SBJ/Sept. 16-22, 2013/Colleges

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  • Cal uses tech to track potential ticket buyers

    The University of California is implementing technology that will enable its ticket department to communicate more effectively with potential buyers.

    With a tool called marketing automation, Cal’s ticket office will be able to track potential customers when they visit the school’s official website and respond with ticket offers.

    The system can alert Cal’s ticket office if a consumer visits the school’s website and can track if the viewer has been to the ticketing page.
    This kind of automated response and retargeting of potential buyers has been a tool used by many pro teams for years, but it’s just now making its way into the college space. Officials from Paciolan, the ticketing software company used by most of the schools in the big five conferences, say that Cal is the first school to implement marketing automation into its ticket-selling process.

    “We’re going to see this lead into a new trend,” said Dave Butler, president of Paciolan. “This is a great tool that has been refined by pro teams and it’s coming into the college world now.”

    Marketing automation tracks the behavior of potential buyers when they visit the school’s site, CalBears.com. The site can track if the viewer has been to the ticketing page, the donor page or perhaps a specific sport page and report that information back to Cal’s ticket office.

    Over time, a profile of the viewer emerges and Cal responds with follow-up emails or phone calls. It’s roughly 300 percent more effective than a cold call, said Mark DiMaurizio, vice president of technology solutions for Comcast-Spectacor, the company that owns both Paciolan and FanOne Marketing.

    FanOne integrates the fan-tracking technology into Paciolan’s ticketing system at Cal. The cost for this technology can start in the low five figures and go as high as $70,000 for a client to implement.

    “Retailers have been doing this for years,” DiMaurizio said. “If you ran a clothing store and had no idea who was looking at your racks, it’d be a shame. What we can do is put code on the Web pages and find insight into the people who are looking. That kind of Web tracking tells you, for example, if somebody dropped an item into their cart and then abandoned it without checking out. It generates a lot of very qualified leads and bridges the gap between technology and sales.”

    DiMaurizio estimates that a quarter of professional teams in the NFL, NBA and NHL are using marketing automation. Teams that sell out all the time, like the Green Bay Packers, wouldn’t need it, but the 76ers and Flyers in Philadelphia both have employed it, as well as the NFL Oakland Raiders and NBA Brooklyn Nets, DiMaurizio said.

    “As colleges continue to behave more like businesses than educational institutions, we’re going to see more implementation of tools like this,” he said.

    Cal’s associate athletic director for sales and marketing, Ashwin Puri, came from the NBA and has spearheaded a more sophisticated sales operation for the Golden Bears, including an outbound sales team.

    “Ultimately, this technology allows us to customize every interaction we have with the fan,” Puri said. “We can track where customers spend time on the site, what pages they looked at and where they might have abandoned the purchasing process. This allows us to proactively make contact with a potential buyer who we know is at least somewhat interested. From that information, we can also see if they’ve made transactions in the past, if they’ve donated, a whole record of their behavior.”

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  • Nielsen helps Michigan size up tweets

    ESPN’s Notre Dame-Michigan game last week not only drew the highest TV ratings of the day, but it also won the day on Twitter.

    Michigan officials know this because they followed the number of mentions on Twitter through a Nielsen product called SocialGuide. The social media monitoring tool is like a Nielsen rating for a TV program’s activity on Twitter.

    Michigan-Notre Dame launched 286,000 tweets, SocialGuide reported.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    It showed that the Michigan-Notre Dame broadcast generated 286,000 tweets during the window of just more than three hours. That’s more mentions on Twitter than any other TV program on Sept. 7, according to Nielsen.

    The Wolverines are the first college client to sign up for Nielsen’s Twitter tracking. Nielsen already has clients that include professional sports teams and sports networks, and is looking to expand in the college space.

    For $1,500 a month, Michigan officials can learn just about everything about their Twitter traffic when one of their games is on TV.

    “It tracks and benchmarks everything,” said Jordan Maleh, Michigan’s director of digital marketing. “On something like a TweetDeck, you can see conversations directly related to you. SocialGuide is like that on steroids. It sees anything and everything related to Michigan.”

    On the night of the Notre Dame game, two Michigan employees monitored the Twitter activity in the press box on their computer screens through SocialGuide, which updates the activity every few seconds. That enables Maleh’s team to interact in real time with the people who are tweeting about the game.

    There was Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO and a Michigan fan, directing an in-game tweet to fellow Wolverine Desmond Howard in front of more than 1 million followers. Fab Fiver Jalen Rose took to Twitter to tell his 1.1 million followers that he was in the Big House. And then there was Kenny Hamilton, better known as Justin Bieber’s bodyguard, sharing a thought on Eminem’s appearance with his 1.9 million followers.

    “For us, it provides a great way to measure how impactful we are on social media,” Maleh said. “This lets us know who our ambassadors on Twitter are and who the influencers are, based on their number of followers. … Nobody knew that Eminem was going to be in the ESPN booth that night, and we would have missed a lot of those tweets about him being at the game without SocialGuide.”

    Other information the Wolverines learned that night:
    There were 286,000 Michigan-Notre Dame tweets.
    Michigan’s official Twitter account, @UMichfootball, was the most mentioned team or event handle across all TV programming, with 12,362 tweets. Notre Dame (@NDfootball) ranked 13th.
    The top five TV programs with the most tweets that day were all college football games.

    Nielsen’s Stephen Master, senior vice president of sports, said that sporting events and other live programming, such as awards shows, tend to generate the most Twitter activity. Only 1.3 percent of all TV programs are sports, but half of all the social activity on Twitter is related to sports.

    On the Saturday of the Notre Dame-Michigan game, 15 percent of the tweets across 240-plus channels of programming were about the Irish and the Wolverines during that broadcast window.

    “Most people know who’s in their stadium, but there are many millions more engaging with the Michigan game over social media,” Master said. “In a way, you can look at your key influencers, the people who have thousands of followers, the same as your suite holders in the stadium. That’s your focus group, your fan council, the people you can interact with on a real-time basis.”

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  • Pac-12 venues to get AT&T wireless boost

    Editor's note: This story is updated from the print edition.

    The Pac-12 is on pace to become the first major college conference to update all of its football stadiums and basketball arenas with full wireless capability.

    The conference struck a comprehensive, three-pronged agreement with AT&T earlier this month that will provide carriage for the Pac-12 Networks on U-verse, while also making AT&T an official corporate sponsor across all 12 schools.

    But the third leg of the deal could wind up providing the most long-term benefit for the conference. AT&T will become the official technology provider for the Pac-12, and the company will install distributed antenna systems and full Wi-Fi availability throughout the league’s football and basketball facilities, including seating bowls and concourses.

    Pac-12 facilities like Washington’s recently renovated Husky Stadium will all be equipped with DAS and Wi-Fi capabilities.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Pac-12 officials hope the enhanced wireless capabilities inside the stadium or arena will help address the industrywide challenge of improving the fan experience.

    Each of the Pac-12 schools will have a DAS installed in time for the 2014 football season, according to Commissioner Larry Scott. A timetable for Wi-Fi hasn’t been established yet.

    The deal, nine months in the making, puts the Pac-12 on a faster pace to build on wireless capabilities than other conferences. Most conferences leave these types of deals up to individual schools, but the Pac-12 made its agreement with AT&T conferencewide. The Pac-12’s schools agreed two years ago to aggregate their wireless rights so that the conference could sell them in a package.

    Scott estimates that roughly two-thirds of the 12 schools have a DAS in their facilities now. A DAS provides enhanced cell service within a stadium. The schools that don’t have a DAS typically bring in cells on wheels to accommodate increased cell usage each time there’s a home football game.

    Scott said only one or two schools have Wi-Fi throughout their football and basketball facilities. Washington’s Husky Stadium is one Pac-12 facility that has Wi-Fi after its $250 million renovation.

    It costs around $2 million to install Wi-Fi, and more for those schools that need both Wi-Fi and a DAS. In NFL facilities, a DAS alone costs anywhere from $7 million up to $20 million, which is the cost of the system that includes the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans Arena and Champions Square, an outdoor hospitality space between the two venues. The conference hasn’t finalized exactly how much of the costs will be covered by the school or the conference, but sometimes the installation can be exchanged for sponsorship assets. Scott said the final business model has not been established yet.

    “This is a next-generation strategic imperative,” Scott said. “I’m not so worried about the next three to five years. I’m trying to think about the next 10 years ahead, with the next generation that’s growing up in a world where they are on multiple devices at the same time.”

    With improved connectivity, Scott said the conference will turn its focus to a new menu of in-stadium programming, like replays, a Red Zone-style show and highlights. Its right deals with ESPN and Fox allow the conference to carry live look-ins from other games, and the Pac-12 Networks will supply additional content.

    “Having the connectivity is one thing,” Scott said. “But being able to deliver the content without conflicts with the rights holders is a whole different animal. The way we’ve configured Pac-12 Networks and our digital network will allow us to deliver stuff that people haven’t seen in a stadium before.

    “We’re going to do everything we can to replicate the experience people have watching the game in their living room.”

    The Pac-12’s plans are in line with an industry push to improve the in-game experience. Scott referenced this year’s NCAA tournament when Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware broke his leg, and many fans in the stadium did not know what happened.

    “Fans were finding out what happened to Kevin Ware from people at home who were watching on TV,” Scott said. “There’s something wrong with that.”

    Bob Jordan, a sports technology consultant at Van Wagner Sports Group, said that only about 35 percent of major league facilities have upgraded their wireless into the seating bowl and concourses to improve the connectivity, but it’s a major push at all levels.

    “I know that I walk around at games with at least two wireless devices,” California Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said of her smartphone and tablet. “Some people have more.”

    In a best-case scenario inside the stadium, phone calls and text messages travel along a DAS, freeing the Wi-Fi for heavier data usage, such as downloads and sending pictures. Wi-Fi also enables other mobile devices, such as handheld equipment used to scan tickets or take concession orders in premium areas.

    “We need to be better than anyone else at the fan experience, given the nature of where we are and who we are,” Scott said. “It is part of the DNA of our schools. We’re so tied into the worlds of media and technology that it’s natural for us to try and pioneer.”

    The conference was able to strike such a comprehensive deal with AT&T because of the way Scott realigned the rights to the wireless category two years ago. As he was developing the conference channel, Scott convinced the schools to turn over their wireless rights to the conference. Those rights previously were bundled into each school’s multimedia rights deal.

    Being able to offer a comprehensive package of all 12 schools to AT&T made this “a signature deal,” Scott said.
    “This represents the future of how colleges can best approach the marketplace and do it in a truly integrated fashion,” he said. “It’s unusual in the college space to be able to offer all 12 schools.”

    AT&T’s sponsorship will include signage and radio advertising across all 12 schools and TV spots on the Pac-12 Networks, which gained access to U-verse’s 4.5 million households. U-verse is the nation’s seventh-largest multisystem operator.

    AT&T, in a statement to SportsBusiness Journal, described this type of multifaceted deal with the Pac-12 as a “unique deal where we were able to roll in all three components. We believe this is a first. … The scope of the deal involved more challenges, so it was a little more cumbersome. Getting the details just right was key in making this happen.”


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  • Pac-12 keeping networks’ ownership to itself

    Emboldened by a modest profit in the first year of its conference-owned network, the Pac-12 is standing firm that its seven channels are not for sale and the conference is not seeking investors.

    The Pac-12’s national network and six regional channels represent the only college network that is owned solely by the conference. Fox owns 51 percent of the Big Ten Network, while the SEC’s network, set to launch in August 2014, will be owned by ESPN, which also owns the Longhorn Network.

    That’s not to say the conference will never take on investors, but Pac-12 officials simply don’t see a need to now.

    “That’s something we’re always going to pay attention to, but we’re in a wonderful position now,” said Ed Ray, president of Oregon State who has been chair of the league’s CEO Group the last two years. “Right now, we own 100 percent of the equity and we control all of the programming. That’s a good place to be. Nobody got rich off of it, but we had a good first year. We covered our costs, and we had a modest plus amount in the balance at the end of the year. That’s a good sign for the future.”

    Ray defined modest profit to be in the “low millions.” That money went into the bank and has not yet been distributed to schools. Ray said the conference’s presidents want to make sure the networks are on firm financial footing before distributing profits.

    He expects the presidents to discuss distribution of profits at their next meeting in October.

    Earlier this year, however, conference officials did hold talks with several suitors, including ESPN and Fox Sports, according to several industry sources. The talks progressed to a level where ESPN and Fox Sports executives looked over the networks’ affiliate deals, sources said, but the talks didn’t progress from there.

    Those sources say that the conference has not had any contact on such a deal in months.

    “We’ve had people approach us at various times expressing an interest,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. “But we’ve got no interest at the moment in taking on any investors.”

    The Pac-12 Networks’ distribution struggle with DirecTV has been well-chronicled, including a public relations campaign from the conference urging its fans to drop the satellite provider. Network officials last week acknowledged that talks are “at an impasse.”

    “It’s inexplicable that DirecTV hasn’t picked up the Pac-12 Networks yet,” said Lydia Murphy-Stephans, president for Pac-12 Networks.

    The conference is negotiating with Verizon, talks that may become more ticklish in the wake of the conference’s recent sponsorship and carriage deal with AT&T U-verse.

    The Pac-12 also has a similar sponsorship and carriage deal with Dish Network.

    “Verizon had an opportunity to negotiate a comparable deal before it was done with AT&T,” Murphy-Stephans said. “They would have stepped up, we believe, if they were interested in the sponsorship. I don’t think it will have a negative impact at all.”

    Scott gave a full-throated defense of Pac-12 Networks’ business plan, saying that he expects profits to only increase in the future, while also providing the conference with the type of exposure it’s never enjoyed before.

    The Pac-12 will not say how many households the networks are in.

    “We really like being masters of our own destiny,” Scott said. “It’s really important for us to maintain control. We can certainly afford financial independence. We have no need for significant investments right now. It’s not something of interest to us and it’s not something that we’re discussing with anyone.”

    The conference televised 550 live events last year and will increase that to 750 this season and 850 in 2014-15.

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