6 Takeaways From The 2017 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

At the beginning of March, I had the privilege of attending the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for the 3rd time, and this time on behalf of the Washington Redskins. Hosted through MIT and ESPN, it is an amazing learning experience every time I have gone and this time was no different.

It was incredible to hear from so many amazing professionals and meet so many amazing minds. Below are my six major takeaways from the conference. These range from how to assess your data, to the importance of digital, to how to get the most out of your sponsorship activations.

1. “The more we know, the less we know”

In today’s day and age, we have so much technology to gain the insights we need to succeed in business. However, there comes a point where there’s almost TOO much information and data that we can become frozen in our processes. We know so much about our customers that we don’t know what direction to take, as ideas come flowing through our minds at all times.

This came up in the “Data Driven Storytelling” panel, starring Cris Collinsworth, Nate Silver, Brian Kenny, Bill Barnwell, and Chad Millman. We have so many statistics on players in today’s sports that it can be hard to create the right story. So much data can paralyze a writer or someone discussing a game on TV as there are so many angles they can take.

As a result, prioritize. Understand what is most important for your message or business strategy based on what you want to execute on. Maybe you only need five or six data points to pull off your latest marketing campaign or three statistics for your next sports article. If there are any data points that can enhance your case, go for it. That, however, should not handicap you from achieving your underlying goals.

2. Adapt to fit your fans

The way the fan acts and consumes content and news is changing by the day. Social networks are adopting to keep the consumer on them for as long as possible. Mobile phones and sites are always getting more and more advanced. Cable networks are working as hard as possible to keep viewers while cord-cutting grows by the day as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon become more and more convenient.

This topic came up in the “Success Of Streaming” panel, starring Melissa Brenner, Kenneth Gersh, Michelle Wilson, and Eric Fisher. Fans aren’t just viewing content on TV. They’re seeing it on Facebook Live, Twitter, Snapchat stories and Discover channels, YouTube, and on other on-demand outlets. Leagues need to adapt.

As a result, understand where your fans are, go to them, and don’t be afraid to experiment. WWE changed its PPV model where fans could pay a monthly price to get OTT content and major events thrown in. It’s now the 5th-most successful streaming service. They also use social networks to enhance their main storylines. Content on TV is different than on Facebook which is different than on Snapchat. However, they’re all connected. NBA allows fans to buy single games on their network on gamenight with the hopes of getting them to buy season-long NBA TV packages.

Create a balanced content delivery system and understand where your fans are. Touch your fans wherever possible and focus most of your attention where your fans predominantly are. Try new technologies whenever possible, such as VR, live video, etc. And always remember to adapt, as networks, technology, and fan behavior is always changing.

3. Create the best experience for fans based on what you know

The number of ways fans experience games is always changing. They are willing to pay a little more money for an event that they will enjoy and get to share on social media than they would on material goods. As a result, they want what’s convenient for them and teams have to adjust in order to keep fans in the seats, regardless of performance on the field.

This came up during the “Future of Ticketing” panel, starring John Abbamondi, Jamie Brandt, Jody Mulkey, Russell Scibetti, and Patrick Rishe. So much goes into games and the fan experience and teams need to know what fans find important. They shared insight into where the ticket buying market is going, the role fan data goes into customizing the gameday experience, and how the secondary and social media markets are affecting fan buying behavior.

As a result, pay attention to what fans want and customize your experience to adapt to the changing ticket culture. Emphasize the experience in the ticket selling process and make sure you take fan survey data and adapt to it. This way, fans buy packages through you and not a secondary market. One eventual change predicted is that fans will invest in a package where they pay a set fee, go to as many games as they want, and the excess spend goes into other experiences. Also, if fans indicate in surveys that they like to tailgate, don’t try to force them to enter the stadium early before the game. Instead, try to capitalize in the tailgate experience and go to them. Collect data for the good of the customer.

4. Engaging the fan is a year-long process

There is a popular phrase amongst those in sports which says “There is no offseason.” Even while there is no regular season play, there is the draft, offseason workouts postseason assessments, and preseason predictions. Plus, it is a business and you have obligations to deliver content, digital impressions, and fan engagement events throughout the year.

This came up during the “Engaging The Modern Fan” panel, starring Mike Bernstein, Camila Franco, Sarah Hirshland, Elisa Padilla, Link Simpson, and Ben Shields. With a variety of people on the panel behind both singular events and overall league & business strategies, they discussed the difficulties behind having to engage fans all year. Also, they need to figure out the right way to tell their story without overwhelming their audience.

As a result, have a content plan targeted to stretch out for all 12 months of the year. Understand your business schedule and when to really pick up on content distribution. You could be hosting a single event like the PGA Championship, a league season like the NBA, or a year-round business like StubHub. Create stories that can be sustained throughout the year, know where your fans are, be diverse in what you deliver, and understand your distribution outlets.

5. Be prepared to engage on digital

Everyone understands the value of digital in the sports industry. Whether it be through a landing page like a website, an area of communication like social media, or direct interaction with a fan like email, it allows you to tap into your fans in so many ways. Not only do we have information on who the fan is, but how you are performing on these platforms and how you can change.

This came up in the “Fan Data Deluge” panel, starring John Forese, Jessica Gelman, Michal Lorenc, Jeff Ma, and Shira Springer. Digital is more than just a “one-hit” environment, meaning that it’s more than making a post once in a blue moon on one network. Fans that are more engaged on social media are more likely to become avid fans.

As a result, use digital to ping your fan and take a look at the deep metrics when analyzing. Social media can be a very effective tool for turning younger fans into avid ones, and those avid ones into future buyers of tickets and your products. Also, look at more than just surface numbers when analyzing data. On your website, assess time on site, which pages are your most popular, and which content gets the most attention. On social, see how much of a video people view, how fans react to posts, and what style of posts get the highest reach and engagement. As a digital analyst myself, I’m constantly trying to improve in this area and figure out which data is right to track.

6. Sponsors need to research before executing

In today’s day and age, partnerships between companies and sports teams is more than just putting your brand name on a sign in the stadium and then get impression estimates at the end of the season. So many events take place on behalf of a team off the field that brings fans of all kinds together. Not only that, but teams produce content digitally throughout an entire year that a partner can hop on and present.

This came up during the “Emergence of Esports” panel, starring Christina Alejandre, Neil Duffy, Nathan Lindberg, and Travis Gafford. Esports has very engaged fans who know the ins and outs of the games and culture of the games they follow. For sponsors entering the esports space, you have to know how to speak the language of the consumer because the reward can be great.

This can be carried over for all sports. In the esports space, Arby’s was the big example, creating commercials specifically for the esports space that resonated incredibly well with fans. EA Sports has worked very closely during this season to host Madden tournaments with fans and professional players. And all brands can do this with all teams and leagues. Find out what you want your message to be. Do your research and create a two-way communication with your partner to establish clear goals and executions. Be willing to adjust and change when necessary. Be more than just a basic ad banner.