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Volume 21 No. 23
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PGA Tour tests Experience at three events

Fans who always wondered what it was like to attend a PGA Tour press conference or walk inside the ropes were able to find out as part of a trial program across three PGA Tour events in August and September.

For those events, the tour used its mobile app to offer exclusive items that had never before been available for purchase. For as little as $50, fans could buy a used caddie bib or the parking sign that reserved a player’s parking spot. An autographed pin flag went for $200. Other hospitality experiences fetched as much as $1,000.

The tour worked with Atlanta-based technology firm Experience to create the program and branded it #FanPerks. Fans with the PGA Tour mobile app could access #FanPerks and make purchases before or during the tournaments.

The tour activated #FanPerks for the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, The Barclays and the season-ending Tour Championship, three tournaments that are run by the tour. Those three tournaments served as a test to see how the items would sell. They also gave the tour a trial run on how to market the items.

Sales increased over the course of the three tournaments, according to Kirsten Sabia, a vice president in the tour’s marketing services. From the first tournament at Bridgestone in early August to the final event at the Tour Championship last month, sales jumped 500 percent.

For the three tournaments combined, the tour sold one-third of its available inventory. The Tour Championship performed the best, selling 62 percent of its total offerings, most likely because the tournament had a longer runway to advertise #FanPerks.

The #FanPerks programs offered merch and more.
Sabia said she’ll recommend that the tour expand #FanPerks to additional tournaments in 2015.

“We looked at this as a test to gauge how we could engage the fans,” said Sabia, a 15-year veteran at the tour. “We didn’t necessarily go into this thinking about how much money we could make. We wanted to see what types of experiences and memorabilia would interest the fans.”

For Experience, a firm that has relationships with several NFL, NBA and MLB teams, as well as multiple colleges, this marked its first venture in golf. Ben Ackerman, Experience’s president, said he admittedly didn’t know what to expect when his company and the PGA Tour began discussions earlier this year.

But the broad set of offerings developed by the tour “fundamentally changed the way fans could experience a golf tournament,” Ackerman said. “They developed a great mix of elements to offer for purchase, and then their marketing was fantastic. It was a great match for our platform.”

Stan Deak, Experience’s vice president of new business development, worked directly with the tour’s senior vice president of information systems, Steve Evans, and Sabia to develop #FanPerks.

The tour, in conjunction with Experience, developed three lines of unique items for sale: behind-the-ropes access; upgraded tickets to premium areas; and player-related merchandise. Here’s an example of the inventory offered at the Tour Championship in Atlanta last month:

The insider access gave consumers an up-close look at the players on the driving range, a tour through the media center, or a club fitting in the Bridgestone Golf Experience.

The upgrades included passes to premium areas such as the Shamrock Seats around the 18th green or the Championship Club.

The exclusive memorabilia ranged from the caddie bibs to player parking placards to pin flags that flew during the tournament. For a higher price, consumers could get the pin flags autographed by the tournament champion or other players.

The inventory varied from tournament to tournament.

Sabia said she’d like to develop a more consistent list of items next season. The items in the $50 to $200 range sold the best, she said, while the higher-end premium experiences for $1,000 and up didn’t sell as well. The only drawback, she said, was that the inventory required more man hours than she expected.

“We had interns running around on Sunday night collecting the parking signs,” she said, with a chuckle. “I’d like to be a little more systematic in our approach so that’s it’s not such a huge staff burden.”

The PGA Tour marketed #FanPerks through regular communications — mailings, e-newsletters — between the tournaments and ticket-buyers, as well as social media and the events’ official websites. But the PGA Tour app seemed to be the most effective method. A #FanPerks tab appeared on the app’s main menu bar.

All of the inventory could be accessed and paid for on the app. The tour developed the list of items available for purchase, and Experience worked with the tour to whittle it down to about a dozen offerings.

The tour also used iBeacon technology on-site at the tournaments to send notifications to the fans. Any time fans with the PGA Tour app on their phone walked by designated areas, iBeacon sent them a notification that advertised #FanPerks.

As consumers registered on #FanPerks, the tour also collected their personal information for its ticket database. Close to 2,500 consumers registered during the three tournaments.

“As we think in terms of how fans engage with the sport, whether they’re on site or not, it’s typically via mobile,” Sabia said. “That played heavily into our thinking with #FanPerks. After this test run, we have a lot better idea of what the consumers are interested in.”