Innovations In Sports Analytics: Marketing & In-Game Experiences

I attended the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit in San Francisco last week. On Tuesday, I wrote about the presentations that focused on player training, development and performance. You can read that article here. Today’s post will discuss how teams and leagues use analytics to boost ticket sales and enhance the in-game experience. As with the performance presentations, NFL and NBA teams were most strongly represented.

  • Using Analytics To Define The Ticketing ExperienceRuss Stanley, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service, San Francisco Giants. This was the one marketing presentation from an MLB team. The Giants have 30,000 full season ticket holders. They do not offer partial season ticket plans. Season ticket holders are capped at 30,000 because the Giants are required to have 12,000 or so tickets available for MLB for the postseason and season ticket holders are guaranteed postseason tickets. On any given game day, 15,000 of the 30,000 season tickets exchange hands through StubHub. Stanley said that the secondary marketing place is critical for season ticket holders because they are required to by all 81 home games.

    This season, the Giants started experimenting with a repurposing system where season ticket holders let the Giants re-sell tickets they can’t use, and the proceeds from this second sale are split 50-50. The Giants pioneered the use of dynamic pricing for single-game tickets with ticket analytics company Qcue. (I explained the ins and outs of dynamic and variable pricing in this post.) The 12,000 non-season ticket holder seats are subject to dynamic pricing from the time they go on sale until the game starts. On the day of the game, the prices could change 400 times. The season ticket holder price for each seat is the dynamic pricing floor (so as not to undercut the secondary market for season ticket holders.

    The Giants have aggressively used dynamic pricing to keep alive their sell-out streak — which dates to September 2010. Stanley admitted that the Giants have “left money on the table” to keep the sell-out streak alive because the ownership group likes the sell-out streak and because it builds a narrative of scarcity, and that helps with season ticket holder renewals. My thoughts: I was pleased to finally get a Giants executive to admit that the sell-out streak is itself a marketing ploy and has been somewhat contrived.

  • Turning Customers Into FansKyle Eichman, Vice President of Customer Relations Management and Analytics, Sacramento Kings. The team uses a data visualization and business intelligence software from a company called TIBCO. Baseline information comes from two sources: ticket sales via Ticketmaster and customer relations data. Goal is to incorporate mobile data, location data, and social media data to get a 360 view of the customers — what they are doing when they are engaged with the team and what they are doing when they are engaged in other activities.

    The Kings are building technology into their new arena that will essentially track ticket holders movements and in-arena decisions. It will be sold to ticket holders as: we know what you want and we are there to provide it to you on your way to and at the arena. There are seven full-time employees in CRM & Analytics, including Eichman. My thoughts: The customer tracking system sounds spooky and Big Brother-ish.

  • Justifying A Significant Price IncreaseJohn Beaven, Vice President of Ticket Sales, Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have 14,500 season ticket holders and a priority waiting list of more than 5,000. They were able to build that season ticket holder base despite one playoff appearance in 17 seasons prior to 2012-2013. With the on-court success in 2012-2013, Warriors wanted to adjust ticket prices upward while keeping a robust season ticket holder base — which Beaven described as the key to building the business going forward.

    The Warriors raised ticket prices 23% for the 2013-2014 season and saw a 92% renewal rate. Heading into this season, the question was how much further to jump in price. Every percentage point increase equals $600,000 in additional revenue. Warriors decided to get aggressive for 2014-2015 ticket prices by relying on on-court performance, seat scarcity (82+ game sell out), the 14,500 cap on season tickets, and data that showed that the 5,000 individual game tickets are in high demand.

    Moreover, the only season ticket holders will have priority for the new arena the Warriors are building in San Francisco. Beaven and his staff conducted a detailed analysis of every individual game ticket sold (via dynamic pricing) and of tickets sold on the secondary market to determine true demand and various price points. Decision: a 25% increase over 2013-2014 season ticket holder prices. Result: 93% renewal rate. My thoughts: Warriors developed the data and the story to justify their price increase and it worked.

  • The Tech Revolution Coming To A Stadium Near You: Panel discussion with Patrick Chapman, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Live Events, Facebook; Scott Kegley, Senior Manager of Digital and Social Media, San Francisco 49ers; and Jeremy Thum, Director, Digital, Chicago Bulls. Social media has brought fans closer to players and players closer to fans — and data shows that the player-fan connection keeps fans engaged even when the team isn’t performing well on the field or court. After Michael Jordan retired, the Bulls were one of the worst teams in the NBA. But the arena experience was so fun for fans because fans became part of the show, and attendance stayed high.

    Teams have so many tools to reach out to and connect with fans that have nothing to do with the team’s win-loss record. The 49ers use Instagram and Vine (with a cute FortyViners hashtag) to bring fans into the locker room before the game, at halftime and after the game. Fans reciprocate by posting their own photos and vines. This creates a viral multiplier of fan engagement across multiple social media platforms. The future: virtual reality — putting yourself on the field or court; a seamless, uninterrupted experience where every fan desire is anticipated and met.

One of the presenters referred to the future of fan engagement as “something out of the Minority Report” — having data that so accurately predicts fan behavior and caters to the fans’ every need. Me? I just want to go to a ballgame, snap some photos, post them on Facebook and Twitter, and enjoy a beer. I don’t want any team to know my every desire and try to cater to it — although a few more reasonably-priced vegetarian food options would be nice. I want more opportunities to buy and sell game tickets and I don’t want to be held hostage to some perceived — or contrived — ticket scarcity that inflates prices. But I fear that I’m going to lose this battle.

Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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9 years ago

Great article. Interesting to know how teams decide to price their tickets.

Also shows that Warriors fans are suckers.

9 years ago
Reply to  KG

Dubs fans are generally morons.