MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: The Future Fan Experience Is Customized, Mobile

With better understanding of big data, social-media and e-commerce strategies have lots of room to grow

The “fan experience” is a common expression that means something different to everyone. For some, it’s a heavily invested season-ticket holder at the stadium; for others, it’s enjoying an entertaining television production at home with friends and family.

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, a panel of the future of fan engagement featured Ticketmaster's Jared Smith, The Kraft Group's Jonathan Kraft, and Fanatics' Michael Rubin. The session was moderated by journalist Andrea Kramer.

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, a panel on the future of fan engagement featured Ticketmaster’s Jared Smith, The Kraft Group’s Jonathan Kraft, and Fanatics’ Michael Rubin. The session was moderated by journalist Andrea Kramer.

The one common thread is that sports — and, really, most forms of entertainment and media — are becoming far less a one-size-fits-all for the masses and more a singularly customized experience that comes in a wealth of unique forms.

“Five years ago, if you looked where all of the leagues were, it was mass communication, and it actually wasn’t very good,” said Michael Rubin, founder/executive chairman, Fanatics, and co-owner, Philadelphia 76ers, during a panel at the MIT Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference this month. “When I look at where we are today, it’s become incredibly customized and personalized and targeted, and what that’s allowed us to do is communicate that much more where the fan loves it.”

It’s one of many reasons that social media offers so many opportunities for sports leagues, teams, and networks, and there’s lots of room to grow because even those platforms are not being used to their fullest potential.

“The vast majority of teams still use social media as an extension of their PR department,” said Jonathan Kraft, president, The Kraft Group, which owns the New England Patriots, New England Revolution, and Gillette Stadium. “The team will put out a press release and put it out on Twitter, and it’s the exact same post. We look at every single post that we make on every type of social-media platform, and we analyze each thing that we do. Each of the four major social-media options [Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat] has a different connotation. Twitter is hard news. Facebook is more lifestyle. Instagram is great for visual moments, and SnapChat is the real-time event stuff. We spend a lot of time analyzing this.”

As a result, the Patriots are regularly at the top of many lists of NFL and sports teams in the U.S. in terms of engagement, which tracks the rate at which social-media posts are shared, commented on, and interacted with.

“That’s much more important to us than any other metric, because, if you are number one in engagement, that means that you’re building that connection. Without the analytic capabilities we have built in-house, we wouldn’t be able to do it, and it’s a great investment in the long-term equity of our business.”

As for teams and leagues looking to better engage fans in the stadium, it’s all about better identifying who exactly is at the game. Many believe that digital, specifically mobile devices, is the best way to do that.

“We take for granted as an industry that we haven’t cracked and solved the core problem, which is that tickets are a very anonymous product,” says Jared Smith, president, Ticketmaster North America. “The way that we ticket and the way that we identify that person has not changed very much in the past 30, 40, 50 years. The holy grail of data is understanding who that attendee is and build a profile around that person.”

Big data is the obvious key to all of this, but there’s loads of data out there, and many sports properties are still figuring out how to best wrangle the combinations of Website traffic data, e-commerce data, social data, etc.

“We believe we are just getting started in our ability to make the experience for the fan incredible based off the data that we’ve learned,” said Rubin. “Every bit of data helps us better customize the experience for the fan, and that just creates more value for everybody.”

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