The bright lights and pageantry of sports is tough to match. From Friday night high school football games and baseball’s College World Series to the annual NBA and NHL Finals, organizations spend big money and use many resources to put on a show. That 3 hour game is what fans care about but it’s just the end product of a well-choreographed dance between team building and business operations that happens within every organization. And one piece of the pie—just a sliver of the marketing department—is database marketing. Though it’s only a part of what makes up a successful marketing department, the ability to take lists of potential fans and effectively promote upcoming games and events to them is important. Ultimately it helps put a winning team on the field and creates a winning culture within business operations.

The use of database marketing, also known as direct marketing, in sports is not new. And it’s not as simple as getting lists of potential customers and mass mailing, or emailing, advertisements. Alex Schumacher explains it well: “…database marketing is not just about technology, but the application of customer analysis to the functional operations that impact the client experience, such as merchandise, service and marketing.” It is about leveraging the wealth of customer data available to sports organizations and using it to provide specific information to specific people. We know which current fans visit the arena several times a season and which fans prefer to watch on television, subscribe to the team’s newsletter and browse the website. This kind of data tells organizations who is likely to attend games in person as well as which communication medium to use on certain types of fans. It becomes all about focused communication so the right people hear the right messaging.

As a database marketer your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to collect data, analyze it and make recommendations based off your findings. You need to use data to help tell stories and drive marketing strategy. And that’s done by slicing and dicing data points to determine how certain groups of people spend money and react to a variety of advertising. Does your organization’s older fan base sit in the lower levels and spend money on higher end cars? Perhaps Lexus, rather than Chevy, ad banners closer to courtside makes the most sense. If your team wants to hand out schedule magnets to attract new fans for the upcoming season, geographic analysis will help determine which residents within the city are more willing to attend a game. The facts and anecdotes you discover are presented to marketing leadership and become a key piece of overall advertising and marketing strategy.

The database is a powerful tool but it’s a business tool not a business solution. A team’s database contains relevant information about current and potential fans. With names, phone numbers, addresses, order history (tickets and merchandise sales), email addresses and more, database marketers look for trends and also determine what new information would be useful to collect. If you knew a fan had 2 kids under 12, you could send him reminder emails about upcoming family night promotions that he may be too busy to research on his own. It’s more about collecting the right pieces of data rather than collecting all the data you can. Remember that, with too much information, there is a chance for the signal to be lost in all the noise.

Sports is about touching the fans. It is about creating an emotional connection that makes each fan feel like they’re part of something bigger. It’s why even professional teams with the cache of the Yankees, Lakers and Patriots spend so many ad dollars reminding fans of their presence. But with small market teams or amateur organizations, the bank of advertising dollars is smaller so smarter direct and database marketing is even more critical. Similarly, in sports business reaching fans—for event, merchandising and advertising revenue—keeps team payrolls high and allows for world-class stadiums. Your contribution is to become a database marketer that is willing to dig into the details of the data to find trends no one else sees. And build upon current marketing strategies, or devise yet to be conceived ones, that the data tells you will work. Educate yourself on statistics, market research, database querying and how to use the information as part of an overall marketing strategy. And stay current on information technology as well as trends in data and analytics. It will make you a better, more successful professional as you traverse the trails of sports business.  

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