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Volume 20 No. 42

Research and Ratings

Fans who live “green” tend to spend more green, according to the results of a study scheduled to be presented this week at the fourth annual Green Sports Alliance Summit.

The study, commissioned by Portland-based Green Sports Alliance and conducted by Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, polled more than 1,000 fans who had attended at least two different types of pro or college sporting events during the previous 12 months. The fans responded to a battery of questions regarding their habits and opinions on environmental issues applicable to the sports world. That included fans being presented with a dozen activities they could say they did or did not engage in on a regular basis, such as “Buy locally grown foods,” “Take mass transportation to work,” and “Utilize reusable shopping bags.”

Environmentally active or not, fans expect recycling options from their favorite teams.

Fans who claimed to be more environmentally active — defined in the survey as engaging in more than four of the 12 behaviors — spent an average of $403 on tickets to sports events in the past year, $63 more than the fans who engaged in fewer of those activities. The gap existed across the various income and fan-avidity levels of the survey respondents.

Additionally, nearly half of all the fans surveyed (and 61 percent of the more environmentally active fans) agreed that teams should use sustainable products even if those items are more expensive.

“Fans are saying to teams: These behaviors are part of our everyday values, and we see other public assembly buildings and other industries making progress, so why is the sports world moving so slowly?” said GSA Executive Director Martin Tull. “If teams offer things like shirts and other items that are made out of recycled materials, and provide local foods, people are willing to pay for it.”

Among all fans surveyed, 54 percent said they felt their favorite club could be doing more to benefit the environment. When asked to identify what specific measures teams should be taking, nearly three-quarters of all fans (84 percent of the more environmentally active fans, 59 percent of the less active) said that venues should have separate receptacles for trash and recycling, making it the most selected attribute (see chart). Additionally, “Donate prepared, unsold concessions items to places of need,” “Offer reusable, refillable cups for beverage purchases” and “Play in venues that are easily accessible via mass transportation” were cited by more than half of all respondents.

Sports fans surveyed were provided the following list of environmentally friendly practices and initiatives and asked to select the items they expect their favorite team(s) and league(s) to put into practice. Respondents could select more than one activity.
While fans who were deemed “more” environmentally active typically expected more actions from their teams, more than half of the “less” environmentally active fans expected at least a couple of actions as well.
84% Utilize separate trash and recycling receptacles 59%
74% Donate prepared, unsold concessions items to places of need 55%
72% Offer reusable, refillable cups for beverage purchases 43%
67% Play in venues that are easily accessible via mass transportation 43%
60% Participate in community activities related to the environment 35%
58% Utilize less toxic cleaning products 29%
56% Utilize renewable energy sources (e.g. wind, solar) 31%
54% Publicize their environmentally friendly practices 28%
49% Compost food and kitchen waste 19%
48% Play in LEED-certified facilities 25%
40% Offer charging stations for electric vehicles 21%
35% Offer waterless urinals in restrooms 18%
32% Feature their star players in green-supportive initiatives 14%
Note: The study, commissioned by GSA and conducted in May by Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, polled more than 1,000 fans who had attended at least two different types of pro or college sporting events during the previous 12 months.
Source: Sports Attendees and the Environment (2014 report), GSA/Turnkey Sports and Entertainment

Tull said in addition to generating a re-evaluation of game-day fan amenities, the survey should serve as a catalyst for team marketing departments to more actively seek out partners in business sectors that are under-represented in the sports sponsorship world, such as biotech and farm-to-table companies.

Indeed, half of the environmentally active fans in the study said they are more likely to support a team that actively promotes environmentally friendly practices than a property that does not do so, and 56 percent said they would support a team sponsor that did the same.

Scott Jenkins, who was hired in February by the Atlanta Falcons to oversee the development of that team’s $1 billion stadium scheduled to open in 2017, said the study “reveals a sweet spot” for the industry and should provide an incentive for companies and organizations to implement long-term environmental plans based on something more than just “a hunch.”

“It was just a couple years ago where the industry started wondering about how we could create value around sustainability,” said Jenkins, who had spearheaded environmental initiatives at Safeco Field in Seattle since 2006. “Now, if a team can weave environmental consciousness into every single part of its business model, it gives us more opportunities to engage with fans and with partners. And, yes, it reduces operating expenses.”

Jenkins, who also serves as GSA’s chairman, said environmental activation plans are part of every conversation the Falcons have during contract negotiations with current and potential marketing partners.

Hull also cited the value of emotional connection fans feel toward a team, saying no matter how environmentally responsible your bank is, for example, such behavior will likely resonate more on a personal level if you know your favorite team is doing it.

“We hope that teams look at this study and realize that their business plan should go beyond just an annual themed Earth Day,” he said. “This is about the legacy role you play in the community.”

The GSA is a nonprofit organization that launched in 2011 with a mission to help sports teams, venues and leagues enhance their environmental performance. Alliance members represent more than 240 sports teams and venues.

This year’s GSA summit is being held in Santa Clara, Calif.

There is a relatively new form of research that is already changing your life. Predictive analytics, often called “big data,” allows researchers to combine data from a wide variety of sources and predict what people will do, when they will do it, how much of it they will do, how much they pay for it, and how often. Most of the information in these vast databases is of little obvious value, but a handful of the seemingly random variables when linked together make it possible to predict how people will act.
In isolation, those variables are not powerful. Together, they are game changers.

Here are a couple of hypothetical examples. The first data source provides constant details about the weather at a stadium: temperature, cloud cover, humidity, precipitation, etc. The second data source comes from scanning tickets at the turnstile when a person comes to a game and when that person leaves, if they leave before the game is over. The third data source is constant concession sales from every sales source in the stadium. Imagine these data points are collected for every game. In time, a team would know that if it is cloudy at the beginning of the game but the sun came out before the second inning, you would still have a potential walk-up crowd. The radio announcers could say, “It’s turning into a great day for a game,” and you would get 112 more fans at the game. Conversely, if the temperature drops below 60 degrees during a night game, a team can sell more coffee or hot chocolate, and if it offers specials at the concession stand closest to the most popular exit, 23 percent of those who were thinking of leaving will buy a hot beverage instead and go back to their seats.

Powerful stuff. Predictive analytics will provide laser-like accuracy in determining which media to use, and with what weight, to increase attendance or viewership. It will help predict the number of items that will be sold at a point in time in response to myriad predictable behaviors beyond the weather. The bottom line is improved by more accurate product production and availability.

This is just the tip of the iceberg both in terms of what predictive analytics can do today and the incredible potential it has for the future. The reason the horizon is so bright, and the reason we have capability today, has nothing to do with new thinking on the part of researchers. We knew of these models when I was a student in the 1970s. But back then, we didn’t have computers powerful enough to handle the data. Now we do.

There is another side to predictive analytics. At this point, the vast majority of the information used in predictive analytic databases is “secondary data.” That is, data that were not directly or intentionally gathered from humans, or data that were collected for some reason other than how they are being used with predictive analytics. The temperature in the fifth inning, the moment a ticket is scanned, the time a cup of coffee is purchased, the price of that coffee — none of that

information comes from talking with a person.

Why does that matter? Predictive analytics allows us to predict consumer behavior more profitably, but it does nothing to tell us why people are there in the first place. That may not seem critical, and when you are talking about consumer transactions it is indeed less critical. Buying toothpaste is a transaction. Being a fan is a relationship. I never tell stories about how excited I am that I am almost out of toothpaste and will soon get to buy a new tube. But in the fan relationship, if we are not having experiences that inspire stories we want to tell, we are not having a relationship — and sooner or later, our love will wane and we won’t be in the stadium to be affected by predictive analytics.

This is the fifth anniversary of Up Next. In the first column, John Walsh from ESPN said he was concerned we were cashing in on the love of sports adults have now that was built on $5 tickets to games 30 years ago. That was forward thinking and is a caution for us today. Predictive analytics will allow us to make the most money, the most efficiently, at the lowest cost, but only from people who are in relationships with sports today. It does nothing to answer how we build fans for tomorrow.

The chart to the left shows what affects, starts or builds the love of the game for different demographic groups. Notice that for kids ages 12 to 17 years old it is all about play. Second most important is going to games. Watching games on TV is almost an afterthought. And yet, most of the money in sports now comes from the media value.

Predictive analytics won’t tell us the key to the future is kids playing the game. We can only know that by talking directly with people. So, full speed ahead with predictive analytics. It is great for business. But we are not toothpaste. We need to constantly refresh our understanding of the relationship fans feel with their sports, and the best way we can do that is through research that directly and intentionally asks them why they love the game.

Rich Luker ( is the founder of Luker on Trends and the ESPN Sports Poll.