Marketing & Sponsorships

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New Study Redefines Home-Field Advantage

26 Jul, 2017

By: Michael Popke

No two sports fans are alike, and sports organizations should be agile in adapting and evolving their offerings to address different fan segments. That’s one of the key takeaways from a new survey about fan engagement in sports. Conducted by Deloitte, a leader in audit, consulting, tax and advisory services, the study contends that “home field advantage is no longer simply packing a stadium or arena with your best fans.”

Instead, home field advantage in 2017 means “engaging distinct groups of fans inside and outside the game venue, during winning and ‘rebuilding’ seasons, 365 days a year.”

Based on Deloitte’s findings from a fan engagement survey of more than 4,000 adults in the United States who identify themselves as fans of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and/or Major League Soccer, the firm identified five strategies teams and leagues can follow to strengthen their fan relationships.

Here they are, as they appear in the study’s executive summary:

1. Know your target: To design effective engagement strategies and programs, teams must be clear — and specific — regarding the fans with whom they seek a relationship.

2. Make it personal: Programs designed to speak to everyone run the risk of speaking to no one.

3. Think holistically about experience: The live game experience is a focal point for fan interaction. What lies beyond it?

4. Engage year-round: Meaningful relationships don’t start and stop with the sports season.

5. Recognize loyalty: Teams should find ways to recognize, reward and record each fan interaction.

Although season ticket holders “spend five times as much money as non-season ticket holders on non-ticket purchases from sports organizations and authorized partners,” according to Deloitte, single-game ticket buyers deserve special treatment, too.

“Fan loyalty gives sports marketers an advantage, but will only take them so far if they take it for granted; they must continue to improve the experience,” wrote Lisa Pearson, chief executive officer of Umbel, a fan engagement and data management firm, in a commentary column on MediaPost.com.

She had a lot more to say, too — especially when comparing the potential outcomes for teams that personalize their marketing with teams that don’t:

Teams who have leveraged first-party data have continued to sell out stadiums and arenas, and keep fans engaged before, during and after games despite constant and noisy competition for consumers’ attention. Teams can even thrive during losing streaks with a consistent focus on the fan relationship. For example, they could discover their audience has a high affinity for the Grateful Dead, and then host a theme night. 

For teams who don’t know how to personalize their marketing, or worse, don’t know how to reach their fans, the consequences will be long lasting. The fewer tickets bought, the less historical ticketing data you can use to keep fans returning or bring in similar fans; the less fans are engaged, the less likely they are to enter a sweepstakes for merchandise; the fewer games fans attend, the less concession data you have to work with. 

This may all seem like a ploy to get sports teams to buy into data management services that will help foster fan engagement. But it makes sense, even from the most practical standpoint.

Deloitte “found that while fewer than 10 percent of fans of each of the five major leagues participate in any type of sports loyalty program, two-thirds would be open to participating if the incentives were right. So there’s headroom to make fans happier.”

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