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Marketing: Digital insights

Marketers from some of the biggest professional sports clubs in the North West share their knowledge on the challenges of fan engagement in a digital world, highlighting the importance of customer insight in sports marketing

Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 4
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Marketers from a variety of sports organisations discuss digital
Marketers from a variety of sports organisations discuss digital

Mobile technology and social media are transforming sports businesses and opening up greater access to potential customers. Digital channels can also be measured and valued. So what are the tactics being employed to drive success?

A round table event, hosted by Manchester-based digital development and marketing communications agency Access, brought together representatives from Everton Football Club, Stockport County, Manchester Giants, The Jockey Club, Manchester Thunder, Manchester City Council, UMBRO and Activity Alliance to discuss some of the challenges professional sports clubs face in today’s digital world. They also shared their experiences of successful digital techniques that have been transformational for their businesses.

Chairing the event was Richard Kenyon, director of marketing, communications and community at Everton FC. He kicked off the discussion by sharing how enhanced customer insight and investment in a data insight team had been a game changer for the organisation.

“Digital channels have opened up the opportunity to talk to audiences in a much more targeted and relevant way,” said Kenyon.

“We’ve always had a huge amount of customer data, but the real step forward has come from the creation of an insight team that analyses the data to create audience segments and personas.

“These segments are also based on behaviour, rather than the more traditional way of segmenting audiences, and this has been vital. For us the value is not in how old they are or where they live, it’s what they want from the club. We’re now looking at fans in a much more insightful way.”

He continued: “We’ve seen commercial value and much greater levels of fan engagement from approaching our communication in this way.

“We’re fortunate because our fans are very willing to share their thoughts and opinions with us and this insight can be gained through regular surveys. We also have monthly meetings with a core representation of our fan base and we’re able to get a deep understanding of how we can shape our activities to cater for the ever-changing needs of our audiences.”

Getting to know the customer
Customer segmentation and customer journey mapping was highlighted as a technique that’s helped The Jockey Club achieve sell out events.

Researching the motivations of each of its audience segment types has allowed The Jockey Club to translate valuable insight into new campaigns and propositions, and talk to audiences in a way that motivates them.

Mike Sarath, head of regional marketing at The Jockey Club also discussed the importance of a free wifi offering for capturing data. He explained that many customers bought multiple tickets, which meant that this data capture element was limited in terms of what it was showing. By gathering data from all race goers who log onto the wifi, they’ve been able to expand their understanding of their audiences.

Widespread engagement
For some smaller organisations this level of customer segmentation and personalisation is not possible, so the discussion turned to how sports clubs can use social channels and mobile technology to engage both existing fans and new prospects.

The importance of mobile communication was something the entire panel agreed on, including the point that providing audiences with relevant and fast information via devices was business-critical. Consumers expect to be able to do everything on their mobile devices – none more so than the younger generations of event goers.

Commenting on ‘the first digital world cup’, the panel highlighted the issues associated with ‘multi-screen’ audiences and how much content is required to reach audiences who are using widespread channels – from websites through to Facebook.

Again customer insight was identified as a key way to select the most relevant touchpoints, something that’s especially important for clubs with limited marketing resource and budgets.

All about the experience
James Gordon, business manager for the Manchester Giants, illustrated the club’s challenges around attracting new audiences to games and also in selling tickets where the audience isn’t as defined as it is at larger clubs like Everton. He revealed that the club’s approach is to focus on selling the experience and using content to generate excitement around both the game and the team.

In agreement, Sarath pointed out how The Jockey Club’s race day experience app, which is used across its 15 race courses, has helped to engage social race goers by allowing them to access everything they need to plan their day through the app.

UMBRO’s head of marketing Jonathan McCourt said that customer-centricity and finding where the brand fits in with an audience had helped the company to generate an authentic identity. He explained how UMBRO has been successful in generating conversation around the World Cup and tapped into its audiences by having a voice around the tournament that resonates with them.

Stronger insights
Summing up the discussion, Phil Fraser, head of account planning & management at Access, said: “Like with many businesses now using digital to garner a deeper level of understanding of different customer groups, sports clubs such as Everton and The Jockey Club are seeing much more commercial value from their marketing and communication.

“Digital insight takes the guesswork out of marketing communication and delivers a stronger proposition and strategy. Digital also allows more testing, measurement and agility to adapt campaigns in-line with ever-changing customer needs and trends.

“The benefit of customer insight is that it often reinforces what marketing teams already think, but it also challenges assumptions and long standing practices. Many businesses still approach their marketing in a certain way based on a hunch, but those organisations that are excelling are certainly the ones that are shaping their experiences around real-time, real user feedback.

“In the age of social media and big data, businesses have access to more information about customers and prospects than ever before, but the challenge is how to drill down into the data.

“Personalisation in the online world isn’t just about knowing the customer’s name, it’s about listening to what they want so that communication can be helpful.

“A good CRM system will help to deliver these tailored messages. The obstacle for many businesses is how to use the software correctly, and the process can seem daunting.

“But effective digital marketing is not just about the technology, it’s about using platforms and technology as a way of solving problems, creating unique experiences and accelerating business change.”

For more insights, visit:

Richard Kenyon, Everton FC
"Digital channels allow us to talk to audiences in a more relevant way"
Mike Sarath, The Jockey Club
"By gathering data from all race goers who log onto wifi, we’ve expanded our understanding of our audiences"
Phil Fraser, Access
"Customer insight challenges assumptions and long standing practices"
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