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The Importance Of Digital Insight in Sports Marketing

  —   7 September 2018   —   Access News

Marketers from some of the biggest professional sports club in the North West share their insights on the challenges of fan engagement in a digital world, highlighting the importance of customer insight in sports marketing. 

Mobile technology and social media are transforming sports businesses, opening up greater access to potential customers. Digital channels can also be measured and valued. So what are the tactics being employed to drive success?  

In collaboration with Prolific North and co-sponsors Acquia (our Technology partner), Access hosted a round table event in July, bringing together representatives from Everton Football Club, Stockport County, Manchester Giants, The Jockey Club, Manchester Thunder, Manchester City Council, UMBRO and Activity Alliance to discuss some of the challenges professional sports clubs face in today’s digital world. They also shared their experiences of successful digital techniques that have been transformational for their businesses.    

Chairing the event was Richard Kenyon, Director of Marketing, Communications & Community at Everton F.C., who kicked off the discussion by highlighting how enhanced customer insight and investment in a data insight team had been a game changer for the organisation. 

Richard explained “Digital channels have opened up the opportunity to talk to audiences in a much more targeted and relevant way.  

“We have always had a huge amount of customer data but the real step forward has come from the creation of an insight team that interrogates the data to create audience segments and personas.  

“These segments are also based on behaviour versus the more traditional way of segmenting audiences, and this has been vital. For us the value is in not how old they are or where they live, it’s what they want from the club and us looking at fans in a much more insightful way.

“We have seen commercial value and much greater levels of fan engagement from approaching our communication in this way.

“We’re fortunate because our fans are very willing to share their opinions with us and this insight can be gained through regular surveys. We also have monthly meetings with a core representation of our fan base and we’re able to get a deep understanding of how we can shape our activities to cater for ever-changing needs of our audiences.”  


Customer segmentation and customer journey mapping was also highlighted as a technique that’s helped the Jockey Club achieve sell out events, particularly around the Grand National. 

Researching the different motivations of each of their audience segment types has allowed The Jockey Club to translate valuable insight into new campaigns and propositions, and talk to audiences in a way that motivates them. 

Mike Sarath, Head of Regional Marketing from The Jockey Club also highlighted the importance of Wifi for capturing data. He explained that many customers bought multiple tickets, which meant that that this data capture element was limited in terms of what it was showing. By gathering data of all race goers they have been able to expand their understanding of their audiences.
For some, this level of customer segmentation and personalisation is not possible and discussion turned to how clubs can use social channels and mobile technology to engage both existing fans and prospects. 

The importance of mobile communication was something the entire panel agreed on and that providing audiences with relevant and fast information via devices was business-critical. Consumers expect to be able to do everything on their mobile devices – none more so than the younger generations of event goers who don’t know life without screens. 

Commenting on ‘the first digital world cup’ the panel highlighted the issues associated with ‘multi-screen’ audiences and how much content is required to reach audiences who are using widespread channels – from websites through to Facebook. 

Again customer insight was identified as a key way to select the most relevant touchpoints, especially important for clubs with limited marketing resource and budgets. James Gordon, business manager for the Manchester Giants, illustrated the club’s challenge of attracting new audiences to games and selling tickets where the audience isn’t as defined as larger clubs like Everton. He shared their approach of focusing on selling the experience and using content to generate excitement around both the game and the team. 

Mike Sarath highlighted how the Jockey Club’s race day experience app is used across its 15 courses. It has helped to engage social race goers who can access everything they need to plan their day through the app.  

UMBRO’s UK marketing manager Jonathan McCourt iterated that customer-centricity and finding where you fit in with an audience had helped the brand to generate an authentic identity. He explained how UMBRO has been successful in generating conversation around the World Cup and tapped into its audiences by having a voice around the tournament that resonates with them.  

Phil Fraser from Access said: “Like with many businesses now using digital to garner a deeper level of understanding of different customer groups, sporting clubs such as Everton and The Jockey Club are seeing much more commercial value from their marketing and communication. 

“Digital insight takes the guesswork out of marketing communication and delivers a stronger proposition and strategy. Digital also allows more testing, measurement and agility to change campaigns in-line with ever-changing customer needs and trends. 

“The benefit of customer insight is that often it reinforces what marketing teams already think, but it also challenges assumptions and long standing practices. Many businesses still approach their marketing in a certain way based on a hunch, but those organisations that are excelling are certainly the ones that are shaping their experiences around real-time, real user feedback. 

“In the age of social media and big data, businesses have access to more information about customers and prospects than ever before but the challenge is how to drill down into the data. 

“Personalisation in the online world isn’t just about just knowing the customer’s name, it’s about listening to what they want so communication can be helpful. 

“A good CRM system will help to deliver these tailored messages. The obstacle for many businesses is how to use the software correctly, and the process can seem daunting. 

“But effective digital marketing is not just about the technology, it’s about using platforms and technology as a way of solving problems, creating unique experiences and accelerating business change.”

In summary, the round table event has reinforced the significant impact that customer insight can have, not only within the sports sector but business-wide. It’s something Access actively supports with our own clients with via our unique package of audience insight and strategic planning, The Thinkery. Not only does this process help to shape strategies and positioning, it supports business with the need to adjust to the fast pace of change in today’s digital world.

The third round table will take place in November and will focus on transport and travel. So if you would like to join the conversation please get in touch.

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