Identifying And Understanding The Fan Base: Some Thoughts For Sports Industry Executives

Mark Lehew

Part 2 in the four-part series, “Some Thought For Sports Industry Executives

In my last blog, I discussed the rapid changes occurring in the sports industry and the need to focus on fan base growth. This blog will look at the first step in growing the fan base – identifying and understanding the fan.

Sports fans are the best imaginable customers because they are, by definition, fanatical. They’re zealots who will defend the brand against all others. With that kind of enthusiasm, it would be easy to take them for granted. Provided they’re buying tickets and merchandise or watching via some media outlet, it would seem there isn’t anything else to know. But as competition for fan attention and wallet increases, so does the effort required to grow the fanbase, keep them engaged, and maintain their loyalty. It is critical to identify each fan (and potential fan) along with his or her preferences and behaviors.

In days gone by, understanding the fanbase simply meant understanding who bought tickets and the resulting demographics/buying profile. Luckily, the digitalization of everything has created new opportunities to gain insights on fans across every engagement touchpoint – even if they never buy a ticket. Organizations now have an ocean of data to work with.

The challenge in sports is that the fan’s end-to-end engagement journey crosses many different businesses and channels. This fragmentation makes it hard to identify and get a full picture of a fan – especially those who never buy a ticket. The critical data from each of these touchpoints is scattered. A single fan typically has different identifications across systems. Massive effort is required to consolidate and clean the data to make sense of it.

Brands are deploying unique tactics like social sign-on, gamification, progressive profiling, etc. to engage fans at each step of the journey, making it easier for them to provide additional details until eventually, we have a complete fan golden record with a rich understanding of identity, preferences, and behaviors. Data is being consolidated from across all fan touchpoints into this golden record.

Data is gold. It can be leveraged to deliver a more unique, personalized engagement for the fan. It can be used to monetize moments of passion. The key is being able to act on this data in real-time – not hours or days after a trigger opportunity. It also can be used to grow sponsorship revenue and execute targeted activation. But if poorly managed, it can cause fans to “opt-out,” destroying hard-earned trust, brand loyalty, and revenue potential.

For sports enterprises, sharing data with trusted partners is necessary for creating a superior fan experience, but securing fan data is critical for securing fan trust. Proper management of this data and adhering to data protection laws is paramount. This is tricky in the land of rapidly evolving laws.

According to The 2017 State of Consumer Privacy and Trust report by Gigya, two-thirds of consumers don’t trust brands with their personal information. Fans want to trust their beloved team, but they’ve been burned before. For example, the Atlanta Hawks reported a data breach earlier this year. The good news is that they found the breach early.

However, let me be clear. Data and technology are the solution and not the problem. Using data and technology effectively is necessary for identifying and understanding the fan base. It serves as the foundation to maximize the revenue potential of the global fanbase and to engage with them in a way that makes them want to come back and spend more. With a large, loyal, global fanbase, sponsorship revenue can also grow.

Helping sports enterprises use technology safely to grow revenue is what I do. In my next blog, I’ll tell you how that deliberate process works.

Grow your audience and build trusted, personalized customer relationships based on transparency and personal data control with customer data management solutions.


Mark Lehew

About Mark Lehew

Mark Lehew is Vice President and General Manager of Sports and Entertainment (North America) for SAP SE. Since the business unit’s inception in 2013, he has helped customers gain a competitive advantage in the areas of fan engagement, marketing and sales, team performance, and venue and business operations through the innovative use of SAP solutions. Mark holds a B.S. in Management Information Systems with a minor in Computer Science from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.