By UTalkMarketing Senior Reporter, Claire Weekes.
The use of data analytics in sport is fast helping teams to better their successes both on and off the field.
In sports such as football and rugby, where at the top levels financial and team performances are so closely interlinked, it makes sense that clubs are now using the most cutting edge technology available to them to drive success.
Rugby union side London Irish is using analytics to monitor and improve both player performance and sales of tickets and merchandise. Earlier this year the club started using business analytics software, provided by IBM, that allows for analysis of training and on-field performance – anything from the G-force created by tackles, through to player hydration levels can be closely monitored.
As Chris Miles, the club’s Business Development Director explained, the club is increasingly looking at ways it can use this type of technology to drive commercial success off the field too.
With an average attendance of 12,000 at games (it can fluctuate from anything between 6,000 and 24,000), one of Miles’s key goals is to increase average attendance by a further 3,000.
“We need to understand what causes the fluctuations - what brings people in and why they come,” he said. “For the fans, the business is what they see on the pitch, so using technology to better performance is absolutely key. Combine that with using data to make sure the management of your commercial opportunities is right, and you have the makings of a successful club,” he said.
Understanding emotional drivers
The club currently uses a ticketing system called Talent which feeds data into a CRM system. “So we know how many times a person has been to a game and how many tickets they bought,” said Miles. A similar track is kept on sales of merchandise through the club’s website – itself only re-launched three weeks ago to provide a deeper levels of engagement with its visitors.
“We might see, from our data, that a family buys five shirts at the start of every season, and we can see how much sales levels increase around say Fathers day,” explained Miles. “It’s important to keep tabs on this stuff because sports fans are emotional about their club and if you don’t have the right stock levels when they want that stock – say a new shirt – they won’t understand why.”
It’s this level of emotional engagement that fans have with their team that Miles is keen to tap deeper into. “CRM can tell us the what, but it can’t tell us the why,” he said. “With football things are a bit different – it’s a populist national sport – clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea can ‘sell’ their stadiums without trying so hard. [In rugby] we have to work much harder on what makes supporters come to one game, but not another”.
This is less true, he said, of big clubs like the Tigers. But London Irish has competition for fans from three other nearby clubs – the Saracens, Wasps and Harlequins. “In football it’s accepted that you generally go to a game because you support one of the teams playing, whereas in rugby, some people tend to go because they want to see a game of rugby. So you might find Saracens fan at a London Irish game,” he said.
It’s this slightly more unpredictable attitude of rugby fans versus football fans that remains constantly front of mind. There are also other trends in behaviour to keep in mind when it comes to developing SEO strategy. For example a rugby fan from overseas may be in town, fancies catching a game and types ‘London rugby’ rather than the name of a club into Google. At the same time, London Irish has seen from its analysis of traffic data that it has something of an international following – last month alone the club saw visitors from 127 different countries visit its site.
For the most part of course, the aim of the club is to attract fans for life. “If you acquire a fan from the age of five, that’s what you’re hoping for”, said Miles.
Looking to the future
There are other developments in digital that the club is keen to make use of in 2011. The newly re-launched website is placing lots of emphasis on London Irish TV – the club’s own online channel that it provides as an information and entertainment portal for fans.
Miles explained that the new website itself is at pains not to look and feel too commercial to visiting supporters. There is no advertising on the site other than some that relates directly to core sponsors.
“A lot of clubs sell advertising space that won’t have anything to do with rugby, they’ll use an agency and that agency might not account manage them very well and maybe even advertise something that is in conflict with a club’s sponsors,” he said. “When you’re a fan going to a site to see genuine content and all you see is ads it can be very frustrating.”
The one area of the site that will include some advertising content is the London Irish TV section. “Generating that content can cost a lot of money and therefore if selling a short amount of video space allows you to fund some great content then yes, a balance is struck.”
The club also launched an iPhone app last year that it’s keen to keep promoting – it has 1000 subscribers already and is growing strong.
Front of mind though is that goal to increase attendance levels at the games themselves – to find out what makes people attend games and to capitalise on that.
“To increase attendance you have to understand supporter’s experience on a match day. At the moment our engagement on a match day if very limited,” said Miles. In order to change that, the club wants to invest in an idea it has that will “potentially provide the opportunity to engage with every single fan on a match day, which will be essential to understanding what it is a fan wants to see and experience,” hinted Miles.
For now he remains tight lipped as to what that idea is. But either way, data analytics remains firmly at the centre of the club’s future.
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