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Volume 21 No. 38
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Technology marries a sports event’s social media, activation ROI

Last spring, my sports marketing graduate class at the University of South Florida was working on a project for its participation in Fox Sports University. Each group had to address how to create more fan interaction and connectivity with the sports product. Three of the four groups had technology solutions that involved an app or some type of radio-frequency identification device to solve the problem.

I was intrigued that this was how they set out to address the issue of connectivity, and my interest was piqued when one of my graduate assistants accepted a position with a company called Thuzi for her second-year residency. I was unfamiliar with Thuzi (and a number of other providers competing in this space), so I met with the company’s executives to learn more about what Kristine would be doing. I also wanted to learn what Thuzi is bringing to the sports industry in an attempt to connect sports organizations with millennials and the next generation, which Don Marinelli refers to as “plurals”: those using both their left-brain and right-brain functions in their sports activities.

While 92 percent of brands indicate that social media is important to their business, according to the 2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, one of the biggest challenges I have heard in the industry is how to measure the ROI of these social media efforts. Other concerns include that business leaders are not well-trained in social media strategy and they lack trained personnel in their organizations. These issues are making it difficult to create an effective and actionable social media strategy, particularly around live events. For that reason, outsourcing social media strategy and activation, at least in the initial experimentation and development stage, is something to be closely considered.

Using a check-in app and a branded RFID wristband, IndyCar was able to track fans’ interaction with sponsor activations in the Fan Village..
Until business schools can develop coursework and make social media a core pillar of curriculum, this is the best avenue for sports organizations to take.

Thuzi and a number of other providers function as social media marketing and promotional agencies that assist brands in not only increasing their awareness, but also measuring that awareness and increasing user engagement. From what I have observed, this is done largely through live events where the audience is encouraged and there are incentives to interact with the brand (usually a sponsor).

In speaking with Thuzi executives, they tout that they specialize in “turning live events into life events,” whereby event participants eagerly engage, then save and share their experiences for a lifetime on social media — the perfect canvas.

The goal is to create an on-site consumer engagement that is relevant to the brand, fun for the participant, and shareable across their social media networks. In doing so, the brand is using these interactions as the catalyst for sharing content and generating multiple earned digital media impressions. Thuzi implementations typically garner 300 times to 500 times amplification of this user-generated (and often branded) content using social media to connect with friends, family and followers. This amplified content increases the event ROI by dramatically improving lead capture, branded impressions, online commerce, retail visits, etc.

Measuring ROI is critical to justifying increasing expenditures for social media platforms. This Thuzi dashboard shows the types of measurement available.

The social media integrated dashboard provides an illustration as to how effective this process and the subsequent amplification can be.

Thuzi founder and CEO Scott Blackburn has employed this approach with clients active in the lifestyle marketing event space such as Nike, Honda, Under Armour, Gatorade and IndyCar. In the case studies that were presented to me, customized mobile apps and RFID-enabled wristbands that capture and transmit data are provided to all of the participants, who are then presented with a variety of branded activation opportunities during the course of the event. These wristbands and mobile apps carry the attendees’ social credentials and enable a frictionless way to interact with a variety of event activities, such as posting a photo or video, scanning for promotions such as upgraded tickets, liking a product on Facebook, and redeeming points for prizes.

I found the numerous case studies that Thuzi shared fascinating. It was easy to see where the adoption of technologies such as Bluetooth LE and beacons could compete with RFID and add scale to live-event participation. As mobile technology is evolving quickly, companies serving as providers in this space are poised to capitalize on the market penetration of smartphones and tablets to activate events, track sponsor interactions and capture insights on consumer behavior.

These live-event platforms can be used for a single activation or across a multibrand experience with numerous activations. For example, IndyCar created a frictionless experience by having fans log in once to receive a branded RFID wristband so that they could participate in all the sponsor activations in a Fan Village. Thuzi’s technology kept track of where each fan went, products they liked, sponsors with whom they interacted, games played, photos taken, sweepstakes entered, market survey participation and much more. Every subsequent viral view and click of branded content that is posted to social networks gets tracked and reported in real time to each sponsor via brand-specific scorecards and dashboards.

So where is this heading, and what should teams be doing? If they haven’t already, teams and sports organizations should start meeting with providers such as Thuzi and other sources such as Sporting Innovations, created by Sporting Club, the parent company of MLS team Sporting Kansas City. Sporting Innovations designs software solutions meant to revolutionize fan engagement and business solutions for sports teams and venues.

Outsourcing development of apps and examining new technologies is the quickest way for teams and sports organizations to innovate as well as to implement. These technologies and applications are not commonly developed within the framework of traditional sports organizations, so the key is looking outward to enhance internal and external partners, relationships and performance. The expertise needed is available along with the speed to implement and innovate. We are always searching for ways to differentiate, and the difference this technology can make will have a profound impact on customers and partnerships.

Bill Sutton ( is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.