10 essential data strategies for Sports Organizations

Marketing has changed. In the digital age, marketing has extended its scope, transforming from a hands-on organization into the intelligence hub of the business. This intelligence is built up through listening carefully and analysing what people actually want.

Sports that do not take this development on-board become vulnerable. They still own the product but they are slowly losing the relationship with fans. To inspire you, this article offers ten concrete strategies for execution, i.e. things that are essential to know about data-driven design. So that you can achieve progress with your sports organization's performance.

1. Let's start with your data policy

Fortunately, many sports organizations have begun working on a data policy in recent years. Some are still working on their vision, while others have already taken the leap into implementation. But there are still many that have not even started. Waiting too long is risky. Looking at other sectors, we see that data owners are more successful than product owners. In 2019/2020, we're facing the last chance to take the first steps. Luckily, sports organizations have a very strong foundation to work with. Sports already have loyal fans, and many remain so throughout their lives. In addition, sports stands out from all other sectors when it comes to capability of producing "content about the content", which creates long-term fan connections to their platforms.

2. Invest in first party data

First party data is the term we use for data that you have created in-house and that your organization therefore owns. Data ownership has great economic value. It makes sports organizations less dependent on third parties and avoids cases where others put high price tags on the data you want. Purchasing data from third parties always incurs costs. Google and Facebook charge high rates for targeted audiences. Acquiring data from external consultancies is also an expensive approach. Those who invest in first party data do not have this hassle. Owning the right data is a sustainable investment that will lead to considerable economic benefits for a sports organizations in coming years.

3. Enriching data with 'softer' components

From a marketing perspective, the power of data lies not only in so-called transactional data but also in behavioural data. The latter category extends beyond only looking at data on what people have actually done or bought; it also takes their interests and preferences into account. That information is exactly what you need when creating unique database segmentations. This process enables micro-marketing based on cognitive data. And that has an extremely positive effect on conversion rates from campaigns. It also enables sports organizations to offer their visitors much better content recommendations, based on behavioural data. This stimulates site and app usage. Using 'softer' data ultimately leads to a stronger loyalty bond between the brand and the sports consumer.

4. Embrace conversational chat

Conversational computing is one of the most important trends we see in 2019 and it has a clear impact on data structure too. Using artificial intelligence (AI), the computer system can learn from the questions asked. In this way, system learning keeps accelerating and the quality of the underlying data improves. This form of interaction with a computer system is referred to as voice marketing. The speed of interaction between consumers and computer system leads to much faster increases in the data volume. You can derive valuable market trends from the knowledge that a chatbot (the computer system) accrues. The large volume of data even makes predictions possible. This is pretty close to 'big data' analysis, a subject that we will explore further below. In 2020, all the brands that consumers use daily will have already formulated a voice strategy. And the sports sector should not be left behind, since this provides extremely valuable insights.

5. Using system data as the basis for working on actionable data

In general, sports organizations already have a treasure trove of data in their existing IT systems. The point is that there is often a shortage of available tools and links that you can use to make the appropriate data usable – i.e. actionable. The solution here relies on cooperation between the IT department and a marketing technology specialist. The idea that an organization can only take this step when the system data is accessible in its entirety is a misconception. Achieving that is often too expensive, too complex and therefore unnecessary. There is a wide range of methods for extracting smaller data sets from IT systems, and that can have a huge marketing impact. Consider, for example, a selection of data showing when someone last bought an event ticket. Even working with that alone, a marketer can achieve a lot when it comes to setting up a smart conversion strategy.

6. The platform generates the data

We can see it clearly everywhere in our economy – the person who knows their customers best takes the lead and not the one who owns the product. Bol.com and Coolblue do not produce anything; they let others do that. They use their platforms to make connections with end-customers, and they control the consumer experience that way. By offering optimal service, they win consumer's hearts much faster than the product provider does. Creating a platform is therefore an essential pillar of a data strategy. It follows that success for sports organizations in the data age lies in the ability to maximize engagement through digital platforms, then using that data as a basis for fulfilling sports fans' expectations (customer experience). This is where we also find the most important strength that organized sports can use to compete with non-organized sports. The platform has become the product. Just as it is in the cases of Coolblue, Airbnb or Marktplaats.

7. Personalization is the basic requirement

"Not for everyone but especially for you". That is the new rule, in a world with such an abundance of information, from which we consumers select relentlessly. We only respond to messages with extremely high relevance and a very personal approach. We call this development hyper-personalization. “Hi Vincent, Great that you were at the World Short Track Championship last year...”, etc. “Dear Marieke, We would like to reward you for your regular participation in the Summer Beach Circuit. That is why we have… for you and your team mates...”, etc. This is of course only possible when you apply the right datasets and make flawless links between databases and campaign applications. If this requires too much manual input, marketing automation solutions can offer a remedy.

8. Big data is a valuable resource

The term “big data” can sometimes be a little vague. It can refer to data collected within an organization or from external sources. Data sources outside your organization can be very relevant for sports organizations. Consider, for example, research on membership development or on socio-economic figures from the CPB (Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis ) or SCP (The Netherlands Institute for Social Research). Historical results may also offer a rich data source, as can current research on sport trends from a research institute such as Mulier or the “Kenniscentrum Sport” (Sports Knowledge Centre). Big data is not an easy topic for sports organizations to grapple with, because the choice is so overwhelming. But organizations that have already taken the first steps in developing their data policy will certainly discover new opportunities here.

9. Broadening the database from athletes to sports fans

We all like to see data from active athletes. That is the core domain of sports. But from an economic point of view, data about the sport's fans (the non-practitioners) is at least as interesting. The opportunities for database expansion lie mainly in this group. There will always be more hockey fans or volleyball fans in the Netherlands than active hockey or volleyball players. From an economic perspective, it is worth getting to know everyone who is interested in a sport. Visitors to events, television viewers or social media followers should also be included in a sports organization's database. Here lies the link to what sponsors find important. They want the largest possible fan base, in which they can find interested target groups for their products or services. As long as all of this is done within the regulations, this is all fine and it will generate more cash for the sport.

10. Development through Customer Identity Management (CIM)

Although it is perhaps a long leap for some sports organizations, CIM – also called CIAM (customer identity & access management) is now becoming commonplace in sports organizations at home and abroad. CIM gives the fan the option to log in to certain applications based on personal data and create a unique service environment within it. Fans are more easily recognized and therefore receive assistance faster. In addition, the user has influence on his or her profile and can modify it. CIM gives substance to the loyalty relationship between sports fans and sports organizations. Clubs from the English Premier League and American sports organizations are at the forefront of this. In the Netherlands, a number of top football clubs and a number of progressive sports associations are working hard on this theme. It goes without saying that both the data quality and the service level gain a huge boost from using CIM.

Looking ahead

So there we are! Do these ten must-execute strategies cover all our bases? No, unfortunately or perhaps happily not. We can still expect a lot of developments in the field of data in the coming years. Artificial intelligence has made its entrance into the data and software world. To put it concisely, computers can teach themselves new things without being programmed. We call this machine learning. It literally means that the computer system can analyse existing data and add new data insights autonomously. For example, it could make an analytical prediction of the size of a certain target group in three or five years. This constantly improves our insights and keeps them more current. Fortunately, you do not have to purchase or buy artificial intelligence, it is all built into the software that we use daily.

We are also awaiting important developments in the field of geo-targeting (geofencing), i.e. adding location information to data. Technology is increasingly capable of combining multiple data streams within a defined environment. This can, for example, enormously increase the service level in sports stadiums or at sporting events.

To work successfully with data, we first have to ask ourselves the right questions about what exactly we want to know and which data will really help us in our sport. This is the thinking that we need to do ourselves, working with marketing and sports specialists from our own environment. Doing so avoids us eventually drowning in the plethora of available data options. As a sports organization, don't let yourself be put off by the complexity of data handling. Continue to build your intelligence hub and don't hestitate to call in the right expertise. For sports organizations to remain successful in an increasingly competitive world, using data is a must-go pathway.

*Note: We frequently refer to “sports organizations” in this article. We use this term as a reference to clubs, rights holders, sports associations, leagues, brands that hold sports rights, social organizations and sponsors involved in sports.