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Volume 23 No. 13
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Who’s keeping score? Executives discuss the race to gain an edge with data

When the Arizona Diamondbacks want to make a sponsor pitch, they come armed with useful information from their data team.
Photo: Getty Images
When the Arizona Diamondbacks want to make a sponsor pitch, they come armed with useful information from their data team.
Photo: Getty Images
When the Arizona Diamondbacks want to make a sponsor pitch, they come armed with useful information from their data team.
Photo: Getty Images

On a steamy August day in midtown Manhattan, close to 30 sports and entertainment professionals gathered at the office of YouGov America to discuss one of the industry’s most important but enigmatic subjects: data. The group — almost all YouGov clients — was invited to talk about market research products, trends, and to learn from one another.

 

A tidal wave of data washes over teams, leagues, agencies and analytics companies every day. YouGov said that in 2019 alone it’s added 88,000 new data points to its Profiles market research tool, which holds north of 400,000 total.

“It gets uncontrollable and overbearing and there is so much out there for people to work with,” said Scott Horowitz, YouGov Sport chief revenue officer.

In the 10-plus years since the Great Recession, business decisions increasingly must be justified by more than just emotion or whim. But while data is a word on every executive’s lips, methods of collecting it and the way it’s used all vary widely among properties. 

“One question that everyone always has,” Horowitz said, “is who does it really well, who does it the best?”

The group, which represented sales, marketing and data departments, listened to presentations by the Arizona Diamondbacks and WWE, discussed trends in data capture and usage, and lamented the challenges that arise when trying to put data to effective use.

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The No. 1 problem discussed was a gap between sales and data teams that exists in many organizations. The issue generally stems from a lack of communication between the two departments, preventing data from being better integrated into decision-making and pitches. 

The Diamondbacks revealed how their sales and service teams work together on corporate partnerships from the beginning of a pitch. The partnerships team conducts a needs analysis and shares that information with the data team, which uses it to retrieve useful information for the subsequent pitch.

WWE’s data team provides metrics that help writers shape storylines around the company’s talent.
Photo: Getty Images
WWE’s data team provides metrics that help writers shape storylines around the company’s talent.
Photo: Getty Images
WWE’s data team provides metrics that help writers shape storylines around the company’s talent.
Photo: Getty Images

“There is that sharing of communication and information,” said Kerri White, the Diamondbacks’ senior director for corporate partnership services. “I think we’re probably better positioned than some teams that don’t have that.”

The Diamondbacks don’t have a director of data analytics. But a company-wide edict that data will inform decision-making changed how the organization approached the subject, including spreading the data team’s contributions and influence beyond just the ticketing department. 

White’s slide deck showed several ways teams in local markets can wring the most benefit out of the data they collect, like a successful effort using third-party data to show insurance companies how many people in the Phoenix area were interested in insurance, or illustrating the health of a brand — whether a potential corporate partner, or the Diamondbacks themselves — through data. 

“I feel like there is a lot of opportunity now for some different teams to refresh the way they’ve been doing things or looking at things, or presenting things,” she said.

WWE’s powerful data team numbers around 60 people and is involved in every aspect of the company, even creative writing (WWE uses data to track reaction to storylines, helping writers shape the next story). The company has also used data to combat negative stereotypes about professional wrestling to grow its business.

Judd Pratt-Heaney, WWE senior director of global sales and marketing, presented to the YouGov group, but specifics were kept off the record.

Horowitz explained that Pratt-Heaney has become fluent enough in data that he knows what kind of information he’ll need to nail a pitch. Pratt-Heaney retrieves the data he needs on his own, whether it’s from WWE internally, or from the data platforms the company subscribes to, such as YouGov. A person with a foot, or at least some toes, in both the data and sales worlds could be an increasingly popular solution for sports properties in the coming years.

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Multiple attendees voiced clear interest in having more data, and better data, on the habits and consumption of two particular groups: teenagers and overseas fans.

WWE’s Judd Pratt-Heaney (left) and the Diamondbacks’ Kerri White gave presentations at the YouGov gathering.
Photo: Bret McCormick / Staff
WWE’s Judd Pratt-Heaney (left) and the Diamondbacks’ Kerri White gave presentations at the YouGov gathering.
Photo: Bret McCormick / Staff
WWE’s Judd Pratt-Heaney (left) and the Diamondbacks’ Kerri White gave presentations at the YouGov gathering.
Photo: Bret McCormick / Staff

Market research on teenagers is currently much more sparse than overseas data, and carries with it ethical and legal issues. But knowing what teenagers are consuming, who their favorite sports and athletes are, and what kind of merchandise they’re buying or wearing would give properties a heads-up on what’s coming in the future. 

Horowitz said that most market research companies poll teens too infrequently, missing out on their predictive nature. “We don’t know what the teenagers are doing because we don’t have a steady pulse on what they’re up to,” he said. 

Trends and opportunities that emerged from the workshop

■ YouGov’s Scott Horowitz said he’s seen the 30 pro sports teams that are YouGov clients throwing considerably more money and people-power at harnessing data’s potential. 
■ Data analytics teams are increasingly involved in more facets of a property’s business, not just ticketing. Example: Communications departments can easily measure buzz and public response after an event, empowering their sales teams to capitalize in real time. 
■ One example of streamlining communication between data and sales departments is creating an email data request form with 5 to 10 questions that provides the data team with an idea of what information is needed, what it’s needed for and when.
■ Information that the properties want to know about their fans: discretionary income levels, ad awareness, brand recognition and purchase intent.

As for overseas fans, access to that data is generally expensive because it takes more effort to obtain. 

Of the companies represented at the meeting, data on foreign consumption is especially important to Endeavor, Major League Baseball, WWE, the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Lakers, each of which has global reach. Interest in data concerning fans in China, Great Britain, India and Mexico will continue to increase in the coming years.

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This was the first time YouGov had played host to a sports-focused data workshop. Horowitz’s team hosted 30 attendees, triple what they initially expected, including at least a half-dozen from the West Coast. MLB and BSE Global each had four people in attendance.

The showing speaks to a growing understanding within the industry that data needs to be figured out, and sooner rather than later.

YouGov launched its sports product in early 2018, adding 30 teams as clients since then, and giving Horowitz a feel for how the sports industry is approaching data in 2019.

“They’ve got full-blown resources put against these things that were never there before,” he said. “And with that, you’ve got to arm these people up to get their jobs done. You’ve hired these smart people but they have nothing to do if they don’t have any tools to work on. So there is more money being invested in products and services to support the initiatives.”

All that’s left then is the hardest part: deciding how to put the data to use.

Several times throughout the day, when Horowitz asked the group for best practices or tips, there was silence. The immensity of the subject is often immediately overwhelming.

“Everyone knows how important this information can be and what a good tool it probably is,” said White. “I think there was great dialogue in the room and I think everyone was trying to figure out, ‘How can I use this? What are the things I didn’t know that maybe I can take back and start using?’ That was my approach.”

First Look podcast, with YouGov discussion at the 11:50 mark:

Challenges that emerged from the YouGov workshop

■ With so much data, and so many sources of it, how do properties keep it all straight? How do they know which sources are the best and most reliable? What can be tuned out? One property at the meeting mentioned having subscriptions to 60 different sources of data or market research. That raised eyebrows.
■ A lack of sufficient data on teenagers. It was noted that five years ago, 13-year-olds were streaming content more than anyone. Now that they’re 18 years old, they’re showing up in everyone’s data. Having sufficient data on teens’ consumption and fandom could provide a predictive five-year head start, though gathering that information comes with legal and ethical issues.
■ Overseas data. Nearly everyone in the room had interest in data on overseas fandom. But obtaining overseas data is expensive and what do properties then do with it? If they don’t have boots on the ground in China or India ready to pursue partnerships, is there any point to having the information?
■ Determining and defining a team’s fan base. Is a social media follower a fan of a property, or should more engagement be required to be considered a fan?
■ Industry-wide gap between data teams and sales teams. Some organizations are finding ways to close it; doing so is critical to getting the most use out of data. This was clearly the biggest issue voiced at the YouGov meeting.