5 ways to leverage sports analytics to grow your fan base

Marketing Leader, Media & Entertainment Industry, Analytics, IBM

Fans are becoming much more than just sports consumers. They no longer just watch—they participate, analyze, critique, fantasize and connect with their favorite players and teams in real time. Indeed, fans are increasingly becoming true brand partners. Accordingly, understanding and leveraging this new relationship is becoming vitally important—just as important as harnessing the acceleration of digital technology. Indeed, understanding the intersection of digital and fandom holds the key to success for sports teams.

James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research and author of the book Digital Disruption, puts it this way:

"Sports is a massive business that is only barely beginning to experience digital transformation. The years ahead will be full of many opportunities to change the way sports are 'delivered' as an experience in the stadium, near the stadium, or at home, not to mention outside of actual game time. All of those innovations are digital."

Analytics and big data offer great potential in many industries, but they are poised to bring nothing less than groundbreaking innovation to sports. Here are five ways that data analytics can help sports leagues and individual teams make the most of their data.

1. Attract new fans and retain existing ones

Teams and ticket vendors increasingly find themselves competing with the at-home experience as they try to attract fans to the stadium. The better they know their fans, however, the better they can cater to them. Not surprisingly, season ticket holders represent the largest portion of a team’s revenue—making this group of customers a top priority by any measure. Accordingly, data and analytics capabilities can provide insights into fan preferences and, through micro-segmentation, even help target promotional offers to specific fans.

By leveraging multiple sources of data—ticketing purchase data, CRM data, marketing campaign results, social media data—sports teams can segment their fans, allowing personalized communication. Additionally, look-a-like modeling can help identify potential new fans by their similarity to existing fans. Indeed, the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club is doing just this thanks to the IBM Fan Insight cloud-based analytics solution, which aims to help sports teams and venues turn fan engagement into heightened revenues. See a demo of this solution here.

2. Speak the language of the social sports fan

Being a fan is no longer about simply watching and cheering before going home. Modern fans—especially the millennials who are forming the next fan base—grew up on electronic gaming, and they demand interactive entertainment. Noting this trend, more and more teams are developing second-screen apps that can keep fans engaged both inside and outside the stadium, helping them speak out, share their opinions, gain insights, buy tickets and purchase retail items.

Modern fans want to control the action. Indeed, social media sites are empowering fans more than ever before, giving them significant levels of access to players, coaches and owners. As a result, fans sometimes even expect to influence team decisions.

With this in mind, Globo TV of Brazil leveraged social media and digital technology to boost fan engagement through a mobile app developed in conjunction with IBM for use during the World Cup. The app gave fans a way to share real in time during the games and also gave sports commentators live updates on what fans were talking about, even translating this into a social barometer that reflected positive and negative social sentiments throughout the action. Discover how Globo TV brought a social sentiment solution to the FIFA World Cup.

Teams that fail to respond to activist fan movements can suffer major damage to their ticket sales and brand equity. Conversely, however, when fans can influence others and even affect team discussions, they have good reason to engage at even higher levels, driving ticket purchases and boosting revenues.

3. Reimagine the stadium experience

Today’s sports fans come into stadiums with smartphones that are changing the in-person experience. Fans expect technology to enhance game days, and in response, sports teams are turning to cloud, mobile and analytics technologies to deliver a compelling fan experience.

Imagine yourself arriving at the stadium to watch your favorite team: Even before you arrive, a mobile app guides you to the closest available parking spot. During the on-field action, you have access to instant replays, alternate views and close-up videos. You can share your social comments and videos instantly. You can order food and beverages through the app for delivery to your seat, never missing a play. Your smartphone points you to the nearest restroom with the shortest line. After the game, it fills you in on traffic information and suggests the quickest route home.

The Atlanta Falcons are working with IBM to offer fans a highly contextual and personalized game day experience by integrating analytics, mobile, social, security and cloud technologies. By leveraging advanced technologies, teams such as the Falcons are hoping to put tickets, not television remotes, in the hands of fans.

4. Turn fans into commentators

Advanced data feeds track every aspect of modern sports events, from how quickly a ball flies or a racket swings to how a batter’s performance this season measures up to years past: the outcome of each and every point. All this real-time data is fodder for fan engagement and social banter during the game. Armed with real-time player statistics and data from live play, fans can make bold predictions, offering direct feedback about decisions being made on the field or strategies for the next play.

Take Wimbledon, for example: Leveraging 3.4 million data points, Wimbledon officials turned data into insight, then insight into narrative. Moreover, far from providing these insights only to fans, the team also trained IBM Watson Engagement Advisor to digest a flow of rich, unstructured data for use answering natural language queries from the press desk.

In an interesting take on turning fans into commentators, the Rabble app allows fans to listen to games broadcast by other fans—or to broadcast themselves. Rabble, noticing how often fans of sports and television shows engage with each other via social media, texting and blogs, has created an interactive forum to help fans do exactly this.

5. Keep players healthy—and on the field

Data from wearable technology devices such as Google Glass, GPS trackers and fitness trackers can provide real-time stats on every player on a team, recording speed, acceleration and heart rate. Such devices are also helping players avoid injury. In sports such as rugby, in which players stand a disproportionately high chance of injury, wearable sensors are helping players stay safe by recording collision impact and intensity of player activity, comparing real-time data with historical data to judge a player’s risk of injury or overexertion.

Find out how the NSW Waratahs rugby team is using analytics to predict each player’s likelihood of injury, allowing the coaching team to personalize players’ training programs for optimal training load while mitigating the risk of injury. Not surprisingly, the Waratahs expect data analytics to significantly enhance on-field performance.

Learn more about IBM Analytics solutions for sports