Multiple sports, Global

Reaching the right fans: Uniting a fragmented ecosystem

Mike Malo, vice president of business development at Umbel and former marketing executive for various teams in the NBA, NFL and MLS, explains how fan data is transforming the landscape of sports marketing and fan engagement.

by Guest Contributor
Reaching the right fans: Uniting a fragmented ecosystem

As sports leagues and teams continue to evolve in their ability to collect, analyse and act on their various sources of data, fans will end up being the ultimate beneficiaries of a more sophisticated and personalised approach through contextually relevant marketing practices.

The fundamental need every sports brand has is to find, grow and sustain an engaged fan base. Over the past few years, it’s become clear that the best way to accomplish this is through rich data that provides insights into how, when and where their fans want to engage.

In today’s sports ecosystem, engagement has become extremely fragmented because it is taking place in so many unique ways: in venue; through traditional TV and radio broadcasts; on mobile devices; within team and league websites, apps and emails; through streaming services; and on numerous social media platforms.

Some of the biggest challenges among leagues and teams are in understanding which fans are engaging on which platforms and how to reach them through the channel they prefer. There is fairly good knowledge of who their ticket customers are, but very little understanding of how else those ticket buyers are engaging with their teams.

For example, if I buy a ticket online for a game, I have to create an account with my email address and some other basic information. By doing so, I’m now part of that team’s ticketing and email databases, and I’ll probably get put into a customer relations management (CRM) database as a potential season ticket lead. I’ll be called by a team’s inside sales representative, as well as dumped into an email newsletter where I’ll regularly get promotional ticket offers.

Beyond that, most teams won’t be able to connect that information with the fact that I also follow the team on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and that I regularly watch highlight videos through the team’s app. Additionally, they won’t know that I tune in to about a third of their games on either a TV or through my mobile device.

What’s encouraging is that the industry is moving in the right direction to gain those insights and, more importantly, act on them in a way that fits the desires of their fans. Which, in turn, will create deeper engagement and brand loyalty.

The tools to acquire, analyse and act on this data are currently available, and the sports industry is slowly understanding the importance and value of investing in these resources. One of the primary ways to act on this data is to build highly targeted audience segments based on similar data sets to allow teams to deliver contextual relevance and drive desired responses.

As the industry’s data knowledge evolves, my team will know that I don’t have a ticket to tonight’s game, which will put me into an outbound campaign delivered via text or email or both, providing I’m opted in, to remind me to tune in to the TV or radio broadcast, follow along on Twitter, or catch the highlights on the team app.

They’ll also know that I prefer to attend games on Sunday afternoons because I like to bring my kids, which prompts them to send me promotional, family-oriented ticket offers and information about unique sponsorship activations at the stadium geared toward children.

In addition to that, they’ve built a unique audience segment of other fans who have nearly the same behaviours as me, and test different offers and content in their emails to see which ones deliver the best responses, and then use that information to optimise future campaigns.

However, because the industry is still building their data infrastructures and are generally understaffed in this area, the process can be a little intimidating for organisations which don’t have the human resources to analyse and properly act on their data.

The key is to start with something you can manage and find the right vendors who make it quick and easy. Take a deep look at your ticket buyers and segment them by investment levels, seat location and ticket usage rates. Look at your email newsletter database and segment your audience by open rates, and start testing whether the open rates improve by sending the email at different times of the day. Based on those results, re-segment your groups to achieve better responses.

Once you get some of these built, it won’t be long before you get hungry for more data to drive more sophisticated segments. Umbel helps sports and entertainment properties acquire valuable social profile data and align it with ticketing, CRM and email data to provide rich behavioural data points based on brand affinities or “likes” within an individual’s social profile.

This data is easily accessible in the Umbel software platform for marketers to understand which ticket buyers also follow them on Facebook and what other brands they like. That allows teams to quickly build target audience segments and export them for outbound email and digital advertising campaigns.  With highly relevant campaigns to specific audiences, the response rates and return on ad spends are typically a minimum of three-to-five times better than historical methods.

The end result is a more engaged and loyal fan base, and a more effective, results-based approach toward meeting an organisation’s objectives.

Mike Malo is vice president of business development at Umbel, prior to which he led marketing for teams in the NBA, MLS, NFL and MLB. He will be speaking at SportsPro's The Brand Conference on 28th September, where he will discuss how to drive digital engagement using data.

For more information on Umbel and how it can drive fan engagement and marketing revenue, visit