“Balance the Field” to Achieve CRM Success in Sports


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These days customer relationship management (CRM) and providing better service to customers seems to be at the top of any company’s strategy and focus list. This trend is also present in the world of sports and entertainment, where sports clubs and other players in the entertainment industry are adopting new means to attract and retain customers in a world where entertainment itself is becoming more and more of a commodity.

An often misleading question is whether a company has adopted a CRM strategy or not? For sports clubs in particular the question that should be raised is where a club is on the “CRM journey” as all clubs find themselves somewhere along on the path of successful customer relations. The fact that sports clubs are drawing paying spectators at all is in itself part of a CRM strategy and as such it should be acknowledged that pursuing further benefits from CRM is not a matter of starting something up but is rather a matter of simply continuing the journey, adjusting or even speeding up where needed. As such, the question that is key to answer is where a sports club currently finds itself on this CRM journey?

Answering this question not only creates a better understanding of the current situation but also enables a sports club to better determine which steps are the most appropriate to take on their CRM journey rather than “blindly” pouring money into conventional marketing strategies [and hope for wonders]. In order to truly understand which where a club finds itself on this path, a detailed analysis is required – one which will necessarily include an analysis of sports-specific concepts such as Loyalsticity.

As a starting point, however, an overall assessment can provide some good insights into the current situation as well as potential next steps. One way of doing this is simply by addressing a number of questions related to three areas of interaction with new and existing fans:

1. How does the club attract new fans?

– Through which channels are new fans attracted?
– Have the ways in which you attract new fans developed recently or are you using the same strategies as you did ten/several years ago?
– Have insights been gained into how other businesses attract new customers?

2. How does the club retain fans?

– Do fans receive any communication from you other than through purchases?
– Is it up to the fans to stay up to date with forthcoming events or does the club proactively communicate with its fans?
– How is information about fans used in relation to targeted communications?

3. How does the club develop existing fans?

– Does the club have an overview of each fan’s purchases at games?
– In the event fans have questions or specific requests, is that data captured somewhere and kept for future communications?
– What sorts of up-sell and cross-sell activities have been carried out?

Are the answers to the questions in one category easier or more straightforward to answer? If that is the case there is definitely an imbalance in relation to the focus, time and money spent on attracting new fans versus keeping or even developing existing fans. Many clubs are often better prepared to answer questions in the first category whereas the answers to questions regarding fan development are a bit more vague or unclear. The more in balance these elements are, the further a club can consider themselves along on their CRM journey.

A Balanced Approach and Focus Ensures Success

First and foremost, it is essential that a club come to terms with any imbalance among the three areas and then, based on agreed approaches to each area, rethink the current goals set out for the club. If a club is in great need of more spectators it is not uncommon that a temporary focus is placed on this element but it can be disastrous for a club to neglect or down-prioritize other areas in the meantime. There are many ways of achieving success in each area which are based on conventional marketing. Increasingly, however, there are best practices and lessons to be learned from within the sports industry itself. A good example of this is Arizona State University (ASU) that began to communicate differently with existing fans, an initiative which lead to developing fans through data enrichment and thus, deepened the understanding of their needs and preferences. For this initiative ASU explored the unique feature of the sports industry, namely the fact that fans and spectators will more readily share information and personal preferences with the club than would customers in other industries. As an example of positive feature of the sports industry, ASU fans were invited to create their own profile on a website, to inform the club about which information they are interested in receiving, and what their preferences are. This gave ASU enriched data from which they could execute much better and more targeted initiatives or marketing activities. The program and its spin off activities are credited as being the key contributing factor in increasing attendance by 20% and reaching 55,000 spectators at ASU football home games in the 2006 season!

One step further – Cross Segment Initiatives

With the right balance amongst the three focus areas and the agreed goals a club may now be ready aim even higher. Traditionally, an initiative to attract new fans or one to retain existing would only have had an impact within that particular focus area. As such a marketing initiative designed to get people who had never been to the stadium to show up would normally not affect existing fans’ behavior or satisfaction level, yet today leading clubs are integrating activities to affect more than one focus area.

A good example of how this has been done successfully is Norwich Football Club which has managed to recruit new fans through communicating and developing existing ones, basically nurturing their existing relationships while at the same time recruiting new spectators. Instead of offering new season tickets to new customers through mass marketing or other push marketing means, they “invited” new fans to join through people who were already season ticket holders.

Norwich Football Club simply analyzed the seating arrangements at the stadium of their current season tickets holders and promoted additional season tickets at a cheaper price to people who had “empty seats” next to them in the stadium. This led to existing fans bringing friends and family members to the games and turned them into raving fans – a concept that has been a key contributor to Norwich attendance growth over the past ten years which has grown from 14,000 to 25,000 per game.

Tools Can Make it Possible if a Club Decides What the Tools Should Do

Sport clubs throughout the world each year spend large sums of money on marketing initiatives. Traditionally the large majority of this money has been spent on attracting new spectators but in today’s world more and more clubs are pursuing strategies that are based on a more balanced focus between new and existing fans. This has become possible through both the increased focus on CRM within the sports industry but also because today’s technology supporting CRM has reached new heights.

It is now possible for even small clubs to acquire the right technology that enables them to conduct sophisticated data analyses, marketing campaign activities and other initiatives that can ensure that the expectations of both new as well as existing fans are met and the right relationships developed. Sports clubs can harvest significant benefits from pursuing strong CRM strategies – and can often reap even higher results than what has been seen in other industries [for more details click here].

In order to do so, however, it is essential to understand the club’s current situation and marketing, sales and service focus followed by clear initiatives to “balance the field” between the three areas outlined in this article. One of the key tasks in order to pursue such strategy is to integrate the various parts of the organization by aligning the strategy with the business process flows rather than according to departmental silos. With this in mind – and only then –sports clubs can start utilizing the CRM technologies and software applications which can take them down the path towards CRM success.

Related articles:

  • CRM in Sports: It’s a Different Ball Game
  • Loyalsticity: A Business Concept for Sports Clubs
  • Attention: Any Sports Clubs Looking for Higher Attendance Figures? (to be published shortly)
  • Can American Professional Sports Really Expand to Europe? (to be published shortly)
  • Know Thy Customer – The Sports Club’s Customer Mix (to be published shortly)
  • Which CRM Application is Right for a Sports Club? (to be published shortly)
Kristian Gotsch
Kristian Gotsch has more than 15 years experience within the world of CRM. As CRM Manager at the Eredivisie (Dutch Premier League), Kristian has a great interest in sports and CRM and is the founder of Loyalsticity. Prior to his current role Kristian held various CRM positions at T-Mobile, PwC and Microsoft. This is a personal rather than a corporate blog. My opinions reflect my own views rather than necessarily those of my employer.


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