Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment's Customer Strategy Cultivates Fans for Life

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
MLSE uses behavioral data and customer insight to better target email campaigns and deliver relevant messaging, focusing on long-term retention over single ticket sales.
Gold: Customer Analytics

Business Boost: MLSE's fan-focused culture brings relevant messaging to the right customers at the right time, resulting in a 54 percent increase in email open rates and a 166 percent increase in click-through rates during the 2011-2012 sports season.

Sports fans are extremely devoted and passionate. They stand by their favorite teams no matter the score. But, when it came to cultivating steadfast customer relationships, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) decided it needed to boost its service performance in order to win over the loyal hearts of its customers for good.

As Canada's leading sports and entertainment organization, MLSE owns the NHL's Maple Leafs, NBA's Toronto Raptors, AHL's Toronto Marlies, Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, Air Canada Centre, Real Sports Bar & Grille, and numerous other sports and entertainment properties. Its CRM and research department, which acts as the central hub for analytics and customer intelligence across the organization, leads the charge in championing intelligence-based decision-making across all of MLSE's properties, leveraging insights from its database of more than two million customers to strengthen its core organizational value of "exciting every fan" in particular.

"Our fans are the lifeblood of our teams," says Neda Tabatabaie, director of CRM and research, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. "They live at the center of our company's vision and values, and we strive to excite and inspire them with everything that we do. Our 'fans first' approach means understanding our fans and their needs, giving them the proper channels to share their feedback, listening to them, and applying the learnings."

To extract customer insight, MLSE segments fans based on their demographics, lifestyle habits, and consumer behavior to develop a clearer picture of how these fans interact with the various teams. Understanding these interactions allows MLSE to service customers better, while also boosting its ability to provide timely, relevant campaigns and messaging to these fans. By analyzing its CRM database's wealth of diverse fans, MLSE was then able to gauge customers' varying expectations and measure their satisfaction, validating whether they are truly receiving the right messages at the right times. Customer surveys show that more than 85 percent of Season Seat Holders were highly satisfied with the amount of communications they received, while 90 percent of Insider email opt-ins were highly satisfied, helping to reinforce that analytics and targeting strategies are enhancing the positive fan experience.

Behind MLSE's ability to factor fan feedback and customer intelligence into all key decisions for the organization resides the essential support the CRM and research team has received from senior management and stakeholders to establish this successful analytics program. Buy-in across the organization triggered more productive service interactions with fans, more timely access to customer data for analytics, and deeper insights into what truly inspires fans. MLSE wants to make sure fans are informed about the next event or game without bombarding them with too many messages. Analyzing three years of ticket purchaser data also revealed that MLSE needs to be more mindful of fan life stages and provide fans with options based on where they are in their life, family, and career commitments.

For example, MLSE targets one key Raptors demographic-the "Young Urban Trendsetter" segment-by tailoring marketing messaging to these 20-something-year-old consumers looking for the latest products and entertainment experiences. By presenting them with relevant ticket offers for Friday night games and "Guys Night Out" specials, MLSE has seen a 30 percent email open rate. MLSE's particular focus on providing excellent service to these fans also stems from the need to nurture them to long-term fandom, for these tools allow the company to tailor the right messaging to the right fan at the right time, thereby developing a stronger relationship with the fan of the future.

Thanks to MLSE's fan-focused culture, the 2011-2012 sports season saw a 67 percent decrease in the number of emails fans received over previous seasons, a 54 percent increase in email open rates, and a 166 percent increase in click-through rates, proving that the right messaging must be reaching the right fans at the right time. Driven entirely by customer analytics, and led by the cross-departmental agreement to think differently, MLSE has truly prioritized the long-term value of its customers rather than reaping the immediate and short-term gains of a single ticket sale.

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