How clubs are responding to the ‘Omnichannel’ Fan

The topic of the ‘omnichannel’ fan – hungry for 24/7 content, on TV, on the web and increasingly, via mobile – continues to capture our attention. We took the opportunity, earlier this week, to have an animated debate with a range of football clubs about the subject.

In the inspiring setting of The Gherkin, we discussed the importance of the online relationship that clubs have with their fans; what makes a great online experience and how this helps to build loyalty, enhance a club’s brand and drive commercial opportunities. Everyone agreed with the view recounted from last month’s Leaders in Sport event – ignore digital channels at your peril and make sure you’re monetising them. But there was also a recognition that clubs were at different stages on the road towards enhancing the online journey for their fans.

We were fortunate to have Scott McLeod from Everton Football Club share his experiences and insights into the significant strides they’ve taken in making it simple for supporters to engage and purchase with the club online. This, he reported, is helping to change purchasing habits of existing fans whilst also enabling them to engage with new ones.  Online engagement is at the heart of Everton’s ongoing digital strategy, which has been spearheaded by the success of the official club app. This is exciting because the app provides fans with the opportunity to purchase tickets more quickly and easily than ever before, with our TALENT Sport commerce platform integrated within the native app. All this work by Everton has resulted in the club winning an award at the Football Business Awards (read more here) as well as being voted number one by the fans in the Premier League’s annual fan survey for ease of purchasing tickets online (read more here).

Kurt Pittman from Brentford Football Club also shared his experiences about encouraging fans to move online and the importance of using data to provide a personalised experience for supporters. In fact, the focus on delivering a customised, tailored journey was a major theme throughout the event. Everyone agreed that using data about the fan in the right way helps to deepen the intimacy of the relationship. Clubs can use previous purchasing behaviours and profile information to better understand fans’ preferences – this insight can then be used to create a better, more relevant experience but also to unlock the value of the individual supporter from a commercial perspective.

Prior to holding the event, we had debated the role that the retail industry plays in informing the sports organisations how to deliver a great online experience. Tina Spooner from IMRG – the online e-retail industry body – attended the event to provide this insight, looking at trends around shoppers in the retail space. She shared how game-changers for online shoppers have been mobile, personalisation and maximising international opportunities. It was interesting to hear how consumers have shifted from shopping online to find better value, to a situation where convenience has become the key motivation. It’s clear that retailers are working hard to keep up with customer demands as they embrace mobile and how they endeavour to make it as easy for shoppers as possible to have choice and convenience. Tina shared that recent research carried out by them shows how retailers are struggling to find the right balance between engaging with consumers in a personalised way but without over-stepping the line and making it feel too ‘spooky’.

This latter point sparked off great debate; the clubs around the table all agreed that, for sports fans, it just can’t get too personal. In fact, the feeling was that this becomes a badge of honour based on their support of the club; it demonstrates that the club knows exactly how deep their loyalty lies. The role of fan data and being able to use this data in the right way to profile fans and, subsequently, engage more effectively with them, was clear. Clubs shared several examples of this, such as targeted communications with tailored videos full of relevant sporting memories to the individual supporter which helped to increase season ticket sales. Tina acknowledged that most retail brands would die to have the level of engagement and loyalty that football fans offers.

There was also a reality check where clubs intimated that, on the whole, they simply do not have the same budget as retailers and, therefore, can’t always deliver exactly the same experience online. Choice and convenience are still at the forefront of their minds when delivering a great experience, and making sure that the basic benefits are in place is fundamental. For example, fans do expect to be able to purchase a ticket easily, quickly and seamlessly, from any device – and within as few clicks as possible.

Given the retail shopper and the football fan is – in many cases – the same person, there were conversations as to why the consumer is happy to purchase online yet the football fan is often steeped in tribal traditions. There was an acknowledgement that in some cases, driving fans online required a forced change in behaviour to encourage fans to purchase online.  However, there was agreement that you still need to make the experience as rewarding as possible; prioritising relevant content for particular audiences, so the customer journey is personalised and the ‘virtual store’ is polished and clean, as well as some of the basics outlined above.

For us, we’re more certain than ever that exploiting the value of fan data in the right way helps to enhance loyalty by delivering a satisfying customer experience. Enriched data means more personalisation and opportunity for increased yield, as well as delivering enhanced commercial value to sponsors. But it was also evident that the core technology commerce platform still needs to deliver the goods when a fan is purchasing online – a few of the words used to describe this was quick, simple, and efficient – fans don’t want big bottlenecks which disappoint and means clubs have to work very hard to draw fans back online.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking closer at how sports clubs are finding innovative ways to create compelling online experiences and, more importantly, using online data to develop the services of the future.

We’d like to hear from you; what are your biggest challenges when engaging fans online?

Mark Dewell

Managing Director - Advanced Ticketing

 

For all news and stories see our Advanced Ticketing news site or follow us on Twitter: @Adv_TALENTSport and @MarkDewellADV

Should football fans expect an Amazon online experience when purchasing tickets? And will they ever get this?

As we enter 2014, there has been a raft of New Year predictions are being reported at a prolific rate. One of the most hotly reported trends is that 2014 is going to be the year where ‘personalisation’ comes into its own. Brands will be jumping on this trend to gain a piece of the significant e-commerce pie – read one well reported piece here from The Drum: http://www.thedrum.com/news/2013/12/04/2014-will-be-year-personalisation-brands-try-take-piece-14trn-e-commerce-pie.

This certainly comes as no surprise to us. We’ve been evangelising the importance of offering a personalised customer experience for some time, focused primarily on our work with customers in the sports arena using our TALENT platform. We believe this is central to building fan engagement; whether rewarding loyalty to committed supporters, or incentivising engagement with new fans, or looking specifically at the next generation of supporters via family packages and promotions. It’s been at the heart of our product strategy to ensure customers can use the data held within TALENT to deliver a unique customer experience to their sport fans when purchasing online – whether this is for buying tickets, retail merchanise or corporate hospitality for example.

We’ve been focused on our product roadmap to deliver new developments, such as linking product data so that TALENT prompts customers about relevant offers and deals they may be interested in, specifically based on their preferences. There’s also the ability for clubs to use TALENT to provide an increasingly richer personalised experience when developing targeted marketing campaigns. These utilise all the data that sports fans provide at that critical point of ticketing transaction, held within TALENT, hence allowing clubs and organisations to tailor their communications to supporters.

However, when you look at the retail experience offered online by companies in the retail space – and I’ll pick out Amazon for its remarkable personalisation of service – there’s still a gap between that which sports fans are offered, especially in the football and rugby area. There are quite a few significant reasons for this.

Fundamentally, Amazon can sell any of its products to anyone – there are no restrictions. All Amazon really has to consider is stock, and delivery of this stock. However, in football and rugby, there are lots of different scenarios that need to be considered before a club can even begin to sell a specific ticket, with varying qualification criteria which differs from supporter to supporter.

I’ll give a few examples. There’s the issue of fraud to ensure tickets are legitimate and don’t get into the wrong hands; there’s safety and access control to ensure the right number of tickets are sold and only the right people can enter the stadium. And that really is just the start. Clubs tend to make tickets available and allocate these tickets based on loyalty. Each ticket buyer needs to be categorised, which comes down to a set of criteria based on a perception of ‘fairness’ and ‘entitlement’ around loyalty – whether they are a season ticket holder (the most loyal supporters) and how many games they have attended. These all count for ‘points’ and these points mean prizes in terms of being given first allocation of tickets for premium games and early access during ticket sales. To make it even more complicated, this qualification system can be different for every club and sporting organisation.

So before any tickets are sold, the ticketing commerce platform needs to be able to manage a level of intelligence and logic, which is essentially a number of pre-requisites which have to be accounted for before the potential ticket purchaser can even put anything into their basket.

This comes into action more fully around key dates such as season ticket renewals and high demand match ticket sales. For Liverpool football club for example, it operates a unique bi-annual sale of its tickets. Its most recent members sale – which took place last month – saw more than 70,000 tickets sold online within two days and around 100,000 over the full four day period.  The success of this sale – which avoided extensive queuing for fans online and ensured the right tickets reached the right supporters – is a great example of TALENT operating a system of pre-requisites based on fan loyalty, where tranches of tickets are made available to fans in planned phases to manage peaks of demand and reward the most loyal of fans first.

So although retail operations do reward loyalty – early bird offers, exclusive deals for card holders etc –we’d argue that in sport, there is a different level of sophistication required.  And quite rightly so – the degree of loyalty that sports organisations demand and receive from fans goes far beyond the commitment around most retail purchases, not to mention the long-term nature of loyalty delivered by fans. The commercial success of clubs is largely based around those fans and the experience they deliver on match-days – imagine a stadium without its fans to drive excitement for the teams. So when you think about the degree of qualification that needs to be delivered by sports clubs, it’s also worth considering the intelligence that is contained with the ticketing systems. It’s only after this is delivered successfully in sports, can clubs take the opportunity to then concentrate on delivering the truly unique and personalised customer experience.

Mark Dewell, MD

Advanced Ticketing

For all news and stories see our Advanced Ticketing news site or follow us on Twitter: @Adv_TALENTSport

It’s all about fan loyalty…

Last week we found ourselves having a lively debate with the Football League, The Women’s FA and a selection of football clubs.

The overall theme of the day was the future of fan engagement and a range of topics were up for discussion – from attracting the next generation of supporters, the value of dynamic ticket pricing and looking at the role that technology and social media plays in creating loyalty with fans.

To gain a better insight into the motivations behind ticket purchase and its influence on the fan experience, we decided to commission some independent research with Sportswise, the research arm of leading sports agency Goodform.  With over 2,500 respondents to its Fan Panel research, we launched the results of the UK ‘State of the Nation Research’ at the event. To read the full press release on some of the key research findings visit our ticketing news site.

The research provided UK football clubs with a clear message, with the research revealing the two most important motivators when fans are buying a ticket are 1) securing the best deal and 2) securing their favourite seat.

More than 96% of respondents stated that cost was the most important factor when purchasing tickets

73% also welcomed details on deals and offers from venues in advance

72% of football fans stated the ability to choose their favourite seat was one of the most important considerations when purchasing their ticket

In addition to their favourite seat, fans always want to secure the best price with 97% saying they’d consider or take up early bird ticket offers to get this.

From my perspective, it reaffirmed our view of the importance of obsessing over every aspect of customer data. My question to football clubs attending on the day was exactly how much they know about who is sitting in each and every seat at their stadium at every match. I believe that the more information every club has about its fans, the more it can deliver a truly personalised fan experience that rewards loyalty with relevant discounts and offers.

The research created a forum from which we debated the issues of the day. It always strikes me how open and honest football clubs are willing to be with each other, wanting to share best practice and learnings.

Katie Holmes, Head of Ticketing at Leeds United Football Club, one of our customers, shared the club’s innovations in driving engagement with fans. She discussed their Grass Roots group ticketing scheme, a new initiative to encourage juniors from across the county to come to Elland Road. Ticket pricing strategy was at the heart of this to make it affordable for all to attend. Being part of the Grass Roots initiative gives juniors the opportunity to take advantage of reduced price tickets, with junior tickets from as little as £5, whilst earning cash back for their club or organisation. However, the spirit of the scheme was to ensure they actively participate in the matchday itself, so junior football teams parade around the pitch at half time, shake the giant shirt on the centre circle, the 1st team squad can be escorted onto the pitch and juniors have the chance to be the official ‘Guard of Honour’ as both teams enter the pitch.

Other clubs shared their experiences with dynamic pricing, and the benefit they saw in that model in the right situation, whilst others revealed insights into what worked – and what didn’t – when trying to meet the needs of families throughout the match day experience.

The event was held at St George’s Park, the FA’s National Football Centre in Burton-On-Trent, so we rounded off the event with a tour of the facilities, which were very impressive.  The service was excellent and we’ll certainly be making a trip back there again to hold other events.

Ironically, our research coincided with clubs responding to the Premier League’s ‘Away Fan Fund’ which put this fully on the media agenda. As a result, I’ll be talking about our research on BBC Radio Manchester’s Football Hour next Monday, 28th October, tune in to hear some more lively debate. Of course, there’s always the risk that I’ll be put on the bench.

Mark Dewell, MD

Advanced Ticketing

Fan Engagement and Family Friendly Clubs

What does owning customer data have to do with attracting the next generation of supporters to football?

I read an interesting article in the Guardian about the step-change in football clubs becoming more family-friendly, which has been tracked by the paper’s annual survey of clubs’ attitudes to families, which started in 2006 (you can read it here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jul/19/football-clubs-on-the-ball ).

There were some startling figures from last season:

  • 29% of Premier League supporters went to one or more matches accompanied by children
  • 13% of season-ticket holders are now juniors
  • Cardiff City‘s efforts have seen an increase in family season ticket holders from 459 four years ago to nearly 8,000 last season ( long before promotion to the Premier League was clinched)

I happen to know that many of these statistics were supplied by Andrea Brown, Customer Services Manager at the Football League. I was fortunate enough to see her speak at The Fan Engagement Forum back in May in Manchester, when she highlighted some additional figures which were equally impressive about sport engagement – cumulative match attendance in the Football League last season was over 16m, the highest attending league in UK sport. It’s probably worth pointing out that this is influenced by the fact that the league has 72 clubs and 1813 football league match days last season, but it’s still remarkable. Andrea talked about how clubs need to engage with families effectively to build the next generation of loyal supporters. Although price is a driving factor when families first make a decision to attend a match, coming back to the club is driven by their experience. Football clubs now need to create lifelong memories for their fans.

Clubs have had to become savvier to ensure supporters continue to attend matches. To drive participation, the process of retaining and attracting new loyal fans to the sport has emerged as one of the biggest areas of focus for clubs. Clubs are also now acutely aware of the fact that the support of the next generation of supporters cannot be taken for granted. As pointed out in the Guardian, new methods around flexible pricing, supporter consultation, family zones and match day entertainment have all played a key part here.

In looking at which are the savvier clubs in this whole area, there are two initiatives that really stand out for me – Cardiff City and Reading – the idea of going to Cardiff City as a kid, on your birthday, and the turnstile automatically knows it’s your special day so that you get a unique greeting, gift or treat is pure genius. And I love the idea of Reading’s cookie bags – having junior supporters design the bags is inspired, especially engaging by including young fans from the visiting club. The facts that these young fans experiencing their first away game get a match day programme signed by their team’s players demonstrates a special touch.

Let’s not be too sentimental here however; Cardiff’s increased revenue from additional family season ticket holders demonstrates the commercial viability of these innovations as well as the long-term benefit from engaging with that next generation of supporters. The Guardian’s survey flags clubs doing it well. There are still many clubs looking for help on fan engagement strategies and I remain convinced that delivering a tailored customer journey is fundamental in this process. This is where owning customer data comes in. Clubs need detailed and accurate data on their customer preferences to ensure they can engage in an intimate and relevant manner. It might not surprise you that in sport, the point of purchasing tickets provides one of the greatest opportunities to gain that insight into customer preferences – where they like to sit, regularity of attendance and with whom, and the type of tickets they purchase whether for family and friends etc, and by what medium they want to interact.

Put simply, if clubs want to engage with that next generation of fans, they need to know who to target with family promotions and loyalty rewards for example. We know from research carried out by the FA to identify key fan moments, that ticket buying was one of the key moments. Clubs recognise the opportunity to personalise their ticketing promotions and incentivise attendance with schemes around rewards, discounts, smartcards and loyalty schemes. Ticketing commerce platforms need to offer a high level of flexibility to do this, but it can certainly reap rewards when you want a packed stadium of supporters cheering on their team, regardless of the obvious commercial benefits.

The new version of TALENT Sport is to be launched later this season, where you will be able to see our new developments enabling clubs to profile and engage their fans to deliver a unique fan journey, based on their preferences, to help unlock the commercial value of clubs’ supporter data. For clubs wanting to engage that next generation of loyal supporters, ensuring you have control of this data is vital – it’s simply too valuable to let someone else own this.

In the meantime, congratulations to all those clubs who were recognised by the Guardian article for making great strides in fan engagement.

Mark Dewell, MD

Advanced Ticketing

For all news and stories see our Advanced Ticketing news site or follow us on Twitter: @Adv_TALENTSport

Dynamic Ticket Pricing in football – hype or happening?

There have been a lot of discussions about dynamic ticket pricing in sport, especially football.

The concept is still open to conjecture, especially here in the UK. There are some high profile examples of clubs that are already embracing it, such as Cardiff City and Derby County, others who are considering it, including one of our clubs, Leeds United. However, for many, the jury is still out. Next month we’ll be debating the issue with some prominent industry commentators including the Football League and a number of football clubs, as part of a bigger discussion around future-proofing fan loyalty. This has prompted me to put forward some of our deliberations on the topic to date.

There’s a fundamental premise around the pricing of football matches that needs to be examined from the outset. For potential season ticket holders, it’s probably fair to say that they look at the price of matches based on the ‘average’ cost of each match – for the sake of keeping it to some simple maths, say there are 10 games and the season ticket costs £100, the season ticket holder sees each game costing an average of £10. However, football clubs take a very different view to the cost of each match. Each game is priced based on different criteria, such as the timings of the match, home or away, who is the opposing team etc. This means that when it comes to calculating the price of tickets, some matches are valued at perhaps only £5, whereas others increase to £20 or more.

With this in mind, when calculating the dynamic element to the pricing structure of each ticket for one-off matches, it starts to become much more challenging. The more popular matches will naturally be more in demand and hence command higher prices. It’s a relatively simple proposition – unless the savvy fan buys early to take advantage of early bird offers, they could end up paying significantly more money for their ticket. However, for the less popular games (or stadiums) which don’t regularly sell-out and where ‘dynamic’ pricing (in other industries like retail) would usually result in last minute offers to drive attendance, there are complications due to the dynamics of the season ticket holder.

The season-ticket holder is the most loyal fan and responsible for guaranteed revenue streams for football clubs. If match ticket prices go below the perceived seasonal average, this could – and most likely would – impact the loyalty of season-ticket holders who start to question the value proposition, and their commitment to the club, through their season-ticket purchase. To retain their support, some clubs using dynamic pricing have guaranteed season holders that individual tickets will never sell below the face value of their ticket, coming back to the above point about the perceived ‘ticket value’ for each match. The challenge is that surely this eliminates the balancing aspect to dynamic pricing, the last minute real-time discounts to sell those final tickets, because of this guarantee to season ticket holders….

The fundamental question has to come back to the rationale behind introducing dynamic pricing, whether it is to benefit club revenues or enhance the fan experience.  Those clubs that regularly sell-out already command a premium price for their tickets – will they realistically increase that, or want to alienate fans (potentially) with higher prices? For those struggling to pack-out their stadium, wouldn’t straight-forward early bird offers work as effectively. Perhaps with the right ticketing promotions and packages, appealing to friends and family, this would be more attractive to a wider audience and hence drive engagement with a new range of ‘fans’. The question remains as to whether this requires dynamic ticket pricing strategies? Is it more about understanding what fans, their friends and family really want and delivering relevant and personalised offers? The mantra of encouraging fans to ‘Buy tickets early, save money’ can be achieved by offers without dynamic pricing.

At this stage, is dynamic pricing simply one of the latest trends to be used to try and capture the attention of fans – and the potentially bigger audience that clubs are trying to reach and engage with – to drive participation and attract new loyal fans?

I’ve yet to be convinced by the commercial or supporter benefits of the dynamic ticket pricing model in the business of football. Yes, innovate and incentivise attendance around early bird ticket offers, promotions and packages, as well as loyalty schemes, based on detailed customer data so that these fan engagement strategies are relevant and appealing.  Every clubs wants a stadium heaving with engaged and loyal supporters encouraging their team to produce a winning performance.  However, I’m always seeking new ideas to enhance the customer experience and I’m open to opinions and evidence that dynamic pricing may be a smart route for clubs with the right profile.  That’s why our TALENT Sport ticketing commerce platform already has the built-in capabilities to manage elements of dynamic pricing. We’ve also investigated partner opportunities to integrate full dynamic pricing systems within TALENT Sport, so it can be introduced as a plug and play model for clubs interested in experimenting with this option.

I’m therefore looking forward to a lively debate next month at our event, which we’re holding at St George’s Park, the FA’s National Football Centre in Burton-On-Trent on the 16th October. If you’re involved in dynamic pricing and fan engagement at a football club, perhaps a commercial director or ticketing manager, do get in touch as we still have some spaces left. I shall certainly be reporting back on any interesting outcomes from our roundtable debate so even if you can’t make the event, I’d love to hear any views on the subject of dynamic pricing and its impact on fan engagement in football.

 

Mark Dewell, MD

Advanced Ticketing

For all news and stories see our Advanced Ticketing news site or follow us on Twitter: @Adv_TALENTSport

 

New Football Season Challenges Around Ticketing

The new football season has kicked off with a number of associated sport business stories about the problems caused when (some) clubs start selling tickets for their first matches.

Concerns about the robustness of their ticketing systems are right up there now for those clubs. The topic of fan engagement is always at the top of our customers’ minds and they continue to tell us that if supporters can’t buy the tickets they want, when they want them, to the right game and in the right seats, the whole fan experience starts to fall apart.

The premise of any ticketing solution has got to be its ability to provide a great fan experience when buying a ticketing – especially meeting peak demand for ticket sales. The core data engine needs to be able to crunch all those transactions, whatever the requirements, offering reliability and robustness so that fans get a fast, reliable and easy experience when purchasing.  Fundamentally, a ticketing system has got to perform when it counts most.

We’ve already had some high profile and high demand projects for the new season. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) recently sold its allocation of 20,000 tickets for the forthcoming match between Scotland and England at Wembley, taking place one week today on the 14th August. As the oldest international fixture, the SFA promptly sold its allocation.

At Liverpool’s recent summer sale, our TALENT platform handled the 90,000 online ticketing transactions within days. One of the ticketing team gave us this feedback:.

“Ensuring our fans get a great experience when buying tickets makes TALENT a critical service for us.  The Advanced Ticketing team’s strong service ethic has regularly proven that any problems get sorted quickly and we avoid downtime for our fans. When you consider our unique summer sales when we can sell more than 90,000 tickets during a short period, this has to operate well and the team always works closely with us to make sure this is a success,” said a spokesperson from the Ticketing Strategy Team, Liverpool Football Club.

Of course, it doesn’t pay for any ticketing company to be complacent. The mission-critical nature of ticketing platforms rely on robust technology which, given the nature of technology, means there’s always a danger that something can go wrong. It’s vital that clubs not only invest in the right systems but also in the right ticketing partner that can demonstrate proven customer confidence around its support service. So when things go wrong, as they do, they get sorted, quickly.

No one gets it right all the time, but our investment in support services has certainly paid off in terms of resolving any issues. We’re very proud of our recent NPS customer score of 68 and the feedback we’ve received from customers (read more here).

So as the season continues, I believe the peace of mind that TALENT offers when it comes to ticketing demands will continue to count.

Mark Dewell, MD

Advanced Ticketing - http://www.iristicketing.co.uk/

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