The Numbers Game: Sports Teams Struggle with Collecting and Analyzing Data about Their Supporters

Article excerpt

Sports today is all about statistics--runs batted in and earned run averages, free-throw percentages and three-point scoring, penalty minutes, goals scored, and shots blocked. In just the past year or so, a handful of teams have also started collecting stats around fan behavior at their favorite stadiums and their own marketing success.

Arguably, though, sports is very early in the CRM deployment cycle compared to other industries.

Major League Soccer (MLS) in June became the first professional sports league to tap into the wealth of fan data to improve the fan experience and boost team loyalty. Using SAS Analytics, it hopes to grow its fan base by integrating data from club-level ticketing, league-level merchandise sales, and digital subscriptions. Then predictive analytics and data mining will help league officials better understand what fans want. With these insights, MLS plans to deliver additional fan services and increase ticketing and merchandising opportunities for the 19 teams in the league.

"Avid soccer fans are the lifeblood of MLS, and SAS Analytics will help us secure a direct path to our most loyal and valuable supporters, which in turn makes our clubs stronger," said Howard Handler, MLS's acting chief marketing officer, in a statement. "SAS will allow us to learn more about those ardent supporters so we can, ultimately, improve marketing communications."

The Orlando Magic, a small-market NBA franchise, is also using SAS Analytics to improve the fan experience. The team pools fan purchasing history, including sales at concession stands and team stores, into a central data warehouse. It applies analytics to the data to compile a big-picture view of all customer activity. A Web portal delivers that data to essential parts of the organization, including ticket sales, corporate partnerships, and client services, letting employees work with the same information.

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Another team using SAS solutions is the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. "We interact with fans in several ways, and SAS analyzes data from all those sources," says Jim Alexander, senior director of business analytics for the Pirates. "We use SAS to build powerful predictive models that draw out customer insights and help us deliver the right offers to the right fans. …