Pro Sports Teams Draw Up CRM Game Plan

Pro teams turn to CRM software to gain insight into customers so as to increase ticket purchases.

Professional sports teams and leagues are increasingly finding that CRM software is a good fit for such business tasks as attracting new customers and gaining insights into their existing customer bases so as to increase ticket purchases from those customers.

Organizations such as the National Football League and several Atlanta sports franchises are using customer relationship management technologies to manage merchandising, promotions and premium customer programs, such as for season-ticket holders.

In a world where sports teams in the same city are often owned by the same company, cross-sell opportunities among different teams and events have become gold that CRM applications can mine.

CRM vendor Firstwave Technologies Inc. last month launched its Sports & Entertainment Solution, a CRM product that includes a league and event administration tool, online learning and certification for coaches and referees, venue management capabilities, a comprehensive ticketing and database system, and a participant and fan management system.

The Atlanta-based company counts two United Kingdom-based sports concerns, Londons Wembley National Stadium Ltd. and the Rugby Football Union, of Twickenham, England, as its customers and is looking to tap the North American sports market, where Onyx Software Inc. and E.piphany Inc. have established much traction.

Kyle Brunson is the CRM marketing manager for the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Atlanta Hawks basketball team and Atlanta Thrashers ice hockey team, as well as the Philips Arena, where the Hawks and Thrashers play home games. The teams and arena are all owned by Time Warner Inc., so finding the right cross-selling opportunities is high on Brunsons CRM agenda.

"We target different customer segments and look for different things we can introduce them to," said Brunson. "Like we had family night at a baseball game with a post-game gospel concert. So we can market that to people whove attended gospel shows at the arena and introduce them to baseball."

Brunson runs the teams CRM campaigns through Onyxs Employee Portal 4.0, which handles sales force automation, direct mail and e-mail marketing. Telesales and customer service agents use the system to record customer interactions. Customer survey data is kept in the Onyx system, as is ticket-buying data.

"We want to sell as many tickets as possible, but to do that, we have to understand who our current customers are, improve our relationships with them and our customer service," Brunson said.

Onyxs software allows Brunson to tailor marketing campaigns to different customer segments and measure the results of those campaigns to find out what works and what doesnt. "We want to identify whos coming three, four, five times a year and how we can increase those attendance rates," he said.

Keeping lines of communication open with season-ticket holders is also key, Brunson said, whether its finding out when their birthdays are or who they attend games with. Marketing messages can then be tailored accordingly.

For the National Football League, the CRM challenge is about a lot more than driving ticket sales. About 95 percent of the estimated 75 million avid NFL fans in America never attend a game during the season, but most games are sold out, according to Bob OKeefe, senior director of fan relationship marketing for the NFL. So the league has to build and maintain relationships with a fan base that mostly doesnt attend games. But many of those fans do buy NFL-licensed merchandise and subscribe to the leagues satellite Sunday Ticket pay-per-view package.

"The NFL experience is bigger than going to a game or watching it on TV," said OKeefe. "We want to reach out and get fans more and more interested in everything the leagues involved in."

The NFL has turned to E.piphanys E.6 software to manage relationships with those fans, mainly through targeted marketing campaigns.

"Before E.piphany we probably had 75 different data sources going into eight different operational databases," said OKeefe, in New York. "We couldnt get a single view of the customer from that. Now we can roll up that information into a single view and fine-tune and subsegment that data."

The result is a database of 12.5 million unique customers who want to have a relationship with the league.

"Sports is a great environment to build a customer relationship in," said OKeefe.