How to Win in Sports When Your Team Isn't Winning

Jeff Eldersveld, Director-CRM and Analytics, Columbus Blue Jackets
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Jeff Eldersveld, Director-CRM and Analytics, Columbus Blue Jackets

Within sports there is a counterbalance between two distinct sides of the organization: the team side and the business side. While a winning team unequivocally correlates to business success, it is the duty of a strategy-driven sports organization to create positive gains even when team performance falters. As Grantland Rice once said, “It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.”

To better understand how difficult it is to assess business success, let’s take a look at the elephant on the rink: the Team Performance Conundrum. The basis of this conundrum is that when a team performs well, the business side’s decisions look favorable, given responses and stats. However, when a team performs poorly, the blame falls on the team alone – the business side can shrug off responsibility. If the business office wants to combat the elephant on the rink, they must first understand how team performance impacts their key performance indicators and must remain true to efficient sales processes to capitalize on team performance up-swings. Because sports is a cyclical industry, both with seasons and quality of product, the business side needs to be able  to capitalize on moments of team success no matter how fleeting.

Part of properly identifying KPIs and efficient sales processes is learning to identify the steps it takes to manufacture sales. A fan isn’t going to magically transition to a sale unless the team actively inserts themselves into their fandom. The Blue Jackets have been fortunate to develop a very strong social voice that greatly encourages fan involvement on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – to name a few outlets. This high level of fan engagement drives traffic to our website where ticket messaging can be more direct and can lead to data capture.

Data capture is what makes sales work. Long gone are the days of opening a phone book and randomly knowing a name, address, and phone number. Now the process has transitioned to profiling against a current buyer base and appending upwards of 200 pieces of data to each fan’s record to see how closely prospects resemble ticket holders. Alas, big data presents itself and database marketers within sports are left trying to sift through pieces of data that may or may not correlate to a sale.

It’s not an industry trade secret – and may actually seem more common sense than anything – but recent digital behavior is a KPI that produces the best results. Layer recent behavior on top of favorable appends and these are leads that go straight into a sales rep’s pipeline. Once a lead has been distributed, the lead source is tracked to ultimately determine a win percentage rate. Identifying a win percentage rate helps quickly determine whether or not a lead source is worth pursuing for future leads. Since the majority of the time and effort is spent on engagement, tracking, and analysis steps, it is very important to optimize your pipeline.

Another major benefit of methodically developing steps, KPIs, and processes in manufacturing sales is that it helps the entire staff determine “how” sales are happening. Businesses that fall into the “what” category are often reactionary or do not fully understand the true elements that impact a business’ bottom line. If a team wanted to accelerate their ability to manufacture sales, there are two controllable factors that lead to positive results: staff and technology. If there is a benefit to the business side of sports, as compared to the team side, it’s that there is no salary cap for staff and there are no budgetary restrictions on the quality of technology. This creates a measurable gap between the “have” and “have not” teams. Or, probably more appropriately deemed, the “care” and “cares nots” that either rely on drastically reducing business expenses with a smaller staff and less technology or win so much that there is a ticket waiting list a mile-long and phones are ringing off the hook.

More and more teams are investing in staff and technology in the digital and database areas so the level of caring is definitely growing. Unfortunately, while staff sizes in these areas have increased, the sports industry is nearing a point where entry-level analytic/ digital/database employees with five to ten years of experience are taking jobs in the corporate sector for two, or even three, times the salary. For now, sports can afford to get away with it because the quality of entry-level applicants is never-ending. In the next five years, it will be interesting to see if Analysts become Senior Analysts, Directors, or Vice Presidents. This is starting to happen now with a handful of teams, which is encouraging. However, in order for sports teams to take the next step in minimizing the impact of wins and losses, the “caring” for manufacturing sales must continue.

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