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Volume 21 No. 34
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Harnessing the power of data

Organizations operating in multiple sports, venues and ventures seek answers in how to apply lessons across portfolios

Olympia Entertainment, which recently opened Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, is seeking ways to bring the Tigers’ and Red Wings’ analytics efforts closer together.
The Kraft Analytics Group, known as KAGR, stands as another successful wing in the sprawling Kraft Sports Group empire. In less than 18 months of operation, it has quickly grown to serve a variety of external professional and college clients and positioned itself as an industry thought leader.

But KAGR also has started to solve a growing internal problem the Kraft Sports Group had. As its own organization expanded beyond the New England Patriots into soccer, real estate and more recently esports, it had troves of customer data. But it didn’t have the tools in place to connect all those disparate pieces into fully unified fan profiles and then act upon them.


Teams and venues:
• New England Patriots, New England Revolution and Gillette Stadium1; Overwatch Boston (esports)
Key executives:
• Robert Kraft, founder, chairman, CEO
• Jonathan Kraft, president and COO
• Daniel Kraft, president of international
• Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group
• Chris “HuK” Loranger, president of gaming
Other sports holdings:
• Kraft Analytics Group, a technology company focused on data management, advanced analytics and strategic marketing in the sports and entertainment industry
• Skillz (mobile esports company)
• Consultant for Mississippi State University athletics
Outside sports:
• Patriot Place2
• Rand-Whitney Containerboard
• International Forest Products
• Rand-Whitney Recycling
• New-Indy Containerboard

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research


Teams and venues:
• Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park; Liverpool FC and Anfield; Roush Fenway Racing
Key executives:
• Sam Kennedy, president
• Mark Lev, managing director
• Kelly Kaufman, senior vice president of business operations and CFO
• Tim Zue, executive vice president and CFO, Boston Red Sox
Other sports holdings:
• New England Sports Network
• Exclusive marketing agency for LeBron James through a partnership with his management company, LRMR
• Consultant for the PGA Tour’s Dell Technologies Championship, held annually at TPC Boston; Boston College’s athletic teams and venues; Dunkin’ Donuts; JetBlue Swing for Good golf tournament and the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.
• Assists MLB in the operation of MLB Experiences, an FSG-created program that provides unique VIP road trips for fans that include a behind-the-scenes ballpark tour and the chance to meet current players. Current teams on FSG’s roster are the Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research


Teams and venues:
• Detroit Tigers and operating rights to Comerica Park1; Detroit Red Wings and operating rights to Little Caesars Arena2
Key executives:
• Marian Ilitch, co-owner and vice chairwoman
• Christopher Ilitch, CEO and president
• Chris Granger, president of sports and entertainment
Outside sports:
• Olympia Entertainment is responsible for the venue management of Joe Louis Arena3, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre4, City Theatre5 and Cobo Center6
• Little Caesars
• Blue Line Foodservice Distribution
• MotorCity Casino Hotel7
• Champion Foods

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research


Teams and venues:
• Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, NLL Colorado Mammoth and Pepsi Center; Colorado Rapids and operating rights to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park; Arsenal FC and Emirates Stadium; Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park; LA Overwatch (esports)
Key executives:
• Stan Kroenke, owner and governor
• Jim Martin, CEO and president
• Jeremy Short, vice president of business intelligence
Other sports holdings:
• Altitude Sports and Entertainment regional sports network
• Outdoor Sportsman Group, which includes numerous specialty magazines and television channels

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research


Teams and venues:
• Los Angeles Kings, Los Angeles Lakers* and Staples Center*1; Los Angeles Galaxy and StubHub Center; Immortals (esports)
Key executives:
• Philip Anschutz, chairman, founder and owner
• Ted Fikre, vice chair, chief legal and development officer
• Dan Beckerman, CEO and president
• Kelly Cheeseman, COO, AEG Sports
• Aaron LeValley, vice president of digital strategy and analytics, AEG Sports
Other sports holdings:
• Operates approximately two dozen venues in the U.S. that are home to a professional sports team
• Amgen Tour of California, a Tour de France-style cycling road race
• AXS (e-commerce and ticketing)
• Carbonhouse (in-venue mobile and social solutions)
• Numerous team and sports venues outside North America
Outside sports:
• L.A. Live2; Los Angeles Convention Center3 and three other convention centers

*Shared ownership
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

“What do you do with all that data? We created KAGR because there wasn’t really a platform,” said Jessica Gelman, chief executive for KAGR, which has developed its own fan behavior-based software system that includes predictive modeling. “People sometimes struggle with what the data is, and it can take a lot of time to ingest data from a lot of disparate sources.”

The data issues the Kraft Sports Group faced are now quickly becoming more common across the industry as more teams cease to be stand-alone operations and are instead part of larger multisport and multigenre entertainment organizations. Across the country, more traditional stick-and-ball pro teams are being joined with extensions into esports, mixed-use development, foreign teams, emerging sports and other ventures that build off that original team brand.

On paper, that would seem to present all sorts of operational efficiencies, data-fueled cross-selling and incremental revenue opportunities. A purchaser of a basketball ticket, for example, is often approached to consider another event at the same facility. And that type of retargeting is part of the basis of traditional customer relationship management systems.

But as the sports organizations have grown more diverse in their operations, so has the collected data, in turn amplifying the complexity in harnessing, managing and learning from it, and then acting upon it. The result is an accelerating effort across much of the industry to build more advanced data and analytics systems that match their expanding ambitions and break down traditional silos of data.

“Between the Tigers, the Red Wings, and now 313 Presents [a newly created joint venture with Palace Sports & Entertainment], we’re going to touch pretty much every customer of live entertainment in the state of Michigan, which is a huge opportunity,” said Chris Granger, newly hired as group president of sports and entertainment for Ilitch Holdings in Detroit, which operates Olympia Entertainment.

“So we certainly want to get a fully integrated view of the customer. But it’s still a process, and I’m not sure if that process ever really finishes, because there are always new data sets that emerge,” said Granger, who has begun efforts to bring the previously separate analytics platforms for the Tigers and Red Wings closer together.

AEG similarly has separate analytics teams for its individual properties including the Los Angeles Kings and Galaxy. But Aaron LeValley, vice president of digital strategy and analytics, now is leading analytics functions across the AEG sports portfolio and is working on implementing similar functions, strategies and back-end systems for each team.

“We’re really embracing a data warehouse strategy in which we’re trying to understand holistically what a sports fan in Southern California looks like,” LeValley said.

There have been some early learnings as the organizations seek to pool data from across their portfolios. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, for example, adjusted elements of its Denver Nuggets promotional calendar, such as the timing of certain offers, based on data findings from Colorado Avalanche marketing, and vice versa.

“The basic idea is to let the fan tell us about how these games work within their life as opposed to the other way around,” said Jeremy Short, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment vice president of business intelligence.

But Short said managing all the incoming streams of data remains an uphill fight, and the company recently expanded its relationship with analytics provider Kore Software to aid its data efforts across the organization.

“When you’re a multiproperty company, there’s so much more data to merge,” Short said. “We needed to get to the next level in data storage and have it accessible to us in a much better way.”

Not a simple Venn diagram

Fenway Sports Group, like the Kraft Sports Group, is another big Boston-based operation with several championship titles on its résumé and operational interests that have expanded into English Premier League soccer, college football, ice hockey, and even hurling and ski jumping.

But while it markets other Fenway Park events to Red Sox ticket holders, the organization also has not yet created a fully integrated customer database, due in part to the significant staff time that would be required for such an effort. Even as business intelligence groups are mushrooming in size around the sports industry, with many teams hovering around a half-dozen staffers, they remain a fraction of the size of those in companies in many other industries.

“[A complete FSG customer database] is something I’d certainly love to see in the future, and we are absolutely big believers in the power of data and analytics. But these things take time and there’s a lot of cleaning and [de-duplicating] of the data that still needs to happen,” said Tim Zue, Boston Red Sox executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Also serving as something of an obstacle toward the creation of a centralized FSG database is the limited overlap in customer affinities for the events the company has staged at Fenway Park, one that is quite intentional in design.

“There’s certainly a big crossover demographically between the core ticket base of Red Sox fans and some concerts we’ve done like Billy Joel and Paul McCartney,” Zue said. “But some of the other things, like maybe a Zac Brown or the Big Air [snowboarding and skiing event], there’s probably not as big of an overlap. Those are still great events, and they’ve definitely expanded the number of people we’ve reached. But they’re touching different demographics and are intended to.

“Compared to maybe some other groups, our Venn diagram is going to be smaller,” he said.

Along similar lines, both Kraft Sports Group and Arthur Blank’s AMB Group in Atlanta that have both NFL and MLS teams said their fan overlap between the respective football and soccer clubs is less than 5 percent.

But even with large gaps in fan populations such as that, Granger said the data goal in the larger organizations is now less about explicitly cross-selling but using aggregated data to enhance the learnings of each individual entity in the portfolio.

“For us, it’s not about an optimal percentage for overlap [between teams or venues], and less about the upsell,” he said. “What we really want to know is what the true starting point is for each part of the portfolio, what those fans are asking for, what their preferences are, and how I can better reach each of them.”

And that search is also moving in some cases away from product and content preferences and more toward simply how to communicate with fans better.

“How many years have we as an industry just been sending emails to people?” Granger said. “For a lot of people now, that isn’t going to cut it, regardless of how good or studied that message is. It has to be something else, whether it’s text, social, or what have you. So we’re spending a lot of time now studying channel preferences, and we still don’t know enough about digital consumption patterns.”

New data sources

Even as the search for better and deeper data and analytics continues, several emerging macro-level trends are serving as reasons for optimism within the larger sports organizations.

After years of largely being limited to traditional data sets such as ticketing information, league research and CRM information, newer measures such as social media and esports streaming metrics, venue Wi-Fi log-ins, loyalty programs, and more advanced concessions data are now rapidly being included in many team analytics operations. Emerging identity-based ticketing systems such as Ticketmaster’s new Presence similarly offer the promise of additional learnings.

“It’s all about creating new data points,” said Russ Scibetti, president of Kore Planning & Insights. “Each one of the new data points is a step closer to filling in the puzzle. And for your larger, multisport operations, there are definite efficiencies of scale they can take advantage of,” referring to functions such as marketing, content creation and venue amenities.

Gelman said the data from the Patriots 365 loyalty program has not only boosted season-ticket sales for the football team but also aided the development of the companion rewards program for Patriot Place near Gillette Stadium. Similarly, detailed team shop retail data at Gillette Stadium helped the Patriots develop a successful product line around coach Bill Belichick’s mantra to players of “Do Your Job.”

“Customers are very nuanced, very different from each other, so getting this more precise data is really important,” she said.

The accelerating rise of artificial intelligence and higher-powered computers have additionally opened the possibility for deeper analytics.

“A couple of years ago, we weren’t talking about machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said Kroenke’s Short, which has done some initial testing with AI around lead-scoring for prospective ticket buyers. “All of a sudden, there’s a new technology that we haven’t embraced yet.”