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First Published in SportBusiness

Popularity = Engagement

According to Olly Lucas, CRM manager at English Premier League club Arsenal, sports clubs and events have the huge advantage of a highly engaged audience already in place. 
“Being able to ride the coat tails of a popular team automatically leads to higher engagement that is great for a sports club,” he told SportBusiness International. “On the flip side, however, because sports fans are very passionate, there are certain things they won’t want to hear about so we have to be careful in what we say to them.”
Arsenal has been taking CRM extremely seriously, having implemented a new system that took a considerable time in planning and building in late 2013. Indeed, IT behemoth IBM was on site at the Emirates Stadium for around a year as part of a team involved in the process of getting the customised system fit for purpose.
It is still early days for Arsenal’s new CRM system at the time of writing, but Lucas was keen to stress the value that it will add to the club: “By ensuring it functions correctly, we cannot only look after our fans better but we can also get more commercial benefits from it such as renewing season tickets and contacting a large volume of our customers at once when we need to.”
An effective CRM system, says Lucas, is an integrated one that has all data in the same location.
“If your customer data isn’t in one place and instead sits in different silos then you can miss out on potential benefits such as setting up different campaigns across different channels related to say birthday messages, or more complicated ones based on different fan behaviours,” he adds. “The challenge with any new toy such as CRM is knowing what to do with it and what the road map is to make it most useful. At Arsenal we are using it across retail, hospitality, partnerships and memberships.”

CRM at the Heart

Another football club in the UK that recognises the value of a robust CRM strategy is Championship side Leeds United, three-time winners of English football’s top-tier. 
“Everything we do at Leeds United has CRM at the heart of it. Without it, we would not know our fans as well or understand their purchasing patterns,” says Katie Holmes, Leeds’ head of marketing, adding that the club has seen increases in online revenues since using CRM and has created what it considers to be a great database. “We know who our fans are and what they like.”
Holmes adds that Leeds really understands the importance of the fan experience and what data its fans are willing to give up: “We also use CRM to identify which channels our fans are using, such as mobile for example. We give our supporters match purchasing experiences on their mobile phones such as selecting favourite seats near friends and family. The supporter has a quick ‘three clicks’ experience.”
Elsewhere in the UK, CRM has also been highly effective for Leicester Tigers with over 50 people behind the scenes at the club regularly using its system. 
“My advice to any sports club that is new to CRM is that you need to get the whole club to buy into it and to realise that the more data you can collect, the more personal you will be able to make the fans’ experiences,” says Chris Rose, head of brand at the club. “We regularly carry out fan surveys to keep them engaged and incentivised. We can collect data on each fan and build up a more cohesive picture of who they are and what they like. We can also use it across the board for revenue generation on non-match days such as conferences etc.”
With 60 per cent of Leicester Tigers’ turnover being directly related to matchdays, CRM has been used effectively to get bums on seats and keep them there. Whether it be selling season tickets in the club’s new 7,000-seater stand, moving the largely ‘print at home’ ticketing fanbase to a mobile one, or determining the geographic footprint of spectators at home games to provide them with scheduling changes or updates before they leave home, CRM has become integral to engaging with the ‘Tigers Family’, according to Jones. 
“We always say that the experience of coming to a Tigers game has to be as good as or better than the same person’s experience at the local cinema and we use CRM to achieve that,” he says.

Fan Turn-Offs

Finding the right balance between too much fan engagement and not enough, however, is essential to a successful CRM strategy. 
“Receiving something that is irrelevant is a big turn-off for fans,” says Advanced Ticketing’s Dewell. “There’s no point sending them ticketing discounts if they are already a season ticket holder for example. But you can reward the loyalty of season ticket holders by giving them early bird discounts on their next season tickets.”
Arsenal’s Lucas agrees: “We don’t want to be sending our fans information that they are not interested in – we aren’t in the business of spamming people. People can therefore tell us what they want or don’t want to receive through our preference centre. They can make their own choices on what they receive. We have no interest in annoying them so therefore make the whole experience completely transparent.”
Lucas says that spamming can be avoided through effective use of CRM. 
“Theoretically, a club could send out an e-mail once an hour but that is likely to annoy people so they would be better using CRM to set typology rules based on customer preferences such as not wanting to receive e-mails more than three times a week, for example,” he adds. “The priority that they are sent can also be set and other ones accordingly blocked once the number of acceptable e-mails has been achieved. Effective CRM is all about thinking and planning. Eventually you will have different customer journeys in place over the course of a season.”
Leicester Tigers’ Rose says that the club is always assessing how to manage the balance between contacting fans too little or too often. 
“We give them lots of options for opting in and out at different stages and they have a variety of channels to choose from such as Tiger news,” he adds. “We have made a conscious effort to work on achieving long-term sustainable growth rather than using CRM to make a quick buck or to hammer fans with irrelevant information. Our plan over a 12-month period is only to send them one e-mail per week. They will receive more information from us though if they subscribe to our Twitter channel too.”
A clear marketing plan is also vital for those looking to engage with fans using CRM, according to Michael Jones from Goodform: “Regular communication is important but you have to make sure you are reaching the right audiences at the right time and that you aren’t sending them the same e-mail more than once. 
“Once you know exactly what your audience is interested in hearing about, then their click rates will be a lot higher than with a disengaged audience.”

Rachael Church-Sanders is Major Events Consultant at the SportBusiness Group and Deputy Director of Research, World Academy of Sport

 

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