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

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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

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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.

I Went to the UCLA-Arizona Game, But Nobody Knows

I was lucky enough to attend a highly touted game between Pac 12 powers UCLA and Arizona in late January. But, outside of some Tweets and Snaps, I let no trail behind.

I was the anonymous fan.

A friend has two tickets, using the “Pass” option, which guaranteed him two seats to every conference game, at a flat rate, with seat location dependent on availability, and sent to his mobile app 48 hours before game day. (This innovation merits another article altogether). Upon entering, the two bar codes in his app were scanned and UCLA only knew the identity of one of us attending.

Before the game started, I ventured around the concourse, with food options and sales tables abounding. My only stop was to purchase a bottle of water, for which I paid in cash. Again, my anonymity remained. En route to my seat, I logged on to the free, non-gated WiFi. The WiFi was money and, while my app and browsing activity was certainly tracked, my identity, for all intents and purposes, remained unknown.

The game was fun, the atmosphere electric, and it even included a halftime ceremony honoring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to go along with the posters handed out to fans upon entering Pauley Pavilion. UCLA lost, I returned to the parking garage (for which I had paid cash to enter) and my incognito day was complete.

There is so much retargeting, digital marketing, CRM, data warehousing, and the like than ever before. While the reams of data produced by social media, by Google searches, and by website visits allows for precision targeting and marketing on those channels (none of which applied to me in this case), the fans in the building are the ones actually consuming the product. There is no hotter lead than the fan in the building yet to be added to the database. I had a great time at the game and, no doubt, UCLA would welcome the opportunity to remind me of future games, to get me to come back.

But they don’t know who I am, remember?

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The anonymous fan continues to keep sports marketers up at night. Whether it’s my situation, accompanying a friend who had bought the tickets, using tickets from a school or community event, going along with a group and getting tickets from the group leader – these are all missed opportunities to add new fans, new potential future ticket buyers, into the database and marketing and engagement funnel.

There no easy panacea, but there are some potential solutions that exist. The next step is testing each of them, evaluating effectiveness, minding the lead source to fully appreciate the value of that lead, and investing in a thoughtful approach to capture the identity of these heretofore anonymous fans.

There are enter-to-win sweepstakes, data exchange or WiFi, a free ticket or souvenir or concession deal that requires giving information to receive, various calls to subscribe or follow or download.

There is no one size fits all, but one thing each organization successful in this space has in common is they recognize the problem and put time, thought, resources, and effort into discovering a good solution. Every business has a cost per lead, a cost to bring that new fan into the funnel, into the CRM database. We pay for search ads (not just to sell tickets, but to drive traffic and purchases on owned platforms), for social media ads and resources, and for all sorts of other channels and attempts to acquire a lead.

Would I have given over my email address for a free bottle of water instead of paying up $4.50? You bet. Would I have paid with a credit card to save $1? In a heartbeat. A lead has a value and it behooves organizations to invest in adding as many fans, especially those in the building at their games!, as possible. It may cost a little money, but that’s the cost of doing business.

You know the problem, so put resources toward solving it. It’s time to introduce yourself to the anonymous, and give them a reason to identify themselves. Everyone can win, then.

When Big Data Meets Real-Time Actionable Insights

Following along the recent Sports Business Journal Sports Marketing Symposium in November 2016 [see recap] and one thought shared via Twitter astutely articulated the future.

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The sports and entertainment world is more adept than ever at collecting data — from every transaction, every click, and even every movement, digital and physical. A method of collecting such data was step one. The next phase was funneling all of this data into a query-able database, typically known as a ‘data warehouse.’ (We’re talking terabytes of data here, folks). Then, analysts could use that data to draw insights, visualize reports, and understand the who/what/why/when/where more than ever before to create actionable segments and insights, to improve fan experience and precision marketing.

But, as Russell Scibetti suggests in his tweet (and Scibetti and KORE Software are among industry leaders in this space) computing power and programming acumen is at or near the point when such actions can occur in real-time and in a more precise and personalized manner than ever before. The visionary refrain is the notion of thousands of individual experiences for the thousands of fans in attendance at games and events.

It’s AI telling you when to leave based on where you live and the current traffic, where to park and enter the venue, where to get your preferred food and beverage (or have it pre-ordered for you in an app), maybe a welcome message from your favorite player while you’re making your way to your seat, a reminder about free face-painting for your kids (yeah, we know you have kids), and so on (and this is barely scratching the surface).

With so much data informing artificial intelligence mechanisms and increasingly more data making such mechanisms increasingly smarter, we are indeed on the precipice of an incredible new era of fan experience. When the entire experience and venue seems custom tailored to you — a Truman Show-like reality enabled by big data and actionable interpretation and activation of big data.

Personalization is the new expectation. And the power to personalize has never been great.

2016 SEAT Conference Recap and Sports Biz Insights

In July 2016, the Sports and Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) held its annual conference bringing together leaders in the sports and tech world, this year in Las Vegas.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, stats, insights, observations, and photos from the event. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap!