Sports fans' fervor and enthusiasm make them a unique kind of customer. Looking to better understand them and capitalize on that zeal, the National Hockey League appointed Perry Cooper as its senior vice president of digital and direct marketing and fan analytics. Cooper says working with fans is his passion, and working within corporations that haven't previously been fan centric is his specialty. Before coming to the NHL in 2007, Cooper spent his career at Sports Illustrated and the National Football League.
"I know actionable analytics is a clich?but that's where I've been focused for 20 years, and especially now since it's a necessity due to the economy," he says.
Cooper says part of his job as someone brought in to implement analytics is convincing others of its value. "We make sure those who don't understand the value of optimizing a fan relationship can intellectualize it," he says. "It's the same problem at every company. You need to define the imperative, set a strategy, and then get the culture to buy in."
Cooper oversees the NHL's online store, television package, video streaming, fantasy leagues, and databases. He says his primary goal is to observe how a fan cultivates a relationship with the league, and determine how that affects key metrics. Among the dozens of data points he collects, the most important are lifetime value, team association, number of communications channels used, and response to messaging. "You have to look at customers in a discretionary way and serve them based on what their actions tell you, not on instinct or what others are doing," he says.
The NHL's research shows that fans love hockey, but it doesn't always say why the league isn't connecting with more customers. Unlike most companies, the NHL fan relationships can be affected by each hockey team's performance. Cooper takes the view that performance is cyclical and fan levels will fluctuate, but ultimately remain constant across the league. He's been working on segmenting the fan database to determine how the marketing team can best cultivate new customers. He also makes sure all messaging strengthens current relationships.
A particular passion of Cooper's is reaching displaced fans (those who live in a different market than their favorite team). He's championed the Center Ice television and GameCenter Live online packages so fans can see out-of-market games. The league saw a 250 percent increase in these viewers in the past year as the amount of video available has increased. "Speaking to a displaced fan is one of the most one-to-one forms of marketing I can think of."