InCrowd Opinion

“Engaging and retaining an audience is more challenging than it’s ever been due to the plethora of choices people have”

July 13, 2022

As Audience Strategy Director at InCrowd, Ali Kyrke-Smith has one of the best positions in the business of sport to view and take action on how data can be successfully utilised to create fresh and engaging fan experiences and unique sponsorship activations on a daily basis, and how the application of data within those organisations is changing.

In this piece she explains the driving forces behind the evolution of data use by sports organisations.

The innovations we have been seeing within sport to transform the consumer experience

Innovation is everywhere in sport at the moment, but thinking specifically about the consumer experience, there are three things that come to mind.

The first is a much more sophisticated use of sports data – surfacing stats about what’s happening on the field of play and providing viewers with real insight around this. One of the best cases of this in the UK is in rugby, where you can see things like the speed of passes and the hang time of the ball. Predictive use of data, too, is really transforming how people understand and consume sport – the WinViz used in cricket helps to make the game much more accessible for those new to the game.

Related to that is the increasing use of gamification by sports organisations and the evolution of available technology in that area. I say related because you see some of those stats I mentioned above being used in predictor games and other similar initiatives. But beyond that, there are more and more ways in which an audience can engage on a second screen or have their own input while following sports, which is transforming their experiences. 

The third innovation that springs to mind is the integration of the physical and digital experience. A great example is The Hundred last summer, where you saw the crowd’s digital interaction on an app coming to life on the big screens inside the stadium, with these same tools being used to engage fans who were watching on TV or following online as well. Bringing audiences together in shared experiences no matter where they are or how they are engaging is so important.

“At a fundamental level data is crucial to understanding the needs of your audience”

The importance of data for sports brands to drive interaction with their customers

Engaging and retaining an audience is in some ways more challenging than it’s ever been, due to the plethora of choices people have, across multiple digital platforms.

It’s no longer about hoping that someone sits down and watches a game because there are only a few different things on TV; you’re competing with the entirety of the internet to get people’s attention. If something isn’t interesting to them, they can easily find something else.

At a fundamental level, data is crucial to understanding the needs of your audience, which will in turn underpin successful engagement. Using data to deliver personalised digital experiences is vital to building a relationship with each of the individual fans that comprise your audience, and creating the journey from being a casual fan (such as someone who stumbled across the sport on social media) to a much more engaged fan who will continue to watch and follow that sport.

How sports teams should make use of personalisation

The starting point – which we’re seeing more and more across the industry – is tailoring your content for the platform that it’s going on. What goes on Twitter is not the same as what goes on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. Doing this effectively stems from thinking about who the audiences are on each platform, and what types of content will perform best on those platforms based on what we know about their algorithms.

However, to call this tailoring of content ‘personalisation’ would be a stretch – and with social platforms being walled gardens (depending on if Elon Musk gets his way with Twitter) then personalisation can only really happen by engaging the audience directly on your own platforms. 

“The priority has to be harnessing the power of data to drive commercial return”

The first step here has to be devising exclusive content for websites and apps – essentially, giving people a reason to come to those platforms. 

Once someone is engaging on your owned channels, then the personalisation can begin. There’s a widely held myth that personalisation happens when someone hands over their contact details, and you put their first name in the subject line of an email and there you have it – personalised comms. 

However, with the right analytics and tools in place, sports teams can personalise at every touchpoint, to a much greater degree. At a simplistic level, it’s about building up a picture of who the fan is and what they’re going to be most interested in, and then using this to give them what they want. For example, making sure that when they hit the homepage of your website or app they see something that is immediately going to keep them there and get them clicking through, or giving them reasons to share their data via logging in to your platforms, so that you can evolve to greater levels of personalisation.

Using data to drive commercial return should be the priority

It goes without saying that the possibilities for what you can do with data are pretty much endless – so keeping focused can be a real challenge. Personalisation for personalisation’s sake is all well and good, but there are few organisations in a privileged enough position financially to be able to do that. Yet there are numerous examples of where data and technology has been used for the sake of it, without a real focus on what it’s going to deliver back to the sport or organisation. 

Ultimately, the priority has to be harnessing the power of data to drive commercial return. This commercialisation should be considered in broad terms – there can be a tendency to think about this only in terms of getting fans to spend more. But in fact data and personalisation, done right, can deliver huge commercial return by increasing the value of commercial partnerships and broadcast deals – both huge topics in their own right! So in short, before investing in technology, it’s crucial to take the time to really understand what ROI will be generated by that investment.

“There is often a huge challenge in an initial phase of maximising data’s potential, about legacy data and historic processes – it can definitely feel quite daunting.”

What InCrowd is seeing most on a day-to-day basis working with clients

Data touches every element of the business at InCrowd, and the number one focus is on making data actionable. For many, holding too much data can be the challenge because they don’t know what to do with it. What does it mean for you? How much resource do you need to manually manipulate that data and analyse it? 

Via InCrowd’s Customer Data and Experience Platform, Bridge, the team structures that data and surfaces it for marketing in a way which allows sports organisations to automate their marketing across multiple channels in a straightforward way, thereby delivering that personalisation at scale without the need for huge levels of resource. InCrowd supports its partners in setting up those initial flows, and then the technology ensures you have something that’s always live. Automations can run and run; they update based on the data that’s flowing in and out.

Secondly, there’s the analysis that informs those actions, so any decisions being made about how to market to fans and communicate to them are not just based on instinct. One of the primary ways that InCrowd does that is by joining the behavioural – or zero party – data to first party data such as the demographic and transactional data that an organisation holds. That results in a dataset that will tell you not just what’s happening in terms of clicks or dwell time on a video, but also who’s doing what – thereby enabling you to differentiate between audience segments in terms of how they behave. Insight like this then informs the personalisation approach. You’re able to say, ‘based on what we’ve seen here, this is the content that’s most likely to resonate at this particular time on this channel with this type of person’ and then target accordingly. 

And finally – of course – it’s about commercialisation. A combination of data, actionable insight and the right technology will create numerous opportunities to drive revenue in different areas of a business – from creating new sponsorable assets on front end platforms to increasing direct fan spend, and plenty in between.

The challenge of bringing data together within sports organisations

There is often a huge challenge in an initial phase of maximising data’s potential, about legacy data and historic processes – it can definitely feel quite daunting. For lots of rights holders, where perhaps teams have worked in silos and everyone’s done things slightly differently, there can be hundreds of spreadsheets with no cohesive plan to bring them together. 

What’s really important for InCrowd when approaching that challenge is the initial process of understanding the unique difficulties a particular organisation may face, and how they’ve worked historically. This is taken seriously and InCrowd will always spend time with different departments to understand their KPIs, the data that they hold, what they use it for and what they’d like to be able to do but aren’t able to because of anything from available tech to resource restrictions. 

Building up this knowledge makes a massive difference when bringing all the data together. Of course, there are some golden rules to adhere to as well and once appropriate training is in place the transition can be very, very smooth. But from InCrowd’s point of view, once the context is understood, the technology and expertise is there to bring everything together and ultimately make everyone’s lives easier!

InCrowd Opinion