After 15 years in IT development, Sean Callanan followed his passion for sports and technology by starting Sports Geek. His agency connects sports, fans, and sponsors using technology. He started the active and exclusive SportsBiz Slack Community, which hosts and connects over a thousand sports executives. His Sports Geek Podcast features leaders in sports from around the world. Highlights include interviews with sports business professionals in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, AFL, NRL so far and landing an episode with Shark Tank star and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
These are just a few of the reasons we've chosen to partner with Sports Geek to create profitable sponsorship campaigns for teams in Australia (and beyond). Learn more about our partnership program here.
Sean has a ton of expertise in sports business to share. To help you get to know him a little more, we interviewed him asking about his perspective on fan-based marketing. Here's the full Q+A:
What does "fan-based marketing" mean to you?
For me, there's a really big trend now on personalizing your marketing offers. The days of the big billboard-style ads that reach everybody are dwindling. Physical billboards and banner ads just get tuned out.
I've seen a movement towards personalizing messages and targeting fans based on their demographic profiles - whether they’re male or female, or in a certain age bracket. Even better, some teams are personalizing based on favourite players or the fact a fan has attended games or purchased merchandise. This not only gives your team far more effective spend on your Facebook marketing, it improves the fan experience by putting an offer in front of a fan that they actually want.
So mainly when I hear fan-based marketing, I think about personalization and getting the right offer for the right audience.
What would you say the three biggest digital marketing problems in sports are right now?
1) Resources. Having the right people in the roles to be able to tackle a problem. That’s from a skill point of view, but also just the number of bodies. There’s a real stretch in just getting the work done that is required. I've seen digital teams struggling to produce all the content they need while servicing social channels. Customer service also has a hard time responding to all the fans and meeting their demands. Marketing often asks: how do we go about capturing leads? They just aren't aware of the CRM tools that exist and are just doing their best to leverage the data that's coming in. So it’s a resourcing thing for starters, both from the number of people and then also the skill set.
2) Education. Staying on trend is difficult for many teams. As the platforms move so quickly, it’s really hard for sports execs and digital marketing execs to keep up with the work they’ve got while also looking for and learning about new trends. It's a real issue.
3) Collaboration. The third issue is getting sport, digital, and commercial together - especially getting the commercial teams and the partnership teams working hand in hand in what the digital team can deliver. I see a lot of fracture in that space. It's a problem because if those two teams can work a little bit better together you’ll end up with better campaigns for sponsors. You’ll end up with happier fans because there will be cooler campaigns and you’ll get better results.
Why is personalizing the fan experience important to sports fans?
It’s their memories. We’re seeing a lot of that personalization brought down to stadium level. Whether it be the app knowing where you are, where you sit, or some of your personal preferences. If a fan has a memorable experience it definitely helps word of mouth. It helps embed your fandom into their identity. They become more in love with your team. They tell everyone about that great time they had at the game and then 'this' happened and they were high-fiving strangers. That’s the best part of sports.
What you want to do is provide an experience that is special for everyone. For some people, that’s sitting in fan zone drinking beer with friends. For other people, it’s congregating before the game on the concourse. For other people, it’s sitting in the stands watching the big screen and joining in with the game’s entertainment. It’s all about catering the experience for all the different fans. Sporting KC and MLS do it really well - having different zones for different types of fans. A family zone, a younger more vibrant active zone where the fans can really go off... it provides a personal experience for those fans.
How do you measure success for fan-based marketing in sports? What results have you seen for Sports Geek and clients?
In the objectives that are laid out before you even start marketing. When I look at the different marketing campaigns that we tackle, they might be dollar value driven. So we want to sell more tickets and the measure of success is: "Did we sell more tickets? Did we get a return on our ad spend?" There is a straight dollar value that you can use to prove success for ticketing campaigns and merchandising campaigns.
If you’re doing a campaign for a sponsor that wants to capture leads and promote awareness, then how you measure it goes back to: "what does the sponsor want?" If the sponsor says, "I want lots of fans to see my stuff, see my logo, and be associated with a theme" then they’re asking for reach and engagement stats. But if they’re asking for people to come and inquire about sales then they would want number of sales inquiries and number of sales. Results are very driven by your objectives, so that’s what we always strive for.
We also try to provide more than one result. So yes, number of tickets sold and revenue brought from those tickets sold is one metric. But if 30,000 or 50,000 fans knew about the game, they may have walked up and bought a ticket in another manner. So there is value in reporting that reach to the sponsor as well.
What’s included in your fan based marketing tech stack? What tool provides you the most value and why?
From a Sports Geek and client point of view we use a bunch of different products. The ad tech and pixels from Facebook are super critical. They're our starting point for assessing the data position for teams. To get a good feel for their audience, putting in web pixels to create custom audiences helps us know who’s hitting their website. We can also continually evolve our targeting based on video views and page engagement. Facebook's the leader at the minute and every other platform is sort of chasing them down.
As far tools to collect data, we use Tradable Bits. We’ve used them with Hockey Australia and for a campaign with PlayStation and Football Federation Australia. These campaigns worked really well to collect a lot of data, especially using user generated content and getting fans to upload their photos. It’s a really good way to collect data, and then voting got a lot more entries and reach that sponsors like to see.
I also use Drip a lot with Sports Geek. It's helped build out our Sports Geek Slack community by keeping them constantly engaged with personalized email automation. Once people go to the lead page and fill it out, they get added into Drip and immediately receive relevant content in manageable increments.
How do you see Messenger bots and AI changing the way you do things in fan-based marketing?
I do think that Messenger bots in combination with AI will help us break through the clutter. They will probably take over some of the more transactional customer service functions like asking where to park and which concession stand has the shortest line, or bringing up the highlights of that latest play. I think having a CRM be part of the bot strategy will be essential as well. Starting to understand which people ask about food, parking, or highlights will give us a lot of insight into how to best serve them. This is where AI kicks in and we will start being able to provide more of a personalized messenger bot that will be different for everybody in the same way that Facebook feeds are curated for everybody.
How do you envision fan-based marketing campaigns changing in the next 2-5 years?
The future is all about the data. It’s going to drive what you do. There’s going to be more attention to data, both in getting different layers from fans and also getting more teams to say: That’s a really interesting trend, what type of offers can we do in that space?
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