In the latest episode of the FOOTBALL BUSINESS Podcast we invited Mark Simmons, Senior Director of Business Intelligence, and Brandon Barca, Senior Director of Digital Strategy, both from the Nashville Soccer Club, to talk about business intelligence in football. This article will summarize the episode’s key takeaways.
Business Intelligence (BI) in the lens of soccer business
In the simplest manner, it is all about using data and insights to drive your business operations and improve the fan experience. That’s the goal Mark and his team does at Nashville. Whether with marketing, ticketing, sponsorship, or whatever it is, those are their two KPIs. If it’s only doing one of those, but not the other, that’s not going to be a recipe for success. So that’s the short version of how Mark sets out his standards.
The BI department is involved in all aspects of the game, both on and off the pitch. On the one hand, they have a dedicated analytics function for what happens on the pitch with the player. On the other side, they generate insights from ticketing data and fan engagement across a range of marketing channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and email. It is their responsibility to compile all of that data into a central hub and create a comprehensive profile of a single fan and his/her interests or habits.
How Nashville collects data and fine-tunes the data quality
Nashville works with KORE software, a Salesforce CRM customizer, and a data warehouse specialist. Together they created a central data hub to manage their ticketing, demographics, retail, email, social media engagement data, etc. They try to capture moments when someone engages with their brands, whether online or offline. It could be from their social media posts, post-match email surveys, or a form from their site. The idea is to make sure there’s some way to measure everything so they can eventually understand what success looks like and maybe which areas they are not as successful in. So, Mark and his team bring all that data into one hub and push it out to the relevant business functions of the business to drive those insights.
The Salesforce environment is where their ticketing, sponsorship, customer service teams work daily. For example, when sending their email campaign, such as a new update about their stadium, the marketing team might segment in a certain way where season-ticket members and single-game buyers get this content differently. This is because the club is building these different relationships and journeys. It’s essential that they put the data in a spot where other departments can segment and utilize targeted emails as much as possible.
How BI boosts sales, marketing and drives revenue at Nashville
“This is how an analytics or BI department proves its value. It’s more important to show how I helped other teams generate X amount of dollars using Facebook or Instagram than to show my cool SQL script” – Mark Simmons
First, the team captures people’s digital engagements and provides them to the right sales professional to start a conversation. They streamlined the entire process and every part of that process is measured. For example, it took 32 minutes from someone being an anonymous fan who submitted a form to capture their data, opt them into their email list, and sell them $5,000 worth of tickets. Also, efficiencies or other types of measurements that may not have an obvious ROI, but ultimately sort of drive that long-time ROI value. Another example is Nashville’s recent activation campaign with one local mall. The goal is to increase their brand awareness, but since they’re still a business, and need to understand how much this cost and the value they generated. In short, the BI department is monitoring it and proving ROI not only from a dollars perspective but from other aspects like database growth, efficiency, engagement, etc.
For Brandon’s department, it’s similar that they maximize the value and optimize what they’re doing. They discuss internally and ask themselves such questions:
- How can they best utilize their resources?
- Do they need to spend more time on email, social media, or whatever that percentage breakout is?
- Who are they connecting with most?
- What’s the best way to monetize those areas?
For example, they analyzed and figured out paid SEM is the success they’ve had in investing in LinkedIn and doing B2B marketing there. The B2B group on LinkedIn was the perfect group to ask how they experienced the new stadium and their premium offerings
“Thanks to the data, we can measure everything as much as possible and continually make decisions day in and day out, especially in all digital and creative areas. So it’s the fun part of the job because you don’t do the same thing every day, as I like to call it, you’ll never be a hamster on a wheel” – Brandon Barca
Success factors for soccer clubs to adopt BI and data analytics
First, the most critical aspect is leadership and buy-in. Then, clubs should establish milestones along their whole journey, since we cannot build an excellent analytics machine in one or two days with 10 people. In other words, we should avoid overpromising and instead focus on tangible milestones or steps. Second, adaptability is key, since anything can happen and the digital world is developing at a breakneck pace. In 2020, Mark and Brandon had a clear vision for how the year would unfold but were forced to alter everything from working from home to a season halt due to Covid. Third, it is better to gather the primary data that has the most influence on your clubs first, rather than pouring everything into your database. For instance, Nashville SC first concentrated on ticketing data and only began using food and beverage data after relocating to their new stadium.
“Don’t just start the analytics department because other teams doing it. Make sure it’s a core belief amongst your club’s leadership, executives, and other different departments” – Mark Simmons