SBJ/March 10-16, 2014/Forty Under 40

Forty Under 40: Jessica Gelman

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Jessica
Gelman

Organization: Kraft Sports Group (New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, New England Revolution)
Title: VP, customer marketing and strategy
Age: 39
Education: Harvard University (psychology), Harvard Business School (general management)
Career background: Pro basketball player, 1997; Mitchell Madison Group, 1998-2000; Kraft Sports Group 2002-present
Family: Wife, Corbin; son, Rees

Favorite apps: Amazon, Kindle, Patriots Gameday Live.
Favorite way to unwind: Run/walk with my family.
Guilty pleasure: Drinking port.
Worst habit: Walking with my head down while answering emails on my BlackBerry.
Groups supported: MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Harvard women’s basketball.
Person in the industry I’d most like to meet: Phil Knight.
I have a fear of … : Turning 40.
Most adventurous thing I’ve ever done is … : Moving to another country when I was 22 to play professional basketball.
2014 will be a good year if … : Harvard basketball goes to the Sweet Sixteen, the Revolution wins MLS Cup, and the Patriots win the Super Bowl.


CHRISTY VERKERY

Growing up in the Chicago area, Jessica Gelman’s fondest sports memories of her adolescence are of the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl shuffle and of Michael Jordan. Her office even boasts the famous Jordan poster with the William Blake saying, “No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.”

Those memories, combined with her psychology degree from Harvard (where she also played basketball), paved the way to her job now with Kraft Sports Group.

SBJ Podcast:
Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and project editor Mark Mensheha talk about the Forty Under 40 selection process and the class of 2014.

Gelman’s task in a nutshell is figuring out why people go to New England Patriots and New England Revolution games, or why they are no longer going or might be about to end the relationship. An early leader in analytics in sports, she has helped develop a database that is up to 3.4 million names.

“It’s about understanding our customer, giving them what they want,” she said.

The database tracks season-ticket holders such that if, for example, they miss three games, that triggers a phone call from customer service. Gelman and her staff of 24 will conduct 100 focus groups a year to glean information ranging from why fans come to each team’s website to what are their biggest gripes. (At Patriots games, it usually is parking and access to the stadium.)

Gelman has to deploy some of her behavioral lessons learned at Harvard as she does her job. In focus groups, for example, few admit going to the cheerleader section of the website, but traffic stats tell a different story.

The Patriots’ decision to implement variable ticket pricing for the coming season came out of the focus groups. Massachusetts law disallows reselling of tickets for more than face value. Fans told the Patriots, Gelman said, that they thought it was unfair preseason games had the same face value as premium games. Now, fans will be able to capture more value if they want to sell their game against the New York Jets, for example, while taking less of a loss if they sell their preseason game ticket for under face value.

The focus in analytics meshes with Gelman’s running of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which has evolved into one of the must-attends on the sports conference circuit.

“It’s helping to grow innovation around sports analytics,” she said.

— Daniel Kaplan

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