I live in the heart of SEC country here in Atlanta. That's stands for Southeastern Conference. It's known for having some of the most rabid college football fans in the country. In fact, there are some places I don't wear my University of Georgia Bulldogs t-shirt for fear of getting jumped, and I'm talking about the next neighborhood over which seems to be conclave of Alabama graduates.
So, am I a rabid sports fan? Yup! As much as I like the Dawgs, my total sports fan allegiance since age 5 has been to the Los Angeles Rams. I've owned season tickets to the Philadelphia 76ers when I lived in Delaware. I buy merchandise a couple times a year. I go to games when I travel to different cities for work. And I know there are hundreds of millions of folks like me who live and die with their sports teams-people who have designed their living rooms (with comfy chairs and easy access to plentiful food and drink and restrooms) around the big TV screens and cable/satellite sports packages they purchased just to watch the games.
We're rabid. We're loyal. We pay attention to what goes on with our teams. And with all of that going for them, you'd think the last thing professional/collegiate sports teams would have to worry about is customer loyalty. But many teams are focusing on building loyalty programs and making them an integral part of their overall customer/fan engagement strategy.
Competition from other franchises for hearts and minds isn't driving these loyalty initiatives. It's competition from the comfy chairs and big screens in our living rooms making the decision to go to a game tougher-even for loyal fans. So, even teams with diehard fans like the Boston Red Sox say it's important to create personalized, unique experiences that can only take place in person at the game.
During a panel I had the pleasure moderating at last month's Sports and Entertainment Alliance with Technology (SEAT) conference, Red Sox Senior Manager of Business Development Kurt Zwald said a main goal of the team's program is to reward fans with unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences simply for engaging with the team. Members earn points through a variety of Red Sox related behaviors and can redeem their points for prizes and unique experiences that are not accessible anywhere else. And they are incentivized to use digital platforms and self-identification via digital/mobile ticketing, eCash & linked concession payments, an online member portal, and Major League Baseball Ballpark App linkage.
Using digital transformation to engage with their approximately 12,000 season ticket holders enables the Red Sox to provide unique incentives to increase all channels of fan engagement. But it also is driving improved satisfaction and renewal rates through exclusive benefits, which does something Atlanta Hawks Chief Creative Officer Peter Sorckoff says is critical for sports franchises to do today. During a customer experience event I organized earlier this year, Sorckoff said that while fans are passionate about players and teams, the relationship with the organization is likely to be more transactional in nature. But, using modern technology to engage fans before, during and after the game, teams can transform transaction-based relationships into engagement-based ones.with that deeper level of engagement being the foundation for higher numbers of transactions. And, going beyond creating more transactions, more digital engagement provides incredible opportunities to gain powerful, concrete insight into what fans are thinking, what's important to them, and what will move them to act.
At the same conference, Adam Zimmerman, Atlanta Braves vice president of marketing, said getting to this level of fan engagement is the holy grail of sports marketing; knowing what fans want to do around the love of their favorite team. So over time they can put programs out there that they know fans will like.
The lessons here go beyond the sports world. Even if you have rabid fans in your customer base, formal loyalty programs implemented digitally can lead to deeper, more meaningful relationships with them. And while people love their big screen televisions, they also really love their mobile devices, so giving them unique experiences via their little screens can get them to leave their big screens.
Speaking of those little screens, according to a study of 2,000 consumers performed by Urban Airship, providers of a cloud-based mobile marketing platform, 69 percent said they are more likely to use customer loyalty cards if they are accessible on their phones via Apple Wallet or Google Wallet. That number shoots up to 78 percent for higher income households, and 82 percent for Millennials.
Additional findings point to just how important digital technologies like mobile wallets are to the success of loyalty programs, including:
- 73 percent of respondents are more likely to join a loyalty program if rewards and points were automatically added and immediately visible within their mobile wallets.
- 74 percent view brands providing loyalty program benefits (like special offers, double/triple point days and links to exclusive offers, etc.) via mobile wallets are viewed more positively.
- Mobile Wallets is in the top four preferred communication channels for sales, offers and coupons, behind email, websites, and text/SMS
I know from personal experience I am doing more buying of products and services from loyalty programs that operate digitally. And sporadic visits are turning into regular trips as the offers coming to my phone become more personalized. So, if sports franchises are turning to customer loyalty programs to improve relationships they have with diehard fans, anyone with a customer base should be exploring how such programs may improve opportunities with current and future customers. And driving those programs through mobile wallet technologies can improve chances of success. I just have to make sure I'm driving in the right neighborhood when I'm wearing my UGA t-shirt on Saturdays in the fall.