How sports clubs achieve a slam dunk in loyalty with data

How sports clubs achieve a slam dunk in loyalty with data
Mark is a senior strategic account executive at customer engagement solution provider Cheetah Digital. Prior to this role, Mark held senior roles at Kokoro Global, ABA Market Research, and Harte-Hanks.

The way we watch, engage, and interact with our favourite sports clubs is undergoing a seismic shift. Recent UK research suggests that data will now have a more important role in fan engagement than ever before. In this article, we take a closer look at what this means for sports clubs serious about future-proofing their strategy to attract and retain loyal fans.

Matchday may be the ‘pinnacle’ for sports fans, but for sports clubs, the real battleground is that period between the ‘live-action’ and the ‘actual creation’ of a deep and enriching relationship with their fan base. As competition is heating up to win the hearts and minds of fans through relevant marketing and compete through the ‘noise’, the pressure is on sports clubs and associations to become more innovative. 

But despite the vast data sets at the fingertips of sports marketers, there is much room for improvement when it comes to delivering relevant, personalised communications or messages, experiences, or content to fans in real-time.

Creating a relationship beyond matchday 

To create a relationship that goes beyond game day, sports brands must connect with fans on the right channels at the right time. With zero-party data, or data willingly shared by fans, it’s possible to know what makes fans tick as well as the best ways to engage with them.

How do sports clubs encourage fans to share more of their personal information? You know, the “good stuff” that goes beyond names and email addresses to who they’re attending matches with and if they also watch the game at home, for example. It’s all about the value exchange. And the value exchange begins with data. 

Revolutionising engagement with data 

Data allows sports clubs to move to a more enriched understanding of who their fans are. It gives them insight into their motivations and preferences. The biggest success of the sports clubs we work with is, with Cheetah experiences, fans willingly share their information.

To improve every fan’s experience along their digital journey, it’s vital that the communications they receive from the club are tailored. They have to be personalised to their particular wants and desires. That’s where the data comes in. While content is perhaps the “shiniest” element of the marketing mix; it’s the data and the insights that really make a difference. These elements provide clubs with all the information they need to create bespoke communications, helping to foster that one-to-one relationship with fans.  

Data is also key in creating effective partnerships with brands that want to sponsor sports clubs. Once clubs know more about the fans, their behaviours, and motivations at a country-level, the value of sponsorships can be greatly enriched. That’s because partners are looking for clubs with an engaged fan base, and the only way to get an engaged fan base is to know and create meaningful relationships with them. This in turn, allows clubs to have successful commercial partnerships, which drives revenue into the club – revenue that allows them to invest back into the team and secure top-end spots in competition.

Turning challenges into opportunities

Not too long ago, the customer experience began and ended on matchday. Today, however, that’s simply not the case. In this new digital era, passionate fans are engaging with clubs on different platforms, 24/7. There’s no winter break, pre-season, or rest days for fan engagement – it’s constantly game-on.

Even when the pandemic toppled the athletic landscape, seeing sports ground to a halt with no indication of coming back again; it wasn’t the time to stop engaging fans. Instead, it was more vital than ever to keep their passion alive. Developing new ways to build off of a captive audience who was still hungry for sports was the first order of business for sports clubs and absolutely key to their survival.

But first, these clubs had to turn their unknown audience into a known audience. Digital channels and engagement are vital to helping clubs connect with their fans. It allows them to achieve deep, long-lasting, and meaningful relationships. Once fans feel connected to their clubs, their love grows and that creates a foundation that supports revenue creation and successful commercial partnerships.

However, this is nearly impossible to do without insights from data. Many clubs still have their data in silos where the ticketing team only sees their data, the hospitality team only sees their data, and so on. Getting away from silos and gaining a unified understanding of fans – who they are, what life stage they’re in, and what they want from the club – from top to bottom throughout the organisation is vital to revolutionising engagement.

Take a look at the Barcelona Spotify deal. If Barcelona truly knew its fans better, the deal could have been worth a lot more. However, since they didn’t, they were only able to target about 1% of their fan base — the rest were essentially invisible to them. 

The key takeaway from Barcelona’s unfortunate situation is just how crucial it is to get your fans to share information and permissions with you willingly. It’s absolutely essential in marketing to them more effectively.

And, of course, we can’t talk about effective marketing in today’s world without bringing up the death of the cookie. Never has there been a greater need to get fans to share their personal and preference data willingly than now. Unfortunately, it’s not an “ask and you shall receive” kind of arrangement. Fans are increasingly weary when it comes to handing over their personal information. That’s why sports clubs need to offer an enticing value exchange.

Leverage data for a game-winning loyalty strategy

When it comes to the value exchange, savvy sports clubs know that it doesn’t always have to be a discount or a red-letter prize that entices fans to share their details. Access to exclusive content and community initiatives can also be the catalyst for zero-party data collection.

According to Cheetah Digital’s report for sports teams and associations, 55% of fans will share psychographic data points like purchase motivations and product feedback with sports brands. Even more, half of all fans surveyed said they desire incentives like coupons, loyalty points, or exclusive access in return for their data. 

With Cheetah Digital’s Customer Engagement Suite, there’s an entire platform that makes it easy to build the most relevant, integrated, and profitable customer experiences. Take a look:

  • Cheetah Engagement Data Platform: This foundational data layer and personalisation engine enables marketers to drive data from intelligent insights to action at speed and scale.
  • Cheetah Experiences: Interactive digital acquisition experiences are delivered to delight customers, collect first- and zero-party data, and secure valuable permissions needed to execute compliant and successful marketing campaigns.
  • Cheetah Messaging: Enables marketers to create and deliver relevant, personalised marketing campaigns across all channels and touchpoints.
  • Cheetah Loyalty: Provides marketers with the tools to create and deliver unique loyalty programs that generate an emotional connection between brands and their customers.
  • Cheetah Personalisation: Enables marketers to leverage the power of machine learning and automated journeys to connect with customers on a one-to-one basis.

Acquisition helps to turn an “unknown” audience into a “known” audience. Why is this important? Well, with “known” fans come a lot of potential in the form of direct revenue, partner revenue, and participation.

The sports clubs to watch

Cheetah Digital has partnered with some of the world’s top sports brands and organisations to create and launch an array of successful campaign experiences with ease. Whether to boost match-day excitement, connect with fans, monetise a global audience, or increase content relevancy to reach a specific demographic; sports organisations are using Cheetah Experiences to create impactful digital experiences that drive results.

Below, we look at how Arsenal Football Club (F.C.) and the FA are leveraging a fully-fledged, zero-party data strategy to connect with fans on every digital channel and collect the preference insights and permissions required to drive personalisation initiatives. 

Arsenal F.C.

Arsenal F.C. intelligently uses data to enhance digital engagement amongst one of the largest and most passionate fan bases in the world – it’s estimated to be upwards of 750 million people! The club built out its omnichannel campaign strategies through various technologies with Cheetah Digital being the main platform. That ensures the communication it sends out is relevant to fans and that it’s communicated on the right platforms at the right times in the right tone. 

Adam Rutzler, Senior Campaign and Insight Manager at Arsenal, says the most crucial aspect of his team’s work is ensuring that fans receive the best content that’s most relevant to them. “We work with a magic triangle, the power of three – transactional data, a demographic segmentation, persona-led approach, and behavioural data,” he explains.

“We get a solid understanding of our fans by taking the combination of these three things and hitting the sweet spot in the middle. What are our fans buying, who are they, and how do they engage with our football club – that’s when we really get the power of understanding our fans, what they want from us, and how we can best give that to them.”

For example, Arsenal has found the score predictor game is well received with fans. It encourages them to guess the score of the upcoming match to win a prize. And that prize can be anything from signed shirts to training kits — whatever fans would desire. 

Where Arsenal has noticed the most traction and where it’s getting some real buy-in from fans, however, is in giving away those money-can’t-buy prizes, such as corner flags from matches. Fans are really excited about these types of prizes. That memorabilia from clubs is truly meaningful to fans who are very passionate about their teams.

Therefore, the experiences that we’re offering and serving up on behalf of the clubs that we work with need to be in tune with fans. They need to offer something fun and something that’s on-brand.

Going forward, Adam says he’s excited about all the possibilities data opens up for the club. “What’s exciting about the insights we’re working with right now to continue understanding our global following is the possibility of turning our triangle into a square by adding psychographic data in.

“We want to understand the fans’ attitudes, aspirations, and personalities. That will allow us to find out what motivates them to engage with certain communications of ours. If we understand that, it would provide us with some very powerful insights,” he says.

The Football Association (FA)

The FA has a grand ambition to double its contactable CRM database by 2024. Achieving this will drive direct revenue, boosting sales for the FA directly. It will increase partner revenue, expanding their reach and resonance with partners. And it will also drive participation in the sport at a grassroots level, which is basically the cornerstone of what the FA does.

In terms of value exchange, the club is achieving above-average conversion rates, using a diverse set of tools like team sectors, man-of-the-match polls, and score predictors for upcoming FA Cup competitions. According to Paul Brierley, CRM & Membership Lead at the FA, the reason the FA’s strategy has been so effective boils down to its value proposition and relevance.

“Cheetah experiences, in particular, are helping us to drive an incredibly effective value exchange with fans. The combination of sought-after prizes, relevance and timing of that prize, and a compelling gamification experience is producing a highly successful channel for fan experience and data growth,” he says.

Future success

Going forward, there’s no other way for a sports club to be successful without understanding its fan base. It’s paramount to capture their motivations, intentions, and preferences at scale to provide a truly personalised experience. By leveraging Cheetah Experiences and offering a value exchange, fans will tell all – the products they desire, what they look for in a loyalty program, and what motivates them to engage. And that information translates to a hugely successful club both now and into the future.

Download this campaign guide packed with examples from leading sports brands and associations that are delivering engaging, interactive experiences in return for fans’ opt-ins and preference data, and then using this data to deliver true personalisation.

(Editor’s note: This article is in association with Cheetah Digital)

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