Get in the Game: The Ultimate Sports Experience

Aug 17, 2012

Where do sports fans loyalties lie when it comes down to true customer loyalty and how can sports leagues leverage loyalty for ROI and engagement?

One of the most common programs offered to fans are sports affinity credit cards. Fans are able to earn points by using their sports team branded credit card and redeeming for experiential rewards or special merchandise (i.e. autographed jersey). Still, these programs do not necessarily increase attendance, engagement, frequency of purchase or achieve loyalty objectives like a true strategic program can.

A Major Play in the Customer Experience Space

A recent decline in major league sports guest counts was the motivation leagues needed to make some major changes and introduce alternative revenue options. Overall attendance at major league sporting events had declined by 4.8% during 20007-2011, a loss of 6.75 million guest counts. Much of this decline has been absorbed by Major League Baseball, which has yet to recover from guest count losses incurred during 2009.

Unable to rely on increased guest counts to grow revenue, major league sports teams are pursing ways to increase per capita guest spending by focusing on the customer experience, enhancing foodservice and retail, increasing the number of club seats and suites and enhancing amenities. Results, in the form of vastly improved concessions and higher-end suite and club seat foodservice programs, are transforming the guest experience, and transforming many major venues into food destinations.

Mobile Integration

Mobile integration has been one of the key drivers in the loyalty space, engaging consumers at a new level. The creation of concession mobile applications will allow guests to order and customize food items, while providing marketers with opportunities to use new promotional channels to engage guests. (Sports Business Journal, January 2012).

In 2011, the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles began using a smartphone food ordering system for its Lincoln Financial Field club-seats. At The Ballpark, a mobile concierge program within’s applications for iPhone, offers fans social media interaction and an array of exclusive content.  (Sports Business Journal, August 2011).

How Loyalty Can Make A Home Run

Taking the experience to a new level by integrating a loyalty program provides fans with opportunities to earn more and experience more through special promotions and discounts. In fact, by offering discounts at the concession stand, fans will see a value in upgrades and discounts that won’t impact the park’s margins. A real win-win.

For the 2012 season, the MLB Atlanta Braves have offered a 33% concession discount to their 20-plus game season-ticket holders. The discount is offered on food and beverages at all fixed stands and in-seat service, but will exclude alcohol and premium vendors. Each season-ticket holder will have a bar code on their ticket or seat locater that will be scanned at the concession stand or by the in-seat server and will automatically recognize the ticket as eligible for the discount (Atlanta Braves).

Even the Big 10 is getting in on the loyalty action. According to Ann, the athletic department is considering implementing a student loyalty program that would reward students for attending University sporting events. David Ablauf, associate athletic director for media and public relations, said the Athletic Department is in the early stages of developing a loyalty program. He explained that the Athletic Department would like to implement the undefined program by this fall.

Michigan State University has also implemented the Izzone, a 16-year-old program that rewards the most loyal basketball fans. Students who buy season tickets to MSU basketball games are rewarded for arriving at games early, attendance  frequency, and so on.

It’s All About the Data

Still, even when providing discounts, promotions and rewards to achieve a true loyalty experience, it’s important that data capture is part of the loyalty program structure in order to identify program members and influence behavior.

The Nashville Predators employ CRM best practices in order to collect information about fans’ demographics and psychographics. The card based program is designed so that members are identified and tracked when the loyalty card is swiped through a card reader at the gate and at kiosks. Fans are rewarded with tickets, merchandise, and concessions upon redemption. Scott Loft, vice president of Predators ticket sales, stated, “90 percent of sports teams either don’t care or don’t bother to find out any information about their fan base.”

The flipside of this statement is actually using the data you collect strategically. The overall program strategy is driven by the data in order to determine customer segmentation and tiering, campaign and promotional targeting, predictive modeling and many other important features.

Ultimately, a loyal fan is not enough to drive ROI and engagement. Leagues have gone great lengths to create a new experience for fans. Still, the ultimate experience is the loyalty experience.


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