Delighting The Fans: Some Thoughts For Sports Industry Executives

Mark Lehew

Part 4 in the four-part series, “Some Thoughts For Sports Industry Executives

In my last blog, I explained how leveraging fan insights can be used to drive revenue growth. In this blog, I want to discuss how delivering a superior experience can be used to keep fans coming back in order to maintain that growth.

There are more options than ever before for a fan’s entertainment dollar. The competition for a fan’s time, attention, and wallet are intense. To maximize revenue from the global fan base, sports brands need to start with the assumption that no two fans are alike. They all expect to engage when, where, and how they want. They expect “Google-” fast and simple. To beat the competition, franchises need to think and act like an entertainment business. What needs to change to compete with a brand like Disney to build loyal fans for life and keep them coming back for more?

Some believe that the efforts to engage and delight fans have gone too far and have stolen focus from the games. Newer stadiums feature social areas, bars, kid zones, museums, photo spots, water features, and more, all designed – depending on your viewpoint – either to distract from the game or offer a more compelling fan experience. The reality is that teams now have rich data and proof that fans are looking for a different experience, depending upon their age and demographics. For example, people under 31 tend to prioritize socializing at games over those who are older, who in turn are there for the on-field action.

Teams also understand that technology has become a part of everyday life. It’s good for business when fans are taking selfies, tweeting, or texting friends about the great experience they’re having at the game. It’s free advertising (presuming it’s positive).

Sports teams have unique challenges compared to their competitors in the entertainment industry. Many of the touchpoints across a fan’s journey are splintered across multiple businesses, systems, and channels. Think of how many different places – both virtual and in-person – a fan could go to engage with the team and view content. Think of the physical game-day experience that spans parking, venue access, food and beverage, retail, fan apps, etc.

If we don’t make it quick and simple for fans to engage at any point in the process, the risk increases that they will drop out and move on to something else – especially those engaging virtually. We need to provide a simple, consistent, engaging, and personalized experience across the journey to keep fans coming back.

To meet this expectation, siloed data from each fan touchpoint needs to be consolidated and shared (including with trusted vendors). Data collection on its own is not enough. Insights need to be generated and interpreted quickly to have monetization potential. It can’t come two to three days after the event – it’s needed in real-time – so it can be used during a specific engagement. Responding immediately to a fan in a moment of passion is a great way to achieve customer satisfaction and grow revenue. Again, this can’t just be limited to the fans in the venue. And we must be in a position to do this with the global fan base – across multiple engagement channels.

The key to creating an extraordinary fan experience that draws them back is to combine fan experience data with operational data. Fan experience data includes things like fan sentiment and is known as X-data. Operational data, such as food and beverage sales, is known as O-data. Unifying and acting on this data – in real-time – enables you to improve the fan experience, revenue, and operational efficiencies.

A great example of the power of combining X and O data in real-time is the San Francisco 49ers’ Executive Huddle. This approach enables the 49ers’ and their game-day partners to monitor and evaluate – in real-time – data spanning nine different sources across the fan’s game-day journey, including parking, access (ticketing), food and beverage, retail, social media, fan sentiment, weather, etc. Now they can proactively identify an issue or opportunity early, act on it in real-time, and see immediate results. I highly recommend reading this outstanding article in Forbes for a detailed explanation.

Finally, I encourage you to watch this speech by Jonathan Becher, president of Sharks Sports & Entertainment, at this year’s ASUG conference. It provides a great example of running sports as an entertainment business focusing on the fan experience.

These are compelling success stories. As global vice president for the Sports & Entertainment Industry Solutions at SAP, I have many similar success stories I would love to share with you.

For an in-depth discussion of fan management, read the reportUnlock the Unique Value of Your Fan Management.”


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.